Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded [Review]
I’m hesitant to call Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded a modern update of the 1987 PC game Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Yes, it has upgraded its interface so it’s a whole lot simpler than point-and-click adventure games of that era, and it did update the graphics so that they look a whole lot nicer than they used to, but some rotten things followed this game on its trip to modernity. Fans of old Sierra adventure games will be right at home with the steep difficulty and frustrations still present in the game, but for a modern audience some of these challenges will feel a little needless. If you’re just looking for an excuse to give the original game another spin then this game will be fun for you, but anyone new looking to see why a game about getting laid needed a reboot might not see what the fuss was about.
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded may have updated itself a bit, but it brought a lot of bad ideas to the present as well either as jokes or by refusing to update how the game worked. You get an example of this right from the start when the game asks you a few questions to verify your age. This stuff was put in place in the original game to keep kids away from the game’s more adult-oriented content (it didn’t work then, either, as my twelve year old self will attest to). Anyway, you had to answer a couple of questions correctly to play the game, and they were mostly trivia that an adult in the 80’s would know.
It’s been updated so the questions are something an adult should know these days, in theory. I had to Google most of the questions since I don’t even slightly care about which celebrities are Scientologists, and I also had no idea that Roberta Williams designed video games. I just didn’t know this crap, and if it was supposed to be funny, then it’s failing miserably. I guess it’s cute to have the same question system in place for people who really harken back to the original, but I expected something far more entertaining here if it was going to be included. Then again, you can still cheat to bypass the questions, so I highly recommend hitting CTRL+ALT+X and getting on with the damn game.
When you’re finally playing, you’ll finally see some improvements to justify why you bought the game again. The graphical update to the game is pretty good, reminding me of the first time I played The Curse of Monkey Island. Everything is done up like a cartoon, and lots of details have been added to make the city of Lost Wages look even sleazier than it did before. Little background items have been added; many of which will make you want to wash your hands after examining them. It’s hardly earth-shattering as The Curse of Monkey Island looked this good back in 1997, but for a Leisure Suit Larry game it’s a solid update. To be honest, I could have gone without a graphical update that added more detail, though. I would have been pretty content to live out the rest of my days without seeing the sequence with the hooker redone, but thanks anyway, Replay Games. It looks great, but there are some things I wish I hadn’t seen in more detail.
Having all these little extras means having more interactions with your environment. Most point-and-click games tend to just tell you some variant on “Can’t do that” when you try to interact with your environment or items in a way the game doesn’t intend you to. In this remake, the writers wrote a specific reaction (and narrated it) for every single command used on every single item. Want to talk to the stool? Go for it. Want to look at a wall in the bathroom? The game has something to say. It’s pretty cool that you can do anything to just about everything in the game and get a unique response, as it encourages you to look around and really enjoy yourself. Considering the silly nature of the game you can get some really strange reactions out of it, and it was nice to have a good reason to wander and just goof off with a point-and-click adventure game. I tend to get bogged down following the task at hand in these games, but this one let me relax a little and play around.
Interacting with the environment is a lot simpler than it used to be. No more rushing to type out “Ken Sent Me” before the jerk closes the door hatch. The game has a handful of different icons that let you look, move, talk to, and interact with your environment. You can scroll through them with the mouse wheel to make life easier, or hold down the button to have all your options form a circle around the cursor’s location so you can quickly pick one. It’s a whole lot better than typing things out, and is a huge improvement on the original. Frequent point-and-click players will note the addition of two game-specific interactions, licking and unzipping your fly. The reactions when using those tend to skirt the line between funny and disgusting, so be very, very sure when you want to lick a bar stool or unzip your fly on a homeless guy.
While the interface does make things easier, it’s a little bit clunkier than a modern audience may be used to. It’s the small issues that make it a nuisance, such as how you can’t just pick up an item in your inventory and then click outside the inventory box to leave it. You’re forced to click on the OK button once you have the item you selected to leave; something that annoyed me after the relative ease of item use in the last few games I’ve played from the genre. Also, some items have to be used on each other in a specific order for them to work together. The game will tease you with a joke explaining why what you did wouldn’t work, but it felt like it just added a pointless step when I already knew what to do.
There is also no indication of important things to interact with in the environment. I knew a lot of what I had to do considering I played this game before, but someone new to the game might not have any idea what they should be trying to pick up. I thought the updated graphics would help make important items clearer, but your best bet is really just trying to take anything you can, just like it was twenty-five years ago. There aren’t a lot of locations to go to so it’s not all that hard to get the stuff you need, but I still think the game could have used an item highlighting system to make things a little more approachable for new players.
