Developer: High Voltage
Release Date: October 5, 2004
After six years of inactivity, Leisure Suit Larry has returned, prepared to leave a bittersweet taste in our mouths, like the early morning reincarnation of last night's pizza. Back when I was just a fledgling video game addicted teenager, I spent many a day and night stumbling through the Leisure Suit Larry games. I could probably blame my previous dysfunctional relationships and my haphazard interactions with people on this series. In the past, the Larry games had been among the top of the adventure genre, a genre that seems to be long dead and gone. I was personally hoping to see Magna Cum Laude revive the genre and bring it back to its previous glory, but it seems my hopes were in vain.
Despite the fact that this is a Leisure Suit Larry game, you are not Leisure Suit Larry. Instead, you take control of his younger nephew, Larry Lovage. Following in his uncle's footsteps, young Lovage is a college-attending loser of the highest caliber. Lovage has a lot in common with his uncle from his unique physical proportions (his head needs its own zip code) to his tacky, offensive and more often than not hilarious pick-up lines. Much like his dear uncle Larry, our 'hero' has quite the one-track mind; women are the center of his existence. Despite the fact that all of his time, energy and focus are spent on the women of Walnut Log community college, he has about as much luck as a legless horse trying to run a derby. Not unlike the stereotypical plot devices of many cartoon shows, a television comes to the aid with a well-timed commercial for Swingles, a dating game show. Larry comes to the delusional conclusion that being on Swingles would cure his dry spell with the women, setting him up for a lifetime of extracurricular activity. When Larry tries out for the show, Uma, the game hostess, explains bluntly that people only want to see witty, attractive and sophisticated people on television. Since Larry has the intelligence of an inebriated doorknob, he doesn't seem to grasp that she is referring to him (yes, I realize that doorknobs can't drink, but if they could, they would achieve a level of stupidity to rival our dear Larry). Thanks to his dull-witted tenacity, Uma provides him with an opportunity to be on the show. All Larry has to do is prove that he can attain women's affections by bringing back "personal items" of theirs. With that, he heads out on his quest.
In order to interact with the world around him and achieve his goal, Larry must play minigame after minigame. The first game you play will most likely be the conversation minigame, which will also be the one you play most frequently. Your goal is to direct a little swimmer through a side-scrolling pattern of icons; running into these icons will impact the conversation in different ways. Smiling faces direct the conversation in a positive manner and increase the interest of the woman to help Larry get closer to his ultimate goal, and other faces direct the conversation in assorted directions, from saying the worst possible things to talking blatantly about sex. The way this minigame impacts the course of the conversation in a seamless manner is exceptionally cool. This is, without question, the most entertaining of the minigames presented in Magna Cum Laude, and I would sometimes repeat conversations just to see all of the possible dialogue branches. The conversations are also some of the funniest moments, thanks to Larry's amazing ability to make up unbelievable lies off the top of his head. Making it through the conversation with enough success will earn you a chance to proceed further with the girl in question. Mess up, and you get to see Larry flop, followed by a chance to attempt the minigame again.
When you succeed, it generally brings you to the next point in your 'relationship' with that girl. My primary problem with this game starts to surface the second after you get past your very first conversation. The whole game is really just an amalgamation of minigames, one after another, nonstop to the very end. Even worse is the fact that the most creative of the games is the conversation game. The rest of the minigames are unoriginal, mirroring things we have seen in the past, from Dance Dance Revolution-ish games to something awfully close to whack-a-mole. What makes it even worse is the fact that the vast majority of your time playing the game is spent doing these minigames. You play them to score with chicks. You play them to tempt bums to give you their liquor. You play them to earn money for purchasing special items that help to convince the chicks to let you play the minigames with them. Actually, I do not even think that you can call them minigames at this point, considering that the majority – if not ALL – of the gameplay is based on them. Compounding the problem is that these games/missions require you to travel from one location to another, incurring roughly half a minute of loading time for each area, resulting in about 20% of gameplay being spent watching loading screens (thankfully, the pictures are kind of pretty). The remaining 40% of your time is spent playing minigames, 10% wandering around from one area to the next, and 20% laughing at the excellent humor sprinkled throughout the game.
