Leisure Suit Larry – Reloaded review
It doesn’t last long and its humour certainly won’t be for everyone, but Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded is an almost perfect remake that is short, sweet and loads of fun.
If there ever was an adventure game that needed no introduction, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards is that game. Now more than 25 years after its initial release, Leisure Suit Larry – Reloaded arrives as a remake of the famous (or should I say infamous) 1987 game. It's a high definition update of the first game in the franchise, but it doesn't simply give the game a new coat a paint. Instead, it also adds new plot twists, jokes, puzzles and encounters whilst retaining the same flavour and remaining true to the original story of its beloved predecessor. Alas, like its protagonist, the enhanced version remains very, very short.
For the uninitiated, Larry Laffer is a traveling software salesman who at the tender age of 40 still lives with his mother, who also happens to be the proud keeper of his virginity. Hopeless in the art of love, there is no one who knows this better than poor old Larry himself. Sick and tired of his predicament and his mother’s knitted sweaters, Larry fishes through his closet for his old leisure suit and sets off to the town of Lost Wages to find his manhood and meet the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately, in most women’s eyes Larry is not exactly the catch of the day, so he will need to use all his wit and tenacity if he’s to succeed. So look out, Lost Wages – it’s going to be a crazy night!
Larry starts out in front of a seedy bar called Lefty’s in a run-down part of the city. Inside Lefty’s, Larry begins his adventure for true love (or at least something along those lines), but eventually his journey will take him to such places as the hotel casino called the Caesar’s Phallus, a wedding chapel by the name of Weddin' Ready!, a not-so-convenient convenience store called the Come-N-Go and a retro-themed disco called Studio 69. The original '80s version of the game didn’t have many scenes to explore, and you’ll find that true of this remake also. There are a few new areas but they are largely built into the existing framework rather than creating whole new buildings or locations. A few places allow you to walk to the next screen over if it happens to be adjacent, but you’ll find yourself hailing a cab more often than not to jump between scenes.
One challenge Larry faces is a limited supply of money. He starts off with about $94 in his wallet and will need much more in order to pay for taxis, drinks and other things required to progress. Since there’s no honest way to earn cash, Larry will have to turn to one of the many slot machines in Lost Wages to boost his spending money for the evening. This is a particularly tricky part of the game, as chances are many players will end up losing all their money. If you do go broke, all you need to do is walk out onto the street for a brief comedic interaction with a friendly bum, who will hand over $10 to help you get back on your feet because he thinks you look worse off than he is. In order to avoid spending hours simply trying your luck against the one-armed bandit, strategic use of the save and load functions here goes a long way toward attaining your goal (essentially the same technique that everyone used the first time around).
The crux of the game, however, is to help Larry find all the clues and accessories he needs in order to impress and seduce ladies that capture his interest (which is almost all of them). Not that Larry has much success in this area, as most of the gags are set up for Larry to fail, and the jokes often revel in his futility. Larry is an awkward character who lacks any natural sense of style or suaveness, but he has a devil-may-care attitude due to his sheer desperation. The women are generally portrayed as glamorous beauties that are more intelligent, craftier and more empowered than Larry will ever be. With the exception of one early and one late encounter, all of his interactions with the main female characters tend to leave Larry looking bad.
This may be a problem for the protagonist, but it's good for players, as Larry's hopelessness is depicted rather colourfully for our amusement, and there is a degree of empathy that can be felt for his character, at least by anyone who’s ever struggled with the opposite sex or just been on a bad date. The female cast include a rather funky-looking (and I mean that in a bad way) ‘lady of the night’, a woman of leisure residing in the local night club, a concierge, a diver who constantly swims with a whale called ‘Mr Wiggles’ in the casino aquarium, and finally Eve, who resides in the hotel penthouse suite and represents Larry’s ultimate goal.
LSL Reloaded is relentless in its adult themes, presented in a vaguely Benny Hill-style of humour but with a lot more dry wit and sarcastic overtones. For the most part, sex is merely alluded to or censored away but never actually shown. In fact, the game is actually much tamer than its reputation suggests; most late night television shows probably have more gratuitous nudity and violence than Larry ever sees. But constant innuendo abounds, and there is a certain charm in taking a character who is so naïve and pathetic and sending him out on a do-or-die mission to rescue his love life from extinction, all the while being humiliated, teased and tortured in the process. This kind of approach enhances the experience, as it focuses more on Larry’s comical actions and state of mind than actually scoring with the women.
Two elements carried over from the original game are Larry’s incessant need for breath spray and death sequences. Larry will get constant reminders to freshen up if his breath begins to smell exceedingly bad. I’m not sure if this has any major impact on the gameplay, but it certainly provides some light humour during conversation with particular characters. When Larry does something stupid or tries something he shouldn’t, you'll be greeted with a rather amusing death sequence of some sort. The good news here is that should you get killed, you are quickly restored to the point just before you died and given another chance to avoid the same fate. Even better is that the majority of deaths are very funny to watch and usually end in a cutscene of Larry being re-born in an underground lab, much in the same fashion as Frankenstein, before being returned to the previous scene.
