Anyway, I finished Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude this evening. What a lousy game. I guess Sierra (or rather, Vivendi Universal) made something of a bestseller of it, but that's all because it was marketed as an adult game... which it is. It's extremely adult (then again, I played the "Uncut and Uncensored" version), but that's the only outstanding thing about it. You'd think that there would be enough porn on the Internet to satisfy people who are looking for that kind of stuff, but apparently there's a market for this stuff. I bought the game (against my better judgement, incidentally) because I was familiar with the previous Leisure Suit Larry games. The biggest incentive for finishing it was the fact that I'd spent money on it. Games used to advertise "40+ hours of gameplay!" I wonder how long this one was projected to take its players? I finished it in under ten.
Do I sound disappointed and kind of annoyed? I am. I grew up with the Leisure Suit Larry games, man! A lot of people my age did. The major selling point (for 12-year-olds, anyway) was the sex. We all figured out sooner or later (usually sooner) that the LSL games were on the same level as, say, a particularly racy sitcom, but those of us who stuck with the games anyway found the rest of the experience to be pretty grand. While most stores wouldn't sell them to minors (or maybe they would -- I never tried), the games rarely rose above a PG-13 level (and we're talking early '90s PG-13, not The Nutty Professor 2 PG-13). They were marketed on the strength of their comedy and being a little racy. LSL: MCL is too, but it's a different kind of comedy that just doesn't work for me, and it's definitely aiming for the gaming demographic that loves Johnny Knoxville, American Pie, and the Grand Theft Auto games.
So what was so bad about it (and I ask purely for the sake of exercising my fingers, since very few of you will read this)? In a nutshell, the problem has more to do with attaching it to the Leisure Suit Larry franchise than anything else. "Leisure Suit" Larry Laffer, hero of the previous six games, has been relegated to cameo appearances. LSL: MCL focuses on the college exploits of Larry's more fashionably-dressed nephew, Larry Lovage. The game is full of references to previous LSL games, but they're badly forced. All of the campus locations, for example, are named after characters from previous games. Why would Uncle Larry's ex-boss, adult entertainment king and mafia flunky Silas Scruemall have a dormatory named after him? These references aren't important to the plot. Uncle Larry isn't important to the plot. If the game had had a different title, it would just have been another mediocre bestselling video game that I could happily ignore. Plastering Leisure Suit Larry all over it was a total marketing move, especially since Al Lowe isn't even mentioned under the "special thanks" section of the credits. He created the character and designed the rest of the series, dammit!
Specifically, I disliked the gameplay. The comparison to Grand Theft Auto is more than apropos -- it's like the designers (who, in my fantasy, are big fans of Josie and the Pussycats) were sitting around playing GTA3 and saying "wouldn't it be jerkin' if like, we made a game like this, but set it on a college campus? With naked chicks?" Worse than the GTA comparison is the fact that there are no puzzles. At all. The game is a series of "go here and talk to _____" tasks, peppered with arcade sequences. These minigames represent most of the time I spent playing the game and aren't fun. It takes a couple of tries to get the hang of most of them, and by the time you've beaten them you don't really want to play again. Then they're repeated ad nauseam. The one I hated most was basically Dance Dance Revolution played with the arrow keys, but there are also clones of Pong, Simon, and a simulation of the tried-and-true college pastime of quarters, but once you've spent six games figuring out how to move the mouse properly, the prospect of doing it again several times isn't very rousing.
The plot is banal and unengaging -- Larry wants to get on a dating show called Swingles, blah, blah, blah, seduce several women on campus, blah, blah, blah... Actually, cut out the "blah"s, and that's about all there is to it. There's an awful lot of sex and an awful lot of profanity, but you can't market a game on these two things alone. The gameplay has to be fun. Failing that, the plot should at least be entertaining. In previous Leisure Suit Larry games, Larry Laffer defeated the evil Dr. Nonookie, rescued Dan Quayle's mommy from certain death, and got kidnapped by aliens, setting up a sequel which never happened. Leisure Suit Larry 8: Lust in Space sounded like a good idea to me. Magna Cum Laude seems sophomoric and unimaginitve by comparison.
Was there anything good about the game? Yes, actually, there were a lot of jokes and animated sequences that I liked, but they were adrift in a huge sea of not funny. Especially notable was the conversation interface, which a lot of reviewers picked on and discussed when the game was new. When you're talking to a character in LSL: MCL, you control a sperm on the lower half of the screen. Icons come toward you, and the direction of the conversation depends on which ones you hit. They play with this interface in a few places, such as the scene with the aspiring actress who won't shut up about herself. Larry's mind is wandering, and you get to hear his internal dialogue. In another scene you're on the dance floor. Summer Nights from the musical Grease is playing, and the lyrics change according to the icons you hit. It's entertaining, but it was funnier the first time I saw it... in The Curse of Monkey Island.
My favorite part of the game by far though centers around Tilly, the president of the sorority. She's an upper-class twit who refuses even to speak with you unless you don a suit. When you're not talking to her, she's usually on her cell phone saying things like "...lost in the mail? How do you lose a 350-pound robotic henchman?" or "15 million dollars for a prototype missile defense laser, and I'm the crazy one?" She's hungry for power, and in the middle of trying to convince her that you can help her seize it, you accidentally admit that you're working for somebody else.
"And who is this person?" asks Tilly.
Mind racing, Larry looks frantically around the room and notices a box of cereal labelled "Free Rathgar toy inside!"
"Rathgar!" Larry exclaims triumphantly. "Mr. Rathgar."
Tilly thinks Mr. Rathgar sounds like a powerful ally, so she asks to meet him. Larry conducts the meeting by keeping Tilly outside his dorm room as she converses with strategically-chosen scenes from an episode of a cartoon where Rathgar is featured as the bad guy. Rathgar is obviously a takeoff on She-Ra's Hordak (right down to the fact that he leads the Evil Horde which is headquartered in the Fright Zone). This sequence is controlled via the same conversation interface, and when you hit the wrong icons, Larry accidentally plays revealing clips like "Throw him in the deepest, darkest dungeon we have!" or "Foiled once again by that heroic nincompoop, Star Sky! Curse you, Star Sky!"
Anyway, my point -- yes, I have one -- is that that scene is funny.
There, I've ruined the best part of the game for you, and you don't have to buy it.