I guess I was slightly disappointed, as the game departed so much from its predecessors. Instead of being a new and entertaining adventure game, it was closer to being a party game, only without the party compatibility. Despite the slightly tiresome gameplay and the occasionally lowbrow humor, I found myself generally amused. For the first six hours or so, I was even able to deal with the repetitive nature of the minigames, but towards the end, I was getting really tired of them. Thankfully, it was at this point that I found the "wimp out" feature, which lets you spend secret tokens (hidden in various places) to pass a challenge without actually having to participate in it. These same tokens are also useable for unlocking secret bonus material, like nude profiles of various girls.
There are a few things you will need in order to derive the maximum pleasure out of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (no, nothing like that, get your mind out of the gutter!). First off, if you do not have thick skin, move on. The game is completely and unapologetically crude, the humor crass and insensitive. You will also want some patience and a sense of humor that is both adult at times and incredibly unbelievably juvenile. Don't forget some friends who have a similar sense of humor or a place where you can enjoy the game with no one around (mostly to avoid the complication of them making fun of you for playing a game like Leisure Suit Larry). Last, but not least, it helps to be easily distracted by pretty half-naked females. As I personally lack that particular 'trait,' I found myself getting tired of the repetitious games and the frequent loading times.
The humor in this game is an absolute gem, tapping numerous popular culture references, like the band geek girl (American Pie, anyone?) who wants to be dominated by the school mascot, to the Soprano-esque tough daughter of a mob boss. Throughout your time playing, expect to be bombarded with these allusions. Also expect to laugh heavily as you are provided countless moments of exquisitely crafted comedy, which can be found in commonplace things like building and store names (Uncle Snuffy's Video Rental, Bum Cakes Erotic Bakery or the Horseplay Day Care and Methadone Clinic). Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, as frequently the comedic gems are buried in heaping piles of lowbrow humor. I am so tired of fart jokes right now.
While the game is not exactly an artistic masterpiece, it does have its own flair. I found it to be more appealing graphically than any of the previous Leisure Suit Larry games (seven years of technological advancement will do that for a game). The character designs are interesting and help with the humor (there is a porn fairy that looks somewhat like Ron Jeremy, only shorter and even more disproportionate). The character models are fairly choppy and not exactly super high resolution. If you were hoping to see some stunning computer-rendered nudity, look elsewhere because the less the models wear, the worse they look. The game has a fairly entertaining appearance reminiscent of a twisted cartoon gone wrong, and while the backgrounds do not look amazing technically, they are pretty cool in an artistic way. I also really liked little things they did to make it seem a touch more realistic. There are bottles, cans, papers, balls and other miscellaneous junk lying about that react in an at least semi-realistic way when you kick them (balls bounce around and bottles break).
The voice acting is definitely above average, with each character's voice matching his/her character design and profile. As an example, the band geek has a bit of a lisp, sounding like she has been wearing braces for years. The interactive discussions are also one of the best parts of this game because they create dynamic and entertaining conversations while you play. The music is placed intelligently within the game, with nothing standing out as being contrived. You hear music when you get near radios, and the music style seems to be based on where the radio is and who would be listening to it.
The game is very funny and can rival even the best of the inappropriate adult comedy out there. While I feel the developers missed their mark with some aspects of the humor (fart jokes are from junior high), other pieces of humor were dead-on and had me cracking up. I just wish the game could have lived up to the adventure games of yore, but perhaps the next time we see a Larry game, it will be a touch closer to the original. It is definitely worth renting, as you can easily get a couple hours of entertainment out of it; otherwise, you may never see Twiggy, and that would be a shame.
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