Visually, Leisure Suit Larry – Reloaded is an absolute treat, with beautifully textured 2D visuals and nicely crafted animation. Every scene is packed full of colour and vibrancy. The graphic style emulates what you might find in a cartoon series and is generally fluid and full of detail. Larry’s character really comes to life in this remake, displaying plenty of quirky expressions and mannerisms. The town of Lost Wages is no slouch either, as each scene is packed full of little touches. One particularly fun addition is an arcade machine that pays obvious homage to Angry Birds, aptly titled ‘Angry Broads’, although I’ve yet to figure out if there's a way to actually play it. There’s really very little to criticise aesthetically, but some of the lip-syncing could have been a bit more precise and better animated, and the recurring sequence where a taxi takes you to a different location comes across as being a bit bland and in desperate need of some flair. But on the whole the cartoon graphics here are remarkable and very polished.
Audiophiles are in for an even bigger treat, as this Larry’s bringing the music and then some! The opening sequence samples the original '80s tune and then abruptly breaks into a stylishly enhanced reworking of the theme. The rest of the game includes numerous jazzy tunes and lounge music throughout, all perfectly aligned with the context and mood of the scene. Sound effects are plentiful and in all the right places, such as the ding of an elevator call button, the screeching of yellow cabs as they pull up to the curb, or just the ambient noises of cars driving past and the mindless chatter of people wandering through the streets. To me though, the best thing about LSL Reloaded is the voice acting. Jan Rabson skillfully reprises his role of Larry from games 6 and 7, and the narration is also excellent, giving the game a dry, sarcastic tone.
Many of the puzzles will be old hat to series fans. There are some changes when compared to the original, but they are by no means a reinvention of the wheel. The vast majority of puzzles have only been tinkered with slightly to give the game a bit of a fresh feel, and if you’ve played the earlier versions of the game (either EGA or VGA), nothing here will seem too different to figure out. For those entirely new to the game, you will find many of the puzzles quite entertaining. For the most part, if you explore thoroughly and pay attention to even the smaller details, the majority of puzzles won’t be too hard to solve and there are decent clues for the difficult ones. The great thing about these puzzles is that they are based on real world objects often being used in a sneaky or less-than-tasteful manner, paving the way for some very creative scenes. There are a few entirely new puzzles this time around which will need perseverance to get through. One puzzle in particular requires you to find a number of clues to understand how to complete it, along with numerous items to do so. Perhaps the most humourous puzzle is when you have to collect musk; the method of achieving this task is downright hilarious (not to mention a little disturbing!).
Anyone familiar with a point-and-click interface from Sierra will instantly recognise how to play this game. You have all the standard icons from previous Larry games, such as walk, look, touch, and talk, as well as taste, unzip and your inventory. These can be accessed at the top of the screen or by using the scroll wheel to change functions. Alternatively, holding down the left mouse button over a hotspot brings up all of the icons at once so you can pick the option you wish to use. Once opened, the inventory looks like a suitcase, displaying all your collected possessions that you can combine together or use in some manner.
A downside to remaining so close to the ‘One True Larry’, as series creator Al Lowe puts it, is that the scope of the gameplay hasn’t expanded greatly compared to the original and may seem limited for modern gamers. Even with a few new puzzles, the remake only took me a few hours to complete and didn’t require any assistance to get through. I was already familiar with the earlier version, so I had an advantage in that sense, but it didn’t take much to power through even the more difficult puzzles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as a lot of emphasis has been placed instead on uncovering the humour packed into the scenery to keep you busy. It’s a game that you sit down with to relax and have a few laughs rather than being an endless battle against a puzzle machine. For new players it might be more challenging, but I don’t think it will slow anyone down too much.
One issue that does slow things down artificially is the load times between screens, which seem to drag on. It’s not so bad to the point of being off-putting, but it can take up to ten seconds for some screens to load, which is a little excessive for a 2D cartoon adventure game. Reloaded also brings back the infamous introduction questionnaire from the original '80s version, which is theoretically meant to screen out anyone under 18, though in this day and age, with answers so readily accessible via the Internet, it's really more of a comedic diversion than a true age gate.
For those who feel even vaguely nostalgic about the Leisure Suit Larry series, this remake is undoubtedly the best version of the game, period. And even if you aren't, it is an excellent blueprint for how to make an adventure game in modern times. Despite – or perhaps because of – its short play time, there is a constant stream of entertainment throughout, with detail in just about every nook and cranny, most of which will range from either mildly amusing you or having you laughing out loud. It also provides interesting puzzles that are both cheeky and satisfying when solved, linking back to Larry’s personality as an underdog. The game doesn’t just put you in this character's polyester suit to collect and use random items, it really focuses on Larry’s persona and the motivation behind everything he does, no matter how absurd. Larry is so desperate that he is willing to do things which break normal social conventions, so he’ll do things any other sane person would laugh at or consider embarrassing. Even with its seemingly simple premise, this isn’t just a puzzle game with a story tacked on; it’s been built intrinsically around the character and everything relates directly back to Larry in one form or another.
Overall, this "reload" is an excellent update, donning a fresh new leisure suit and offering a decent remix of old content to make it interesting while still remaining true to the original. With its excellent cartoon visuals, a beautifully crafted soundtrack, wonderful voiceovers and narration, engaging puzzles and gags everywhere you look, both series veterans and newcomers alike will find it very difficult not to like this latest iteration of Leisure Suit Larry. If it weren’t so damn short I would rate the game even higher, as I had a blast playing it beginning to end. A few minor missteps aside, it’s an excellent game from top to bottom, though the PC/Mac version is slightly overpriced for a game that's finished all too soon (I could make a Larry joke here, but that would be too easy). So whether you're a fan of the original or simply willing to invest in playing one of the finest adventure games out there (no matter how long or short it may be), give poor ol' Larry a night to win you over. You won’t be disappointed.