Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!
Leisure Suit Larry 3 was the ideal blend of story, humor, and challenging puzzles. Its sequel, Larry 5 (creator Al Lowe skipped part 4) introduced Larry to the now-familiar Sierra icon interface as well as greatly improved VGA graphics, full midi score, and even some digital audio samples. Too bad the game itself was a disappointment for hardcore adventure gamers. In Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!, Al Lowe returns the series to its roots and once again delivers solid gameplay and the classic Larry wit we’ve grown to love.
Larry 6 gets back to the basics in many ways. First, say goodbye to Passionate Patti, Larry’s true love from the previous two games. Patti was a great character who provided the perfect closure to the series (twice), but since the series wasn’t actually ready to close, she had to go. After all, Larry is all about the bachelor lifestyle and all the perks and privation thereof. So, when this game opens, she’s gone with no explanation. I like to think she ended up sleeping with the Vice-President at the end of the last game.
Larry once again finds himself in a big open environment with multiple girls to pursue. The globe-trotting of Larry’s 2 and 5 are thankfully gone. In fact, the entirety of La Costa Lotta Health Spa, where Larry has landed after another semi-successful game show win, is explorable right from the start of the game. This means you can meet all of the girls immediately. Each is tucked away in a different area of the spa, and with a record nine VGA vixens to pursue, you’ll be kept quite busy. They all want something different from our accommodating hero before agreeing to a little alone time, except the mysterious Shamara, who seems unconcerned with carnal pleasures and instead is focused on inner peace and enlightenment. Could this be Larry’s soul mate? I doubt it; there’s a whole other game after this one.
The game plays basically just like Larry 1, but without the taxi. You run around figuring out what each girl needs and then where to get it. Each time you successfully complete a girl’s objectives you’ll get an item that may be of interest to the elusive Shamara. When you’ve run out of girls, you may have enough trinkets to seduce Shamara herself, who all the while is finding unintended spiritual meaning in each of Larry’s presents. Of course Shamara’s no cheap date. She’ll want a few extra gifts of her own.
The puzzles in Larry 6 offer just the right level of challenge. They’re difficult enough to make you think, but not so difficult that you’ll be running for the walkthrough. This is probably because when you’re stuck on one puzzle, there’s an entire spa’s worth of other puzzles to try. I usually take an initial tour of my surroundings at the beginning of an adventure game before I start trying to solve anything. But La Costa Lotta is so big, at least for this type of game, that I couldn’t help myself from picking up items and getting started on my mission as I explored.
The grim visage of death returns to Larry’s world in this installment. A wrong move could mean drowning, melting, or being impaled by a rocket. But, unlike in previous games, the deaths are purely for laughs. You get a “Try Again” option after each one that puts you right where you were before your fatal gaffe, eliminating the need for a restore. Also, despite one unconfirmed report to the contrary, there doesn’t seem to be any way to make the game unwinnable. So try everything you can think of. The obvious mistakes have some of the funniest results.
Similar to Larry 5, this game offers multiple methods of completing some puzzles. But unlike Larry 5, they’re not uninspired and moronic. You can make Gammie a soothing compress by dunking your hotel washcloth in the toilet, or by tossing it in the pool, but there’s a third, better method that will garner you the most points. This kind of situation was the only reason I used multiple save files, in order to restore and try for the highest score. The game can easily be played on only one save slot.
The most important quality Larry 6 brings to the series is its distinction as the first to be released both in a standard floppy edition, and later in a fully-voiced enhanced CD edition. The “talkie” version makes all the difference. The sarcastic narrator that berates Larry at every turn, always a staple of the series, is finally brought to life by the brilliant Neil Ross who did for Larry what Gary Owens did for Space Quest. He employs precisely the right amount of false enthusiasm, self-importance, and total contempt for our sleazy star.
As if reinvigorated by Ross, Lowe provides the narrator with what are easily some of the most brilliantly funny lines of the series. When examining the chest of a potential mate, Ross intones “What a perfectly curvaceous left breast that is. Why, it’s enough to make you swear off right breasts forever.” Not only are these lines humorous, they’re ubiquitous. Nearly every object, character, and room gets its own customized sardonic remark by Ross. You’ll quickly find yourself wasting valuable babe hunting time just sitting in your hotel room looking at things, or trying illogical inventory combinations in the hope of uncovering another quip.
The rest of the voice cast, which includes the late Mary Kay Bergman of South Park fame and cameos by Al Lowe and the other programmers, is excellent as well. But the hardest job was clearly that of Jan Rabson. When performing a nerdy loser character, it is very easy for an actor to choose a stereotypical voice that is high-pitched, nasal, and just generally terribly annoying. If this character is the hero of an adventure game, things get even worse as you’ll be spending quite a lot of time listening to them. For example, by the end of “Tony Tough and the Night of the Roasted Moths,” I wanted to feed voice actor Lani Minella to a colony of African fire ants. Granted, I shouldn’t have sent her the drawing I did of it, but the point stands. Rabson, though, handles the part of Larry Laffer with total aplomb. Whether he’s clumsily making his move or obliviously accepting a compliment that the narrator meant as an insult, Rabson makes you believe he was playing Larry all along and your sound card just wasn’t good enough to hear him.
The one-liners are only the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve played the series up to this point, it’s no secret that Larry always ends up striking out several times before finally getting some action at the end of the game. Larry 6 takes this concept to the next level. Each girl has her own unique fetish that Larry must participate in if he wants to please her. Of course, things progress to a certain point and just as it appears that Larry will seal the deal, some unexpected complication arriving from a bungee harness or shock therapy machine will screw the proverbial pooch. Seeing how things will go wrong for Larry this time is one of the game’s greatest pleasures.
The in-jokes about Sierra are surprisingly toned down this time around. Though, there is a great one hidden in the country song sung in the spa’s bar. Al Lowe’s name which usually pops up often is also notably absent, other than appearing on a bottle of “Al Lowe Vera” hand lotion. As much as I loved these references, they’re barely missed in a game already dense with great jokes. I’d even go so far to say it’s a welcome break from the constant barrage of King’s Quest allusions layered into previous installments.
Each Larry game looks better than the last and this is no exception. Larry 5 was the first to feature 256 colors, but its long, static cut scenes weren’t a great showcase for the technology. Things go much better in this game with detailed backgrounds, psychedelic game menus, and even some actual photographic elements. The game sounds great as well, with appropriately elevatory tunes by Dan Kehler and a full-fledged country tune by Al Lowe and Josh Mandel, complete with vocals.
Oh, and there’s no age verification or copy protection. After all, CD burners will never be cheap enough for home consumers.
Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up Or Slip Out! is everything a Larry game should be, and the best and most fully realized Larry game of its time. And because it introduces the comedic timing of professional voice actors, and trashes Passionate Patti and any previous continuity along with her, it’s a great place for newcomers to the series to jump on. So grab that special someone in your life (provided he or she is not easily offended, and is equipped with proper protection) and enjoy the sex-fueled antics of another fine Al Lowe game.
Brilliant voice work coupled with spot-on writing and interesting puzzles.
There’s no real plot or story, but if parts 2 and 5 are any indication, story just gets in the way in a Larry game.
“I could really use six D-cells for my…late night friend.”
“She has a battery-powered David Letterman?”