As I mentioned in my review of the Maniac Mansion NES port, I loves me the adventure games. Exploring a fully-developed world of interactive objects and, more importantly, unique characters (I’m looking at you Myst) while slowly unraveling an interesting story is my idea of the perfect electronic experience. Throw a healthy dose of humor into the mix and we’re talking videogame nirvana. Nothing could be better. That is unless you could somehow get the added pleasure of doing something your parents wouldn’t approve of.
Enter Leisure Suit Larry. Created in 1987 by former school teacher Al Lowe, Larry was one of the earliest, and easily the dirtiest, of the reoccurring adventure game heroes. As Larry, your only desire is to get your groove on with as many fine ladies as possible, no matter what tricky, insane, and hilarious puzzles get in your way. Of course your physical repulsiveness and penchant for all things disco make this quite a challenge. In the age of squeaky clean games like King’s Quest, Larry was a refreshing breath of filth. No actual nudity or profanity is featured, but it is strongly implied.
Larry’s first outing, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, comes in two flavors. The original 1987 16 color version and the “modern” VGA 256 color edition released when Sierra went through their back catalog and tried to squeeze out a few more pennies in 1991. Both have the same puzzles and jokes (with a few minor exceptions), but the remake looks and sounds prettier and controls with the familiar mouse-centric Sierra interface. You select an icon (look, touch, taste, etc.) and then click the item you wish to interact with. If you boot up the old school edition, you’ll be reliving the glorious days of the text parser. Want to look at the hot babe? Crack those knuckles and type LOOK AT HOT BABE.
Your night begins at Lefty’s Bar in the city of “Lost Wages” and doesn’t end until you’ve bedded three women, one of whom may be the girl of your dreams. Each girl will need to be wooed in one way or another and you’ll visit locations like a disco, an all night convenience store, a seedy wedding chapel, and the inside of a dumpster in your quest for the items to perform said wooing.
Since the streets of Lost Wages are plagued by thugs and speeding motorists, the only safe way to travel is by taxi. These trips combined with the expensive tastes of your dates will necessitate multiple visits to the Casino where you can try your hand at blackjack and slots to fatten your wad (figuratively speaking). You start the game with just enough cash to let you make a few unnecessary cab trips before realizing that conservation is the key and heading for the card tables. But if you run out of dough it’s game over. Of course, you can always save the game when you win a hand and restore it when you lose one, but that’s cheating. …Right?
All this would normally add up to nothing more than a low brow distraction or worse, a Japanese dating sim. The premise, however, is rescued expertly by the wit of Al Lowe who injects so much humor into the world of his loveable loser that you can’t help but root for him as you laugh at his latest failure. Larry’s failure, that is, not Al’s.
Case in point, you enter a convenience store in need of a prophylactic. No one else is in the store so you feel comfortable discreetly asking the clerk for one. He asks you a few questions about what kind you would like. Then a few more. And a few more. Finally, he is asking for ridiculously detailed information. When you give him all he needs, he loudly announces your purchase to the seemingly empty store which causes dozens of goofily animated customers to pop out from behind all the shelves and laugh at you. Subsequently, you encounter a hooker who can be persuaded to avail you of her services. But you better have remembered to put on that condom you bought. If you didn’t, then later in the game you’ll suddenly die of an STD.
Another fine example occurs in Lefty’s Bar. Now recall that in the original 1987 version of the game, the technology was extremely limited. The woman sitting at the bar has a very basic animation that keeps her rocking her leg up and down nervously on an infinite loop. If you look at her, the message reads “She may not be a great looker, but think of the muscles she must have in that leg!” The man is making fun of the bad graphics in his own game.
In-jokes abound as well. If you examine your wallet you will find a business card for Sierra On-Line. You can call the number on a pay phone and get a recorded message thanking you for your purchase and encouraging you to buy more fine Al Lowe games. If you die and don’t immediately try to restore a saved game, you’ll be treated to an animation of Larry’s corpse being transported to an underground facility populated by Sierra’s other adventure game stars. Here, a new Larry is built and your game starts over with the message “Now see what we go through every time you restart!” Upon successful completion of the game, a pudgy Ken Williams, then president of Sierra, comes tottering out to try to get you to buy the sequel which hadn’t even been designed yet.
