By the time the mid-1990’s rolled around, the adventure game genre was beginning its decline. Back when computers were exclusively for geeks, it’s no surprise that cerebral games with irreverent humor topped the sales charts. But as the PC began to sneak into the home of “John Q. AOL”, it became much more profitable to release games that better fit the attention span of your average consumer. Goodbye puzzles and story, hello big ass guns. And while we all fell in love with Quake and Doom, publishers slowly gave up on graphical adventures.
Ironically, because the creators had had plenty of practice at this point, and because the technology was now better than ever, these final hours of the genre’s dominance produced some of its best entries like Full Throttle, The Curse of Monkey Island, and of course, the last of the great adventures, Grim Fandango. Among these was Al Lowe’s final gift to single swingers everywhere: Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail.
Al must have known that he nailed the formula perfectly in Larry 6, because Larry 7 is more of the same, but better. As the game opens, Larry is still in Shamara’s penthouse suite in the La Costa Lotta resort from Larry 6. Shockingly, she follows in the footsteps of every “dream girl” Larry’s had and shows him the door, or more accurately the balcony. But as Larry leaves he finds Shamara’s ticket to a cruise on the…ahem… “P.M.S. Bouncy”. He swipes it, boards the luxurious ocean liner, and the fun begins.
Like the best Larry games of the past, Larry 7 drops the player into a big open environment that is explorable from the start. Larry has full run of the cruise ship where he meets and attempts to score with a frustrated clothing mogul, a scheming gold digger, a conservative librarian, a high stakes gambler, a well-read nudist, and a pair of busty country music singers. This time, there’s more to do than just chase skirt. Larry also enters the Thygh’s Man Trophy contest, a shipboard series of leisure games that offers a week with the sexy Captain Thygh as its prize. Figuring out how to win these games (and by win, I mean rig) adds just enough of a story to complement the sex, making this one of the most well-balanced Larry games.
It’s also one of the funniest. Al Lowe once again crams every room, item, conversation, description, and plot point with his patented brand of Larry humor. I’m of the opinion that “dick and fart” jokes are the hardest to write, simply because most people think they are the easiest. Biology by itself isn’t funny. It’s hackneyed and trite. So, when you can make it work, you’ve really accomplished something, and Larry delivers every time. The game even includes an animatronic President Clinton who does standup. Clinton jokes, friends. Clinton. This thing dates itself horribly, and it still manages to be hilarious. Having reviewed five of these games, I have now officially run out of ways to say AL LOWE IS FUNNY. So just trust me. Get the game. Play the game. Laugh.
The puzzles are tougher than Larry 6, sometimes forcing you to think much farther out of the box than in previous installments. This comes partially from a very interesting decision made regarding the control. You do most of your adventuring via a point and click interface, but it’s not the icon-based Sierra standard you’re familiar with. Instead, left clicking on an object typically brings up three choices: Look, Use (with a slide-out menu listing every item in your inventory), and Other. The “Other” option returns Larry to his roots by letting you type in any command you wish. Oh yes, folks. The text parser is back!
I hear you keyboard-haters spitting all over your monitors in disgust, but relax. The parser is mostly an ancillary part of the game, letting you try wacky things to see what happens or to uncover Easter eggs (more on that later). The majority of the item-based puzzle solving can be done with no typing whatsoever. On the other hand, a few puzzles and many of the conversations do require a little QWERTY on your part. Need to find a cabin boy? Start asking around; someone’s bound to have some info. But don’t picture the frustrating word hunts of earlier Larry games. What you need to ask about will usually be fairly obvious, and no harder than any other puzzle in the game. As an added convenience, any verbs you type that the parser recognizes will be stored in your “Other” list, saving you from re-typing when you want to try them again.
Personally, I found this to be a very natural and enjoyable way to play an adventure game and I’m surprised that no one else ever tried it. Though, it may annoy some gamers. Also, I have to admit that item use in this new system, while intuitive, is such a departure from the norm that it may be cumbersome at first. If you’re naturally used to first “grabbing” an item when you want to use it, you’ll find yourself unnecessarily opening the inventory screen quite often. Instead, get used to clicking on the person or thing you want to use the item with, and then choosing that item from a list.
Besides the challenge of supplying your own text, the traditional puzzles are sufficiently perplexing as well. Luckily, there is usually some form of hidden clue that will help you with the most difficult ones. Often you’ll only find these clues by searching rooms dutifully and reading every piece of paper you come across. But you’re a veteran adventurer, so you do that anyway, right?
Despite the fact that you’ll be entering a contest full of min-games, you won’t have to actually play any of them arcade-style. You’ll beat them through wits like any other puzzle. But in a throwback to Larrys 1 and 5, you will get to gamble. This time, Al Lowe put his spin on an old game called Liar’s Dice, which is actually pretty damn fun and something you may want to try with a few friends for real. Of course, in true Larry fashion, you’ll be playing Strip Liar’s Dice with one of your female companions to make the proceedings more interesting. As fun as this is, it can get tedious if you want a pure adventure experience, especially because your opponent’s AI is actually quite good. When I finally beat her, the game happened to lock up on me, forcing me to start all over again, and prompting me to search for a cheat. Just press Ctrl C to make the game significantly easier if you find yourself similarly frustrated.
