Adventure Gamers Awards
Who says adventures have to be all about intellectual stimulation? Sure, with their emphasis on puzzles and story, they generally appeal to the left and right brain above all, but dating back even before Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry, there's always been room in the genre for a few risqué titles that prefer to target the big and little brains instead. (Or upper and lower brains, if that sounds more gender-inclusive.) If you can't follow the connotation here, then you A) probably shouldn't be playing adventures, and B) definitely should not be considering Lula 3D.
Make no mistake about it: Lula 3D is indeed pornographic, and unashamedly so, proudly declaring its "Bouncin' Boobs Technology" on the front cover along with its scantily-clad heroine. But strip off the erotic layers and it's also very much a traditional adventure for the vast majority of the game. There are some arcade shooting sequences thrust in here and there, but they're finished all too soon, and for the most part players will be guiding the… umm… titular protagonist on a road trip across America in a full-blown adventure. (I didn't just say any of that, and you didn't just read it. Move right along.)
While hardly a household name (not that you'd find a household to admit to it), this is not the first time we've seen Lula strut her stuff. The buxom blonde has starred in several other cross-genre games over the years, but here at last she has arrived in a 3D adventure, and very 3D at that. This time around, Lula is an erotic film producer whose latest movie is abruptly halted by the disappearance of her star triplets. With a little investigating around her lavish Beverly Hills mansion, it soon becomes clear that the girls have been kidnapped, and it's up to Lula to hop into her hot girlie '57 Chevy to track them down. From these simple beginnings, the story broadens into a cross-country treasure hunt that will lead players to diverse locations like Mt. Rushmore, a wild western movie-prop town, and the seedy backstreets of San Francisco.
I'd crack wise here about the latex-thin plot staying true to the celluloid heritage of porn, and that's not untrue, but Lula 3D actually has a decent premise that stands up to comparison with many other adventures. I'm not sure whether that says more about this game or adventures in general, but there you have it. Where it all unravels here is in the quality of the writing itself, which ranges from mildly cringeworthy to laughably abysmal to flat out broken. Or should I say "gebrochen", as one of the key culprits here is the atrocious (and at times even unfinished) translation of the game from its original German.
To be fair, there are some amusing moments to be found in the predictably lowbrow dialogue, some of which are even intentional. The purple-haired, snobby Baroness shines in her moment in the sun, and Lula herself has a sassy, whimsical charm that helps you overlook her usually terrible jokes. At least she seems to be enjoying herself, and a certain amount of that is intangibly infectious. For the most part, however, the game is bogged down by an endless string of inane scenarios, characters, and conversations. If it's not randomly abandoning real world settings for absurdities like talking monkeys and canine-shooting catapults, then it's presenting barely-coherent dialogue only one step better than the greatest hits of Babelfish. One typically bizarre character flees a discussion with Lula, exclaiming in terror that she's making no sense. Frankly, I was inclined to agree with him, feeling an increasing amount of terror myself. It doesn't help that speech in the game is so often different than the subtitles that accompany it, and I lost track of how many times one character's line was actually spoken by another. I'm not sure whether the localization or the original script is ultimately more to blame for the disastrous final results, but that's a bit like asking whether the water or the iceberg had more to do with the Titanic sinking. Let's just say they both play their part.
Not to be outdone by the poor writing, the game design in Lula 3D proves to be equally lousy. By sticking closely to established genre formula much of the time, the game follows a very traditional path but still manages to snag its stiletto heels and trip up at far too many turns. It's a shame, too, because the elements are all there, including a surprising amount of non-essential interactivity, but they're just woefully implemented as a package. The bulk of the gameplay consists of talking to different characters, exploring environments, and picking up anything that isn't nailed down. Since the game inexplicably solves the one or two thought-provoking code puzzles for you, the only challenges are based on where and how to apply the items you've acquired and miraculously crammed into Lula's already-overstuffed bra. You can't combine items, so solutions are always straightforward, but the process of reaching those solutions is wildly inconsistent. In some cases, the item you need is literally about three feet from where you discover you need it. In others you'll need to jump through a completely unintuitive series of hoops in order to advance, and which you'll encounter at any one time is a crapshoot (with an emphasis on "crap"; the "shoot" comes later).
A bigger problem than the logic of the puzzles is the annoying linearity of hidden triggers. In one of the locations, there are two separate buildings that I needed to enter but couldn't. Access to one was magically granted when I talked to a random character about seemingly unrelated topics. Twice. I still don't know what I did to trigger entry to the other one, but some combination of various tasks that had no obvious bearing on the building in question. And while you can pick up any object any time for most of the game, including a great many red herrings, out of the blue there's an item you can't pick up until you've been informed of its existence, even though it's plainly visible and clearly identified. These problems extend to dialogue, too, as information is routinely revealed out of order, making it clear that the developers had a very specific sequence they expected to be followed, and few (if any) efforts were made to accommodate player freedom. These are just token examples, but every time the game starts to build any momentum at all, its pace is killed by these kinds of completely arbitrary design obstacles.
