[8 July 2013]
PopMatters Multimedia Editor
The original Leisure Suit Larry arrived in an era in which a 13-year-old boy couldn’t just google the word “boobies” and be presented with a plethora of images to satisfy his curiosity about the opposite sex. As such, it is a game that in some sense (and to gamers of certain age and demographic) seems much like discovering your father’s (or one of your friends’ fathers) secret Playboy stash, some sort of forbidden fruit earned at great risk and to be consumed with secret shame and interest.
I was 13 in 1987, the year of the original game’s release, and I did play a little bit of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (secretly, of course, on a friend’s father’s computer). It felt transgressive and daring to play a game that might include a glimpse of “boobies” or at the very least that often told jokes alluding to women’s undergarments and the sorts of things that might lie underneath them.
Frankly, I never got very far in the game. I was stymied at the game’s initial location, Lefty’s Bar, by puzzles that defied what I knew about adventure gaming at that point (most notably the idea that figuring out a command phrase might not be sufficient to execute an action in an adventure game, since Leisure Suit Larry often made you repeat actions over and over again persistently in order to solve a puzzle – acts of desperate persistence in a sense being a part of the joke).
Larry was a game that would make you work hard for a glimpse of forbidden fruit but was willing to tell a lot of gross sexual and scatological jokes along the way to make sure you knew that the whole thing might eventually be leading somewhere more than a little raunchy—maybe even (dare I say it?) titillating. As such, the game and its remake, Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded both feel much like they belong to a very antique form of raunch that dominated the American sex comedy of the 1980s. The humor of Leisure Suit Larry is sexual, banal, and sometimes scatological, all leading to the promise of an eventual flash of boobies. It is very much of a piece with Porky’s and the original Revenge of the Nerds and most of the simple, raunchy comedies of that decade.
The remake hews to that formula, never apologizing for its resurrection of an almost antiquated sense of such raunchiness from an era in which access to such things was significantly more limited. It feels especially antique now, a time when any given episode of Family Guy or South Park makes Larry‘s retro raunch seem tame and largely innocuous, boobies and all. To say that Larry is catering to the lowest common denominator or that it is sexist or rude is also to miss the point. It knows all of these things and is throwing them in your face on purpose, daring you to fail to enjoy its rudeness and frequent stupidity, knowingly giggling at you because it gets the opportunity to maybe push your buttons.
The game is about a not especially lovable loser named Larry Laffer and his quest to get laid one night in the city of Lost Wages (assumedly Las Wages, Nevada, that is, get it?). By solving a series of adventure-game-style puzzles, Larry will seek (very pathetically and desperately, of course) to meet a woman, and, of course, his failures and humiliations serve as the central focus of a number of complicated and silly situations that comprise the game’s plot as well as also serving as the central focus of the game’s humor. Humiliation maybe being the key ingredient to the kind of humor aimed at in this kind of comedy.
The original game featured text inputs as the means of interacting with Larry’s world. The remake, instead, features an interface that rather smartly serves the game’s banal humor. In addition to featuring an icon of Larry’s eye, which when clicked on and then clicking on an item allows you to look at something, and a hand, which when clicked on and then clicking on something else allows you to touch or take that item, the game’s toolbar also includes an icon representing Larry’s nose and mouth (so that you can smell or lick something) and a zipper (allowing Larry to, well, unzip at what are largely the most inappropriate of times).
Of course, interacting point-and-click-style with the objects and denizens of Lost Wages drives puzzle solving but also the game’s comedy, as a narrator quips (generally in the form of some low brow, innuendo-laden dialogue) about that object or how Larry perceives it (through touch, sight, smell, or taste). As one might imagine from a game interested in telling raunchy and scatological jokes, that Larry can lick and smell things works pretty well to that end. As I said, it’s smart design within the context of a genre that is concerned with being as gross as possible, and for that at least, Reloaded can be congratulated for doing its best to take advantage of the interactive medium to present the kind of raunchiness usually only designed for mere voyeuristic consumption.
As a Kickstarter project, Reloaded was an effort (not the first one either), not to reinvent the series, but to once again introduce and reintroduce players to the original game. As such, much of the game and its puzzles remain very similar to the 1987 version. For a game as wedded to the inane as Larry is, most of these puzzles are surprisingly sensible within the context of Larry’s universe, so (despite my earlier allusion to my own teenaged difficulties with advancing the game) the game tends to move along at a good pace, spinning out its dreadful jokes as you solve puzzles generally in fairly reasonable ways and fairly quickly. Most of Larry‘s humor is less clever than it is brash, crass, and groan inducing (once again, more by design than anything else). Still, unless you recently gave up life at the convent, you will probably laugh out loud once in a great while while playing. Leisure Suit Larry adheres to a strict “quantity over quality” philosophy of the comedic arts, assuming that if you throw enough groan inducing lines at an audience eventually one or two zingers will hit the mark. And, yes, they occasionally do.
All of this being said, I find myself at a loss in terms of assigning a score to Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded. The game is competently designed with a clear understanding of how to make its subject matter translate to video games and how a well worn genre might translate over to the medium. However, the style of humor and its “transgressiveness” just feel quaint and, well, aged. There is probably some nostalgic itch that the game will scratch for those gamers with memories of such a quainter form of raunchiness, a brashness and obnoxiousness born of a culture in which soft porn wasn’t available on demand and one in which you couldn’t tell Two and a Half Men-style jokes during prime time. Gamers unfamiliar with Larry and his significance in the history of gaming (the Leisure Suit Larry series was not the first “adult” video game ever made, but it certainly was the first time that a game of this sort became broadly available on the shelves of your local software store) may also be interested in seeing the game that essentially piloted the notion of mainstreaming adult-style video games. Beyond that, though, its hard to specifically recommend or dissuade someone from playing Leisure Suit Larry. The game simply is what it is, chained to an earlier era and its sensibilities about crass and sexual humor—a lot of sex jokes and some boobies thrown in for good measure.