When Leisure Suit Larry was released, it was almost like that Batman quote from The Dark Knight: it’s the video game we deserved, not the one we needed. At the time adventure titles were pretty standard. King’s Quest, The Hobbit, Dragon’s Lair, and Ultima I were the “big hits,” sticking close to that generic fantasy setting. And if it wasn’t medieval fantasy realm it was somewhere in a sci-fi epic. Ideas were generally becoming stagnant, and people were beginning to bore with the typical “hero of the land” archetype. So, just like me in my high school math class, in his boredom, one developer started thinking about huge…tracts of land.
Honestly, god bless Al Lowe and Ken Williams. Sure, their ideas might not be the greatest and their games might not have the most intuitive puzzles, thought processes to solving said puzzles, or coherency in plot, but they’re always at least interesting to play. And it’d be hard to pitch this idea to any other company without the “Leisure Suit Larry” brand name attached to it like a shirt stapled to a man’s chest. It’s also hard to come out of finishing Leisure Suit Larry without having chuckled, laughed, or guffawed at something Larry’s done.
You begin Leisure Suit Larry like you would any 80’s adventure game: sign up for the 3 credit college course, download the game manual, and start studying for the exam that will be the game. The manual reveals that you are an averagely unattractive man that wears clothes people think are odd at best, tries to act suave while failing miserably, and doesn’t seem to be employed or stable. Geez, I thought I was playing this to get away from reality.
The goal is to help Larry get laid. A simple and straight-forward task that men have had since the dawn of time. Starting the game actually presents you with a pesky system to check whether you’re of age to play. Every time you start up the game you have to answer five multiple-choice questions of which, in 1987, you’d probably know all the answer. I, however, am not a 70’s kid. No, game, I did not know that Sam Sheppard was not an Attorney General. No, I also didn’t know who Bo Derek is, but I’m quite thankful I decided to Google that one. Thankfully, Al Lowe’s set up his own website and has all the answers up for anyone still wanting to play the game 28 years later.
Now, modern iterations of Leisure Suit Larry tended to have a “creepy college bathroom keg and orgy” feel to it, which caused all Leisure Suit Larry games to get the misogyny banner tacked on them. After playing through Leisure Suit Larry, however, I don’t see the original as having much prejudice against women in any real sense. The game plays out like a parody of the Han Solo or Indiana Jones type: a “walk the line” kind of guy with a tentative relation with the word “stable employment.” He’s also two parts pseudo-sexy, one part partial badass, and stuffed into the type of outfit that usually makes a man sweat profusely. Larry likes to make himself out in conversation like he’s seen it all and done it twice. In reality he’s a fidgety, nervous, middle-aged guy that’s on a dry spell longer than walking across the Sahara Desert. The closest he’s ever gotten to sleeping with someone of the opposite sex is living in his mom’s basement, something that at the age of 38 should be changed for anyone. Now he’s left that basement with a 70’s style suit, $94 in his pocket, and a dream of boobs. Truly, the American way.
A parody has to, in part, present some hyperbole to get the joke across. Leisure Suit Larry does that pretty well, breaking up parts that might’ve gone a bit too far with some fourth wall demolition and self-deprivation humor. I never get the sense that Leisure Suit Larry has a passion for women use, reuse, and abuse. He’s openly made fun of by both individuals and crowds of people, denied by multiple women (oh, spoiler I guess), and is seen in general as someone that no one around him wants to be around, let alone try and imitate. He’s a laughing stock, both to the characters in-game and the player, and anyone that tries to take his character seriously has obviously had something tragic happen to them at an early age that causes them to block out happiness.
The game’s mechanics are simple. Walk around with the arrow keys and type your way to breaking your virginity in a satisfying manner. You have seven in-game hours, which add up to two real-world hours, to find a woman that satisfies Larry’s outer and inner needs. The game employs a free-typing system to interacting with the world rather than a point-and-click model, something I’ve always generally preferred. It requires you to think of how to proceed next with the hammer, a remote control, a glass of whiskey, and some cash without resorting to just blindly combining responses and items. Alright, so the game isn’t exactly the most straight-forward thinking game. But that’s where the humor comes in; figuring out what it is you’re supposed to do, where you’re supposed to go, and how you’re to get there.
Leisure Suit Larry does commit one major cardinal sin the size of Larry’s list of girls he’s been denied by, and that is completely random resource generation. In order to get driven around by the taxi and pay for objects and items you might need to woo the lovely ladies, you require more than the $94 that you started out with. But like I said, we only have 7 in-game hours. Larry’d be hard-pressed to start handing out his resumes and applying for a job. So, off you go to the casino to gamble away for money. The problem is, the blackjack game and slots machine are both pretty equally random. As well, if you lose all your money, it’s game over, so save scumming becomes a necessity. But the fact that you can save-scum makes things a bit easier, rather than having to start at the beginning every time your wallet’s more empty than EA’s customer service department.
So I guess Leisure Suit Larry actually wasn’t half bad for what it’s worth, which is currently $2.99 for the first six titles. For it’s time it might’ve been a mediocre adventure title, but time has given us enough shit adventure titles to rectify that ruling somewhat. And who knows, maybe some of the other sequels elevated the concept somewhat. Maybe we’ll try to have sex with aliens. Maybe we’ll try to accomplish the most difficult task of all: maintaining a long-term, monogamous relationship. Or maybe we’ll get arrested for trying to hump a dog.