Speaking of killing, the gameplay further misses the mark when it takes aim (in this case literally) at some incredibly contrived arcade action. In two separate mini-games, players will engage in either some long distance target practice or shootouts with cops and criminals. Like most simplistic action sequences in adventures, the trick here is not to shoot first and ask questions later, but to identify patterns and then overcome by repetition. That said, the shootout segments in particular will present a problem for those who struggle with dexterity challenges, because you'll have to deal not only with opponents firing back, but a drifting crosshair that simulates an unsteady hand. Worse still, your vision becomes more and more blurred each time you're hit, which is a silly and pointless nod to "realism". Experienced action gamers should have no great difficulty, as I finished even the hardest of these in only two tries, but if Wak-a-Rat is enough to get your blood pressure up, expect to require some CPR before you're finished here. There are only two instances of each mini-game throughout Lula, but the endgame consists of five consecutive shootouts of increasing difficulty. Fortunately, the game auto-saves between each one, and by then you should be fairly comfortable with the activity, but it still seems an inappropriate and unnecessarily grueling finale. Depending on your proficiency at such tasks, at best it will feel repetitious and tiresome; at worst it will be a punishing frustration.
But enough of blood and guts (figuratively speaking, as none are ever shown), as I realize that people most interested in this game really want to hear about the skin. Sure enough, there's plenty of it on display here, and the game wastes no time by opening with a cinematic of Lula doing a striptease. At regular intervals throughout the game, you'll encounter often-identical-looking NPCs bumping uglies quite openly – whether straight, lesbian, or bi-sexual (no gay men action that I noticed), traditional or with bondage; twosomes or threesomes, it's a smorgasbord of sex. Even our protagonist isn't shy about doffing and boffing, or gratifying herself if alone near a bed; she's not picky. It's all quite graphic without being blatantly hardcore, as the game draws the line at depicting actual penetration, showing black censor bars in the one sequence where the camera gets up close and personal.
While the nudity and sexuality are plentiful and utterly gratuitous, however, keep in mind that it's ultimately just a cartoon, and not a particularly artistic or convincing one at that. The game's 3D engine is anything but cutting edge, and while the background graphics can be reasonably attractive, the word "lifelike" will never come to mind where the ridiculously-endowed character models are concerned. A serious case of the jaggies certainly doesn't help, especially when the game's main selling feature is its curves. Throw in all sorts of clipping problems and you can pretty much kiss any last vestige of the titillation factor goodbye. So if you're looking for skanky, you'll find some here, but if you're Internet-savvy enough to be reading this review, you've undoubtedly found more substantial free porn by accident than what you'll find here. Heck, even the Bouncin' Boob Technology proves to be a farce. I don't think I ever saw a single bounce, and implants are strongly suspected, though Lula claims otherwise.
The developers were really focusing on the wrong assets, anyway. They'd have been better off developing a Bouncin' Bum Technology, as the vast majority of the game is spent staring at Lula's partially-concealed thonged derrière. Well, maybe "staring at" is overstating, but the player trails just behind her in a third-person perspective throughout the game. Control is done through a familiar mouse/keyboard combination that is functional but not without its problems here. The biggest issue is that Lula moves too darn slowly, even at her "run" speed. She also comes to an abrupt halt if you catch her on any little obstacle, except her trusty bloodhound Dusty, whom she'll frequently walk right through as if he weren't even there. And for some unknown reason, many indoor areas switch to a fixed camera and character-relative navigation scheme, which means you'll have to continually adjust to the controls. Presumably this was done to avoid tricky camera issues in tight quarters, but other times the camera momentarily switches to a first-person view to avoid obstructions, which works fine and is a far more intuitive solution, so it's a mystery why this wasn't done consistently throughout.
As with most direct-controlled games, there is no cursor or default onscreen interface in Lula 3D. Interactive objects are identified with a text label when you maneuver Lula close enough. This largely works fine, although some hotspots require finicky positioning. Actions are initiated with the mouse, but Lula will never do anything automatically, even when there's only one option. Instead, an action menu comes up with available options, very similar to a dialogue tree. It's simple enough to use, but it ends up feeling needlessly cumbersome since you have to manually select "end" for every interaction, and most objects have only one or two options anyway. Even the inventory is clunky, because in order to de-select an active item, you'll have to open the inventory again just to put the object back manually. These sound like a minor inconveniences, but the frustration adds up over time, and it's just another example of how poorly the game is designed in even the most fundamental aspects. A better game would have survived such things, but a better game probably wouldn't have such problems in the first place.
There's not a great deal of aural pleasure (yes, I spelled that correctly, thankyouverymuch) to be found in Lula 3D either. Music is used sparingly outside of the agonizingly long load times, and sound effects get the job done while being fairly nondescript. Voice acting ranges from pretty good to downright awful. Lula herself has a pleasant voice, albeit with an indiscernible English accent of some kind. Unfortunately, each character pauses vocally for breaks in the subtitles, which sounds completely unnatural. Your faithful canine companion, meanwhile, continually sounds like he's in pain, or at least inconsolably forlorn. If I could translate doggie language, I'd guess that his sorrowful yelps and whines are probably saying, "is this game ever going to end?"
Eventually it does end, of course, after maybe 12-15 hours of gameplay, with an anti-climactic (don't go there) conclusion that I can only respond to with an emphatic... "Huh??!!" But by now you've deduced, no matter which brain you're using, that you should really never reach this point yourself. At its best, Lula 3D has moments of being a reasonably playable adventure, but ultimately any flashes of potential prove to be an unfulfilled tease. Not a single aspect of the game ever rises above mediocrity, and the experience is continually marred by all kinds of shoddy design and production issues that drag it further down. The end result is an impotent game selling porn that falls flat, and while cheap and trashy content may have some temporary thrill value, cheap and trashy quality is never a good thing.