Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Clu Clu Land (NES) Review

Written: March 19th, 2013
Year: 1984 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

♫A-treasure huntin' I will go!  A-treasure huntin' I
will go!
For as long as I remember, there have been ways to play video games on TV screens without actually owning the consoles themselves.  What I'm referring to of course are plug-and-plays, which are controllers with software programmed and/or emulated in them which as the nomenclature suggests: you plug it in to your TV and play the games that are on it.  I was exposed to plug-and-plays when I first saw one over at one of my cousins' house in Italy when I was very little, and what was neat about them was that, despite the fact that the games in it looked dated (I wasn't around in the '80s, and the plug-and-plays I'm alluding to consisted of Famicom and NES games), we had a blast playing what was on there and the variety of games was pretty neat.  Because of the fact that the copyright information was taken out of the title screens of each game (likely to avoid a lawsuit or something of the sort), I wouldn't realize until sometime in my teen years that the majority of the games that I experienced on the controller were actual games and not ones exclusively made for the plug-and-plays.  That, coupled with the fact that there were Famicom games from Japan on there, made plug-and-plays all the more awesome, in my opinion.  One of the games I initially experienced via the plug-and-play was the game of the day itself: Clu Clu Land.  =)

Clu Clu Land is one of those games that were made early during Nintendo's 8-bit generation by Nintendo themselves that I feel is very overlooked and slightly underrated by today's standards.  It's not a particularly groundbreaking game or anything, but it's one of those 8-bit games I have fond memories of and find fun, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  After my cousins no longer had a plug-and-play (I was in middle school at the time) I received an e-Reader for the Game Boy Advance, in which you could swipe several cards on it to play classic NES games (but the NES "ports" were not plenty, and the device has not aged well as far as I'm concerned), and I managed to experience Clu Clu Land once again through the e-Reader.  Eventually I decided to buy an NES, where I managed to catch up with titles I hadn't played before and revisit games that I had played before.  Even though I already had it on the e-Reader, I went ahead and bought the original cart for the NES.  Considering everything, I think I made the right choice.  =)

The objective in Clu Clu Land is to unveil all the golden treasures that are laid out on the playing field.  Doing so will bring you to the next stage.  Your round character Bubbles controls decently enough but he's got one handicap: he always moves.  He cannot stop himself, and anytime he bounces on a wall he'll ricochet right back from it.  But not to worry, there's a solution: should Bubbles extend his left or right arm on a pole, he'll be rotating around and face another direction; by holding down either arrow keys he'll keep rotating until you release the button and he lets go.  Out to stop our treasure-hunting hero are a set of sea urchins emerging from whirlpools, and the only way to stun them is by shooting your sonar at them.  So long as they're stunned and dormant, you can push them towards a wall to squish them.  By gathering all the treasures you'll form up a common or abstract shape, as the treasures are hidden until you pass right through them (you may have to search around a bit).  This game can be played simultaneously by two players, where the second player controls a green palette swap of Bubbles.  Hooray!!!  =D  Unfortunately, the game has a timer in it.  Hooroo.  =(

Ah, glasses!
The visuals and sound here are dated but serviceable.  Each stage has a differently-shaped border with various hues of the same color.  Bubbles swims through black space, and the gold treasures display their sheen and animate well when spinning.  Any time all the treasures have been found the stage border will flash bright and dark for a few seconds.  Bubbles has got good, basic animation and I like the way he rotates as he turns and the way his propeller-like tail, well... propels.  Soundwise it's also decent, although the songs are few and the melodies sound catchy, even though they can get a little repetitive after awhile.  Any time that the timer is running low the tune will change to a fast one.  The title music is brief and good, and some of the sound effects are cool, like the bling sound of the treasures and the sound the sonar makes.

"Gosh!  All this treasure hunting sure has made
me hungry!"
Clu Clu Land has a decent amount of challenge, although this is one of those arcade-like games that never really reaches an end and just lasts indefinitely until you lose all your lives.  The goal of each stage is to recoup all the treasures so you can form up a shape, however there are three things that will threaten your progress: sea urchins, whirlpools, and the timer.  So long as the sea urchins are blue, you'll be vulnerable to attack until your sonar turns them orange.  Since you'll always be moving you may have to practice making turns and ensuring what time is proper to let go or not; you must also ensure that you won't fall down the whirlpool by accident.  Careful coordination is a must!  The timer is also something you have to worry about, for if it reaches zero when you haven't finished the stage, then you lose a life.

From time to time some items will pop up that will aid you; like fruit and moneybags for points, a white flag which will give you a life, and a clock which will temporarily stop not only the enemies but the timer as well.  There are variants of five stages with diverse design, and sometimes before you know it you may stumble upon an invisible trampoline that will turn visible once you come into contact with it and then bounces you back.  After every fifth stage you'll land yourself in a bonus stage where you must collect as many blue crystals in the allotted time for a chance to score major points, and the good news is that there are no enemies at this point and the treasures are hidden in every nook and cranny.  Keeping that in mind, the challenge value is not bad.

I'ma shooting my sonar... beam!  =/  I need
to work on my improv
So all in all my opinion of Clu Clu Land is that it's a really decent game.  I think it's cute and harmless entertainment, and while it's not a game I'll come back to day after day, I do personally think that it's a fun title to play once in awhile.  It was fun when I was little, and honestly I think it's fun now.  It's not legendary but I think it's good in its own right.  It's nicer to play it on the big screen than it is on the e-Reader, and while most degraded GBA ports resort to cropping the screen (among other things), the NES "ports" simply had the square aspect ratio filling up the whole screen.  Now I'm all for preserving the company's intended aspect ratio (pan-and-scan sucks, in my opinion), but if you're going to do it by stretching and squishing it just to fit the screen size, then the result will be a bit ugly; but that's just my perception of it.  I still think it's underrated after all these years, and while I can sort of understand why some gamers might feel negatively about it, I still think it's worthy of a look.  Make of it what you will!
Thank you for reading this review, please leave a comment! =)
P.S.: Remember how in my DuckTales review I made a collage of all the Disney shows that I didn't end up enjoying?  I just realized (to my surprise) that I forgot one: Mr. Young!  How could I have forgotten that, since it was one of those shows I had in mind when creating the collage?  Though given that from what I've seen of the show I personally found too juvenile, dull, unremarkable, and unmemorable, I guess it's not so surprising after all.  =|
P.S. 2: This has been a personal review.  To each their own.
P.S. 3: My next review will be consisting of two games.  That's the only hint I'm giving.
"Hey, did you know that the treasures here would eventually turn up in the NES classic The Legend of Zelda as the monetary value 'rupees', and that the Unira sea urchins would turn up in said game as large versions of themselves?  Now there's a fun fact for ya!"  =D

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