Final thoughts on Leisure Suit Larry

Back in the day Leisure Suit Larry was a scandalous game: it had sex in it. Even nowadays it has somewhat of a sleazy reputation, despite a lot of modern gamers haven't even played it, but the matter of truth is, that the first two games Larry was in were pretty damned tame. LSL1 had a huge CENSORED bar over the sex scenes and Larry 2 had barely any sex at all. In truth, Larry games are more about being a bit raunchy comedies about sex than actually having sex. Very much like those a bit nasty teen comedies, where you might see an occasional glimpse of a breast. There are more talk and jokes about sex in the series than there's explicit sex in them.

But reputations cling hard. When a lot of people were condemning Larry games when they were originally released, they did so based on hearsay. Most of the prudes who went ballistic about them never did, and most likely never have played them, but as the had heard there was sex involved, they opposed them on principle. Then again, that also helped to sell the games and in the end, Al Lowe designed 6 Larry adventures, of which some aren't very good, a couple is passable and one is really, really great.

The first two Larry games aren't very good if you ask me. Especially LSL1 has a structure that has aged badly and relies a lot on the repetitive action of having the need for gambling. Even the recent remake fell into the trap of the original games archaic design and proved, that the remake should have been far more liberal. LSL2 is an interesting game, but its design is so flawed with terrible choices, that it's pretty much a 101 on how not to design a game unless you want the players to pull out their hair and punch in their monitors. On the other note, it is interesting, that Al Lowe toned the sequel to his surprise hit game down so much: its humour is tamer, there's barely any nudity in it, all sex ends up Larry getting killed and so on. As such it feels like a game Al Lowe was a bit afraid to make, so he ended up self-censoring himself to the extent of making Larry a different character altogether.

I'm not claiming that Larry 3 is a game that has aged very gracefully either, but out of the parser-driven games, it definitely is the best one. It tries to steer away from the most horrible school of adventure puzzle design and it uses the technology of the time very well. Despite LSL2 and LSL3 were made with the same engine, LSL2 is almost void of music and sound effects, whereas LSL3 is full of tunes and voices making the game feel more alive, especially if you are using MT-32 emulation. Design wise Al Lowe also tried something new, as half the game is played as Passionate Patti, who's Larry's main love interest.  LSL3 also is the first game in the series getting raunchier by having more sex and naked breasts here and there. Larry 4 I have no recollection over.

If not counting graphical aspects, the first VGA coloured and mouse driven Larry game LSL5 is a disappointment. Graphically it looks very nice with hand-painted backgrounds and more cartoon-like approach on character design. Again you can control both, Larry and Patti, but as a game, it's just not that great. It's not terrible, but it has design elements in it which make it a bit frustrating and overall it feels like a half-baked game, like if Al Lowe didn't fully know what he wanted out of it. I do think it could have been a better game had Al just consecrated on Patti's side of the story, as it was more interesting than what Larry had to do. Also, in the end, I don't think it was even that funny.

LSL6 is funnier, but it also is the ugly duckling of the series. It has the worst background art of the series, hell, I'd even call it the ugliest game Sierra ever did. While the close-ups of the women are relatively well done, the background art is an ugly mess of photo cuttings, tried to made look like a cartoonish resort. It's definitely better as a game than the previous entry to the series, but at the same time, I wouldn't call it a classic either.

The last Al Lowe designed Larry game is LSL7: Love for Sail!, which I think is the best entry in the series. Playing it makes me feel like Al Lowe was at the top of his craft and that he had perfected the Larry formula.  It was all about Larry trying to get the girls, failing and sometimes almost succeeding. It's a game that looks almost like a Disney cartoon but is nothing like a Disney cartoon. It's raunchy and almost all the time funny. It's a perfect blend of modern adventure design and funny writing laced with a solid voice cast, which delivers the jokes at a steady pace. It's too bad Al Lowe didn't manage to continue along this path, as the style he nailed down here would have been great for a couple of games more. Instead, we got something entirely different from people, who didn't even ask Al Lowe's opinion about the series.

Granted, I've only played Magna Cum Laude of the Larry Lovage Leisure Suit Larry games. That one has a couple of decent jokes in it, but as far gameplay goes, it's just a repetitious collection of minigames. Had they even tried to make is more like an adventure game, it could have turned out okay, but as it is now, well, it just falls apart under the bland game design. Box Office Bust is a game I've never played myself, but the reviews haven't been kind to it. Depending on a platform, Metascore for it ranges from 17 to 25. The general consensus about it is, that it's an ugly, broken game that should not have been made. In contrast to that Magna Cum Laude ranges from 59 to 62, so if you ever play either, I guess Magna Cum Laude is it.

A couple of years ago Leisure Suit Larry 1 was remade by Replay games. It was a Kickstarter game and had the remake sold well enough there would have been a possibility for a proper Larry 8, Leisure Suit Larry Goes Uranus, which was teased at the end of LSL7. Sadly enough there was all kinds of not game related drama with Replay games, which lead Al Lowe to retire from games again and any change for a brand new Al Lowe helmed Larry game was buried. The remake itself was okay, but as I previously stated, it should have been far more liberal than it ended up as: the old design the remake took its cues from hasn't aged at all well, so in the end, it would have been better for them to make an entirely new game. It's still the best version of the first Larry though.

Most of the Larry games are prisoners of their respective release era. When the series was born, game designers were all self-learned and the notions of what is good design didn't yet exist. Unlike some designers of the era, Al Lowe always seemed to learn from his mistakes as well as design choices made by other people. That is evident from how the Larry series itself evolved through the years.

I must confess, that I have a fair share of nostalgy towards the games, and I can't really dislike any of them. Hell, even Larry 2 is my favourite badly designed game. But I can detach myself from them long enough in order to see their flaws. Only LSL7 has really endured well and I'm guessing it might continue enduring for a good while yet. As a whole though, most of the Larry games are more interesting as curiosities and should be approached accordingly.

My individual take on the Larry games:

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards
Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places)
Leisure Suit Larry: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals
Leisure Suit Larry: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work
Leisure Suit Larry: Shape Up or Slip Out
Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail!

The games are available for purchase through GOG.