I don’t know how I got a copy of the VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, but there I was, ten or eleven years old, using a cheat sheet to get past the tongue in cheek age gate. There wasn’t any swearing, it wasn’t even remotely pornographic, and yet it was bawdy enough so that I knew my parents wouldn’t approve — despite the fact that is was only marginally more risque than the Carry On… films. That made it something to be treasured.
After completing that first adventure — and god knows how I managed it back then — it became my quest to devour every single last one of Larry Laffer’s misadventures: his many deaths, the terrible but amazing puns and, of course, his ultimate goal of finding love. Hang on a second, love? Well, yes. Though these softporn adventure games ostensibly follow Larry around as he tries to get laid, the balding wannabe lothario really just wants to be loved. It’s rather endearing, really, which goes a long way to explaining why it remains a classic series. It’s not all about tits and word-play. Okay, maybe it’s a 70/30 split in favour of tits and word-play.
After the disastrous, Al Lowe-less Magna Cum Laude and Box Office Bust, the series has gone back to its roots, with a second remake of Land of the Lounge Lizards. And since the original was actually a remake of a text adventure, it’s really the third remake. Those not already enamoured with the man in the leisure suit are unlikely to find themselves suddenly interested; Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded is undeniably a game for the fans and a barometer to test the potential success of a brand new title in the series.
Reloaded isn’t just a fresh coat of paint on an old adventure game — it’s reconstructive surgery. Here’s the original:
Here’s the VGA remake from ’91:
And here’s what happens when you splash out on more than just a little botox:
The lavishly detailed environments filled with subtle touches of lighting and more incidental objects than you can shake a stick at bring Reloaded to life. Just walking through it is a treat, and one where everything is a potential gag. Actually, most objects, walls, floors, buildings and basically anything else that’s been placed in the scene is ripe for multiple gags. The density is simply astounding.
Fiddling around with the obstinate interface that, while certainly better than parsing, is a bit too unwieldy, gets Larry to touch, smell or taste, look at, talk to and, of course, unleash his member at countless objects and characters. The result is almost always a completely unique bit of dialogue, delivered flawlessly by narrator Brad Venable. His wry, snarky accompaniment to Larry’s misadventures elevates some of the weaker, more dated gags while enhancing the stand outs with sardonic panache. Venable also has the somewhat thankless task of describing a lot of the physical gags, since Larry is barely animated beyond his swagger, lamentably.
Larry himself, with Jan Rabson reprising his role as the voice behind the clueless, middle-aged virgin, is wonderful throughout, as well. Even though Reloaded is, just as the original was, set in the ’80s, Larry is a relic. He wanders around the city of Lost Wages with a ludicrous swagger, in his hideous leisure suit, not having a clue how a real person acts. His pick-up lines elicit groan after groan, his constant failures will challenge anyone not to feel schadenfreude, and he deftly avoids being a completely deplorable human being through his perpetual naivety.
Following Larry and his omnipresent narrator throughout is an absolutely phenomenal soundtrack composed by Austin Wintroy. It starts off strong, with the original MIDI theme transforming into a delightful big band version, and just goes from strength to strength. Larry essentially has an entire band stalking him, and it’s ear porn. There’s also a new addition to the cabaret room: a smoky, sensual tune about Kickstarter, of all things. It’s bloody marvellous.
So, Reloaded looks great and it sounds great — for some that’s possibly enough to make replaying a game from the ’80s seem worthwhile, but it’s not the entirety of alterations Replay Games has made along with original creator Al Lowe and adventure game veteran Josh Mandel. The puzzles have had a wee face lift, too. Perhaps, however, not a big enough one. A few puzzles have been changed, making them less obnoxious, and a few brand new ones have been squeezed in, but it remains a game of its time, frequently defying logic, common sense and fun.
Far too many of them require players to visit areas after collecting unrelated items or the areas will be in the wrong “phase”, while others require Larry interacts with certain things that only appear randomly. It’s nothing that adventure game players versed in the games of the ’80s and ’90s won’t be prepared for (especially if you’ve gone through this particular one before), but it will be a shock to the system if you’re used to a wee bit more rationale behind your brain teasers.
The largest new puzzle is a prime example of the infuriating design philosophy. This conundrum surrounds the new girl, voted for by Kickstarter backers, Jasmine. Let’s forget for a moment that she’s actually very dull, because the puzzle is far worse. Firstly, Larry needs to actually get into the room where she hangs out in, which is basically down to luck. You need an object found in another object found in an empty room that otherwise serves no purpose and you don’t wander into naturally, and the necessary object might not even appear unless you’ve done a few other things that are entirely unrelated. Phew. With that out of the way, you’re onto the puzzle proper, which is just about as infuriating and equally as dull as Jasmine herself. There doesn’t appear to be a need for this new addition, it certainly can’t be the gags which are rather flat. It just feels like it’s been tacked on to ensure people that this isn’t a straight-forward remake, which it sort of is.
But, honestly, Larry was never about the puzzles, it was about the laughs, and while the Jasmine addition provides little in that department, the majority of the puzzles end in a rewarding excuse to have a good ol’ belly ache. Whether you’re attempting to distract a pimp with porn or stealing a hooker’s chocolates, the escapades make the crimes against common sense completely worthwhile.
There is a hint of Reloaded moving with the times, even if it’s a small one. No more deaths, people, no more arbitrary, pain in the arse deaths. Well, that’s not quite true. Larry can still die, but now it’s purely played for laughs, a visual gag that ends up with him being resurrected by a maniacal mad scientist and deposited right before he met his untimely end. It looks like you can have your cake and eat it too, sometimes.
When Replay were making changes, I have no clue why they didn’t do something about the bloody casino machines. Several puzzles require Larry to purchase items, and getting around Lost Wages necessitates several cab rides — the only way to make this green is by doing a spot of digital gambling. It’s awful. It was awful 20 years ago. It’s awful now. Do you know what’s fun about playing blackjack on a machine? Fuck all. Just save before you make a bet and hope you get lucky.
And yet, there’s also something comfortable about playing those blasted games of chance again. Few discussions over the original manage to avoid the topic of scumm saving one’s way through them; we’ve all gone through something awful together, and we understand. So I hope you’ll pardon me for complaining about it but then saying that I didn’t really mind going through it all again. Playing Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded was like accessing part of my youth, and revelling in the fact that after almost 20 years of growing up since I first encountered Mr. Laffer, I still laugh at a lot of the same crap.
If the primary concern of a developer remaking a game should be ensuring it’s better than the original, then Replay Games has succeeded with aplomb. This is the best that Lounge Suit Lizards has ever been, even if it is a bit long in the tooth now. It’s both a nostalgia-fuelled trip to the good old (and sometimes frustrating) days of adventure game past, and a rare example of a comedy game that is actually funny. It probably won’t net Larry too many new fans, and god knows it’s going to find a lot of new detractors in this era of social justice and gender politics, even though it’s significantly less harmful than most of uninspired casually but not always purposefully misogynistic titles we get today — but if you’re already a fan, then this is probably something you should be playing.