For the limited technology of the time, Al and his crew really wanted to you to feel immersed in the game world. If you play the original version, the text parser shies away from the standard I DON’T UNDERSTAND of other adventure games of the time and tries to have a custom explanation or hint for each failed command. Also, you can call a random number you see scrawled on the phone and engage in a survey about your sexual habits including your girlfriend’s name. Later, the phone will ring and you’ll get a Mad Libs style message purportedly from your girlfriend telling you to stop playing videogames and come play with her… well, whatever you typed earlier.
There are a few shortcomings. If you aren’t into sex jokes, even presented cleverly as they are here, you probably won’t dig Larry’s hormone-fueled escapades. Yes, some of the jokes can be construed as sexist, especially in today’s politically correct age. But, realize that it’s all in good fun and Larry is the only character who is ever truly degraded. Of course, a lot of the jokes in this game are now dated and tame by today’s standards. And while this game gets major points for originality and essentially inventing the “adult” computer game as we know it, it can be argued that Larry really hit his comedic stride in later installments of the series.
Remember too that this was the early days of adventure games and we’re dealing with Sierra, not those “you will never die in our games” hippies over at LucasArts. You will most definitely die, though always comically, so remember to save often. On top of this, some of the puzzles are unnecessarily difficult, especially in the less forgiving original version. I spent hours trying to figure out where to have a bottle of wine delivered only to find that I hadn’t phrased the location exactly the way the game wanted it. This puzzle is completely removed from the remake. Another complication is the fact that some puzzle items can only be found at a particular time, while some can be accidentally lost, necessitating a restart.
Another odd little annoyance is the game’s idea of age verification. Each time you load the game you will be asked how old you are. If you enter an age too young to play a mature game or too old to be believable, you will be kicked out of the game. Otherwise you will be asked to prove your age with a series of trivia questions that, theoretically, only adults would be able to answer. Topics range from politics to types of wine, always ending with a question about sexual slang that the young’ns will be scratching their pure little heads over. It’s really fun and cute…the first time. But there’s no way to skip the quiz and just reload a saved game when you’ve already passed it once. If you enjoy marathon play sessions, you’ll barely see it, but if you play in fits and starts, this will become a real pain.
NOTE: I later found out that you can press Alt+X in the original and Ctrl+Alt+X in the remake to bypass the questions entirely. Would have been nice to know while actually playing the game. Still, thanks go out to Al Lowe’s official site for this info!
Of course the graphics and sound in both versions are behind the times. This really isn’t much of a concern if you enjoy this kind of humorous, story-driven game. But if it’s at all an issue, you’ll want the comparatively detailed animations and groovy midi tunes of the 1991 version rather than the blocky and essentially soundless original.
Which version is better, you ask? I know, I know, none of you are actually asking that. You’re already scouring eBay for the pretty point-and-click edition. But hear me out for a second. First, if you like this game (and if you think you will, you will) you’re going to want to play the rest of the series. Larry 2 and 3 both retain the text parser interface and there are no fancy early 90s remakes of those. So you’ll have to deal with the parser eventually.
Second, the text parser is admittedly more challenging, but it allows you to try anything your perverted brain can think of. When you type MASTURBATE into the command line, and let’s face it, you will, you’re not just going to get DOES NOT COMPUTE in response. You’ll be admonished with the comeback “Larry, the whole idea was to stop doing that!” There are a myriad number of these hidden jokes buried in the code for your amusement. Compare this to the remake where all you get is an unzipped fly icon with only a few stock responses for anything you might try it on. Plus, it could be much worse. The first Larry game was actually based on a less humorous text adventure called Softporn Adventure that had no graphics at all. I dare you to tackle that.
Finally, play the parser version because it’s the classic way the game was first seen. Is the ancient artwork a feast for the eyes? No. But all of it, backgrounds and character animations included, was done by one guy (Mark Crowe of the Two Guys from Andromeda for you Sierra nuts) in four weeks while he was supposed to be working on Space Quest II. Now that’s something worth seeing. Definitely give the remake a whirl, but at least try the original first. Either way, you’re sure to get a giddy thrill out of this classic piece of PC history.
A thoroughly enjoyable and still hilarious example of adventure gaming at its very best.
Even the 1991 edition is dated and the more challenging puzzles may turn some gamers away.
“May I join you?”
“Why? Am I coming apart?”