As a bonus, Larry 7 is chocked full of Easter eggs. There’s at least one for each girl that can usually be uncovered by trying humorous verbs on items that relate to that girl. Once uncovered, you’ll see a flashing Easter egg icon to indicate your success. Later, when Larry scores with the corresponding girl, you’ll be rewarded with shots of cartoon boobies that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Even though it’s hidden, this marks the first and only time the series featured actual nudity. Additionally, the Larry 7 team dropped in one final extra conceived right before the game was due to ship. I speak, of course, of the infamous “Where’s Dildo?” Dildo is a jolly little mother’s-little-helper dressed in the striped and bespeckled garb of a certain chronically lost British children’s character. At least one Dildo is hidden in almost every screen of the game. Clicking on him causes him to exclaim “YEAH BABY!” and do a truly fantastic conga off-screen. If you find all of the Easter eggs plus all 32 Dildos, look forward to an alternate ending cinematic.
Like Larry 6, Love for Sail is fully voiced, and you can’t complain about the cast because you’re part of it. Yes, in his final attempt at immersive gameplay, Al Lowe provided anyone with a microphone the chance to make an appearance in the game with a feature he dubbed CyberVOX 2000. Just read from the handy script and save each of your lines as a numbered wav file in the game’s directory. The best part is that the lines are completely out of context, so you won’t know what a fool you’re making of yourself until you hear them in the game. Your first cameo is as a poolside waiter who is never seen, but for your second and more surprising appearance, you can provide a bitmap of your head which will accompany your lines (CyberSCAN 2000).
Try as you might though, you won’t out-act the brilliant Neil Ross and Jan Rabson who return in their roles of the Narrator and our hero Larry. Ross and Rabson, who already sound like an old vaudeville act when I refer to them that way, play off of each other expertly. Larry and the Narrator chat much more than they did in the previous game. A typical bit starts when you look at an object. Ross describes it in a humorous way, while also setting up Larry for a joke. Larry delivers it, and Ross comes back for a final emasculating rejoinder. It’s like playing King’s Quest with Abbot and Costello.
For further interactivity, the game includes CyberSNIFF 2000 technology, which is simply a scratch and sniff card with nine different scents. At certain stages of the game, a number will flash on-screen, indicating that you should smell the corresponding square. This is mostly just for laughs, but it actually does become vital to certain puzzles. Still, you can usually just instruct Larry to smell the relevant item himself, resulting in a description of the smell from the narrator. I misplaced my card years ago and I had no problem playing without it. An unnecessary feature, but definitely a fun one.
You can also set your desktop wallpaper to automatically change with your progress in the game thanks to CyberSYSTEM 2000 (noticing a trend?). Each time Larry completes one of the girl’s missions, you’ll get a pin-up of that girl to decorate your workspace.
Larry finally looks like a windows game, trading pixilation for smoothly animated cartoony goodness and plenty of great cut scenes which, for the first time, are actual movie files instead of just non-controllable sections. Backgrounds are incredibly detailed, giving Neil Ross a lot to comment on, and each character looks distinct and unique. Your pointer icon is a rolled up condom when inactive, an unrolled condom when mousing over a hotspot, and a wrapped condom when the game is busy.
Control is an absolute joy since Lowe realized that players didn’t want to have to walk everywhere while trying to solve the puzzles. This was a bit of an annoyance in Larry 6 since the vastness of the resort could get confusing when trying to locate a previously visited room. In Love for Sail, right clicking brings up a list of options that include Save, Inventory, and Map. The map shows you the entire ship (apart from a few areas you’ll need to discover) and allows you to immediately jump to any room. This is a vital feature because it eliminates the age old problem of “Gee, I think I searched that room completely, but I really don’t feel like schlepping all the way back up there to find out.”
On a quick technical note, Larry 7 has both DOS and Windows editions on the same disc. The Windows version seems to be the one they intended you to play, but as far as I can tell, the two are practically identical. With this in mind, I suggest you try it in DOS. First, you can use DOSBox which is far more stable than the Windows Compatibility Mode that you’ll need to get the Windows version running. Secondly, I couldn’t get the CyberVOX 2000 working in Windows, and since it’s my favorite part of the game, I had no choice but to switch to DOS. And finally, the joke you get when you press the Boss Key is much funnier in the DOS version.
This being the final Larry game (we at JGR don’t discuss a certain nephew of Larry’s), I thought an interesting way to close my review would be to give you a look at Larry’s cumulative love stats collected from the entire series. According to my calculations (and counting Patti twice for her participation in two games), Larry has had the pleasure of courting 31 lovely ladies over the course of his career. Of those, he actually got some action from 12 of them, 3 of whom were virgins. That’s an overall success rate of 39%. Not bad for a guy in a leisure suit. We’ll miss you, Larry.
Everything you loved from the past games taken to the next level, innovative new control scheme, funny as all hell, still a challenging game even for veteran players.
Some will be put off by the limited need for some text-parser chicanery and the difficult Liar’s Dice mini-game. But then again, some are whiny babies.
“It’s salt. For Christ’s sake, man, it’s just salt! Do I have to describe everything for you? Waddaya looking for, a secret button that turns it into a letter opener or something?” –Narrator