As the chiptune rendition of the Leisure Suit Larry theme bursts forth into spanking new big band glory things look promising for the HD update of the 80s point-and-click adventure game. Originally released as Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards way back in 1987, the HD touch up is the result of a successful Kickstarter that saw series creators Al Lowe and Josh Mandel return alongside Replay Studios. With totally redrawn environments, fully voiced dialogue and a few new puzzle additions it’s certainly no half-finished job. However, a series so tied to smutty double entendres and the accompanying leery male gaze sits uncomfortably in the current gaming landscape – if you polish a relic it’s still old and archaic, right?
Set in the city of Lost Wages (peppered with casinos, shotgun marriage chapels and sleazy bars, in case you couldn’t tell it was Las Vegas) Larry is on a mission to lose his virginity and maybe even fall in love. That’s pretty much all the motivation given, boiling down the human condition to a constant desire to get rich and get laid. Over the course of two or three hours you’ll point and click Larry’s little heart out, having him look at, grab and lick objects and people to ‘hilarious’ results. Much of the humour comes from Larry’s pitiful attempts to chat up women, often leading to pratfalls, witty comebacks or acidic barbs from the narrator. Unfortunately, much of the humour would have been dated in the 1980s, let alone in 2013.
Anybody who has played a point-and-click game in the past twenty years will know how to solve problems during Larry’s journey – click everything on screen in the hope you’ll be able to pick it up or use on something else. The point-and-click genre has evolved over the decades, with Telltale arguably kings of the medium with their award-winning title The Walking Dead a shining example of a more action-oriented adventure. Leisure Suit Larry is as old-school as you can get, with static tableau environments populated with looping character animations and little in the way of high drama. Trial and error fills up most of your time - attempting to combine alcohol with breath freshener or the futile gesture of offering a rose to every character on screen. The dry narration alleviates the failure of progression to begin with but repetition soon sucks the humour out of the biting putdowns.
As with any good point-and-click adventure, the combination of items is as random as they are tangentially logical – no spoilers here (in the long run, there aren’t more than a few dozen items to collect) but some do elicit a smirk or two in their madcap brilliance. Unfortunately, more than a few puzzle solutions can be easily missed as they only reveal themselves with repeated clicking of the same object with little to no indication that this is the case. In a move sure to allay fears, other incorrect solutions wherein the player could effectively paint Larry into a corner, halting progression permanently, have been tweaked, changed or removed. Likewise, death was a common occurrence in the original but isn’t the end of the game in the remake, instead showing Larry’s corpse being reanimated before being deposited right back where he left off. A wise move from the designers, saving players from repeated restarts in the literal meaning of trial-and-error. Were the objectives more than getting into bed with various buxom women then the puzzles would perhaps feel less throwaway in the long run.
Making matters worse, traversing the streets of Lost Wages is accomplished exclusively through an expensive taxi service. Money is easily lost – frittered away on incorrect puzzle solutions – and the only means to earn cash comes through the blackjack and slot machines placed in every locale. Run out of money to gamble and a hobo will recoup you for $10.00 each time but there isn’t much of a thrill to crudely rendered blackjack. Of course, entrepreneurial gamers will soon discover a trick as old as the game – saving and reloading a save to skimp on hobo handouts – but the necessity for finances is another exasperating hurdle in a game that can already involve a lot of padding. In the 1980s this would be seen as value for money, extending the life of a game as you gamble to continue. In the current age it loses relevance amidst hundreds of distractions begging for your attention.
Compared to the sparse graphical stylings of the original, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded looks the part, in a weird ‘Viz comic come to life’ way. Character animations are limited, often cycling through loops until the correct action is performed to progress. Lost Wages isn’t meant to be pretty but the graphics sometimes come across as garishly vulgar – probably the intention given the scantily clad ladies and phallic references scattered throughout each environment. It’s not quite HD either – Larry is decidedly a lower resolution than other characters, blurrier on higher settings. Either way, the game has a definite visual style albeit one that isn’t endearing.
Perhaps the best and most revitalised part of the game lies in Austin Wintory’s wonderful jazz score. The big band sections lend a classy verve to a rather undeserving title and the seductive flute-heavy tracks wouldn’t feel out of place in the background of a Roger Moore love scene. Couple that with a slinky, Kickstarter-related number over the credits sung by Melora Hardin (Jan from the American version of The Office!) and the soundtrack is arguably the project’s greatest triumph.
Unfortunately, despite some solid gameplay and a loving refresh of the aesthetic elements, the overshadowing subject matter is still exceptionally problematic. The game feels misogynistic, even if the intention might be to parody those thoughts. It’s hard to wonder who, other than the 14,081 Kickstarter backers, would want this type of game in this day and age when there are sophisticated examples in abundance. The humour – despite some genuinely funny digs at other games as well as the industry itself – is largely cringeworthy and Larry soon becomes an annoyance, his nasal delivery not doing the character any favours. There are even racial stereotypes – the Indian owner of the convenience store one particularly eyebrow-raising example. The game occupies a troubled place, happy to pile on smutty jokes but unwilling to swear, happy to talk about sex but without any nudity. It’s like a British sitcom from the 1970s or the kind of game a group of teenage boys would crowd around, unaware that it’s more effort than it’s worth. Even the infamous age gate – a set of questions that only adults should be able to answer – have been updated, moving subjects away from O.J. Simpson to Tamagotchis.
Anyone who contributed to the Kickstarter will undoubtedly be extremely happy with this redux – it’s faithful, entirely keeping with the spirit of Leisure Suit Larry. Unfortunately, it’s this spirit which will likely put everyone else off. There have been far more sophisticated explorations of sexuality since 1987 – funnier jokes, better gameplay mechanics and less two-dimensional characters contributing to various takes. Borderlands is funnier and a Mass Effect sex scene is steamier (yeah, this game is really not that explicit), highlighting how out-of-place the game feels. For the Kickstarter fans, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded stands proud and tall as a shining example of a completed crowdfunding project and perhaps as a history lesson for newcomers. For everyone else, it’s all a bit limp, really.