It doesn’t help that the game can be pretty annoying about certain items. You have to interact with certain characters who only show up randomly for a couple of things you need to finish the game, so you may find yourself going in and out of doors to get a character to show up. It’s a small aggravation, but when you’re clueless about what to do, adding in a random chance that you won’t even see the character you need to talk to can doesn’t help. Also, some of the items you need to find are hidden pretty well; either in the environment or through how you use them.
One item I needed was hidden in a tiny corner of the screen, half-hidden by a statue, and I just happened to get lucky while trying to click the statue itself. At other times, I had to manipulate an item quite a few times to get the outcome I needed. There was an item at the beginning that I had to use four or five times before it would do what I wanted, and after that, I had to use another item almost ten times before it had the desired effect. If I hadn’t known for a fact that I was supposed to keep using the item I would have given up on it, likely until I opened up an FAQ out of frustration. These are problems that have followed this old point-and-click game to the present, and while some people will say that this is in keeping with the spirit of the old games, it’s sure not going to earn it any new customers.
Also, that excuse doesn’t really fly with the new quest line that was added to the game. You can try to romance a new girl in Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded, and to do so you have to collect a few odd items. One of them is the aforementioned item by the statue, one of the hardest items to see in the game. I don’t know why they felt they needed to make the new quest longer by sending you on a pixel hunt, but I guess it’s in keeping with the spirit of the old games. All I learned is that I no longer have the patience for this kind of crap any more when modern point-and-click games go out of their way to keep the game flowing. There is a limited hint system for some quests if you happen to pick up the right item at one point, but beyond that, don’t expect many modern assistance in this game. If you really want to know what point-and-click adventures used to be like, this one will show you.
Well, not entirely, I guess. Replay Games have gone out of their way to remove the permanent losses you used to stumble into during the old game. Point-and-click adventures of the time used to punish the player, quite severely, for not finding the proper items in the game at the right time. If you didn’t have the pocket knife by a certain point in Leisure Suit Larry, you would lose and typically have to restart the game. Rather than drive players into a frothy rage, they’ve set up items appearances and quests so that you never set yourself up for permanent failure. You can’t get an item that will get you stuck unless you have the item that will get you unstuck, thankfully, so there’s no more finding yourself permanently stuck after four or five hours. That’s one thing I’m glad they didn’t bring to the remake.
Another nice change was making death more approachable. You used to die from all sorts of pointless things in the old game, right on down to walking across the street or stepping onto another screen. Really pointless stuff would get you killed and force you to reload, so it was nice that you’d just get a dumb little sequence and reappear right where you’d been. It was a small aggravation, though, but nice to see some changes to make things easier.
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded seems to be a game that wants to bridge the difficulties of old point-and-click adventures with some of the new features made available to modern fans of the genre. It does smooth out a lot of the really, really unpleasant stuff that used to be part of these games, but it isn’t willing to go as far as the hand-holding that makes the games more appealing to a broader audience. It’s something that’s nice for the fans of the original game, but it’s not doing the game any favors for a modern audience. I really think the game would reach more people with the help systems and item highlighting that tends to be in most point-and-click games these days, or even if they were in a separate mode, but the game is geared more toward fans of the original who want to play it again. It definitely works for those folks who still remember the game in and out, but it feels like a wasted opportunity to show gamers a part of their history.
That’s because, however you might feel about the content, Leisure Suit Larry is a part of gaming history. It’s a snapshot of the era before the ESRB and before parents really knew what a game might show you. It’s also from a time before the internet was big, back when a growing boy had to turn to the women’s undergarment section of a catalog to catch a glimpse of near female nudity. This was a time when you’d tolerate the point-and-click crap just to see a bit of digitized woman, because that was your only option. The game still captures that sleazy spirit, leaving me half-worried that someone will catch me playing it before I can explain myself. It’s still got that feel to it, for good or bad, and anyone who played the original will feel right at home with this remake.
It does its job competently, taking away some of the old problems with the game and giving it a nice new look for 2013. I still feel that, despite its adult-themed content, it could have found a modern audience curious about these old games. It’s possessed of an odd charm, and is downright tame compared to most M rated games these days, so there was a chance to make it appeal to more people. Replay Games didn’t do quite enough to make the game flow easier for a modern audience, so it’ll take a specific kind of player to tolerate the problems the game brought forward from the past. There is some interesting gameplay here and it is a fun snapshot of its era for people who loved the original, but the game feels like it forced itself to be a niche title before it even released. Overall, it’ll be a fun game for its original audience, but a wasted opportunity to introduce it to new players.
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded is available to download from the developer’s site for $19.99.