The adventure games of today are streamlined to the max – with one mouse click you can do anything. You can’t make any mistake, you can rarely (if ever) die, and you don’t have to hurry. The only requirement is to follow along the narrative. That usually equals helping yourself, there’s no need to save the world. And, I’m quite OK with that. Besides, I’m not really picky when it comes to adventure games – I’d play them all if I could. But the old ones, and especially those produced by Sierra, are more difficult to fully experience. The player is required to reset his brain back to the archaic interfaces, problematic design decisions and cobwebbed DRM. It’s an adventure in and of itself.
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards is a prime example of that. It’s a rather short story of a night during which the middle-aged, socially-strange, fashion-delayed Larry decides to finally have sex with someone, plus find love. A glorious quest that is. Narratively, Larry is the butt of most, if not all, of the jokes – he tries very hard, but fails even harder. The world is rough with the poor guy, and in the same way the game is rough with the player. Actually, interacting with the game, being trolled by it, is a large part of the fun in Larry 1.
Let’s start at the beginning – after the titles, the welcoming screen is also a pun-warning issued by sturgeon general – the game is not for children. Thus, in order to continue, you will have to prove your adult credentials. It’s extremely difficult – there are six age brackets and only half of them allow you to progress. My first choice was, of course, ‘over 100′ which seemed both amusing and correct. It seemed an absolute must. Unfortunately, the game quit, informing me that it wasn’t even a nice try and that I should grow up.
The second attempt was more successful, but the program still wasn’t too keen on trusting that I’m ’18-39.’ Additional interrogation was required to seal the deal. So, the game presented me with trivia which was a mixture of political, geographical and pop-cultural questions with often not too serious answers. The only problem – they were written in 1987. Now, this doesn’t seem like the most future-proof concept, and quickly enough, I did, indeed, find out that I’m not a forty-years-old American dude. After it was proven that I neither know of a sidekick to Captain Kangaroo, nor am aware of Tiny Tim, I was returned back to the desktop. But not before getting shouted at, and shamed for trying to ‘deceive such a friendly game.’ Yeah, I am the bad guy here.
Fortunately, it was just bad luck, and the rest of the questions were easier to decipher within the context, or trivial enough to get. I do know the names of The Beatles, and I am aware of the fact that John Milton wasn’t an astronaut. Anyway, with Wikipedia no question can pose too much of a challenge. I also have to admit that some of the answers were genuinely funny. “Which of these actors is your favorite?” was “None of the above.” And Gone with the Wind is about “four hours long.”
When I finally got to the game proper, I walked around a bit wondering if I can die. Sierra games of old presented multiple and often unexpected possibilities for random demise, but here? There are no monsters, no aliens, no traps and no jumping. Larry can’t even run. I smiled to myself thinking that there’s no chance in hell that I’m going to die. But then I went to pee (to the toilet, in game). It always makes me laugh that there are so many games where this is possible, even though it serves no purpose – no purpose but a childlike amusement of an unsuspecting player. So, I decided, like all well-meaning nice young people to flush. Unfortunately, the flusher turned out to be broken, then the water burst out of the toilet as if it were a volcano, filled the room, and drowned Larry in the process. In my mind’s eye, I saw the developers clapping and smugly congratulating each other. The bastards.
Soon, I also found out that instead of explaining that you can’t go to certain places, and that you should return promptly to the play-area, the game just kills you. It does not play around. Instead it prefers to abide by the conservative rule of ‘don’t teach the player by slapping his hands, instead punch him in the face with a toilet.’ The worst thing about the concept is that 25 years have gone by, and game developers still do the exact same thing. Of course, now, they give you a moment to change your mind, but I wouldn’t call this much of an evolution. In Larry Death is also used in other creative and educational ways, so, one cannot just call the developers irresponsible. To the contrary, through killing the protagonist, they promote safe sex, condemn exhibitionism and drunk driving, while also advising to always pay for the cab fare.
Oh, but not everything is so pleasant. The money system in the game is atrocious – the player is required to pay for a lot of different things. To achieve this, one has to go to the casino and win a large stack of dollar bills (blackjack or one-armed bandit). In practice, this means that you are ordered to stand beside a machine, save, play, lose, re-load, repeat until you are in possession of $500. It’s mildly fun because I like blackjack, but as a game mechanism it is a bit of a failure – too much save-scumming.
Luckily, the item placement is quite logical (though often implausible – you find a giant diamond ring in a sink, apparently someone just left it there). The solutions to problems are also reasonable, and characters are usually very helpful. They just know what they want. Though, there are too many uses for the mentioned money. What is more, there are also many subquests, things you don’t have to do, but are a fun distraction, like calling a sex-line.
On the other hand, the narrative is a bit all over the place. But I prefer to see it as a little psychological game with the player. Just like Larry has to deal with the refusal and the teasing of the many ladies he encounters, you are led down the same strange wicked road of gameplay red herrings. All the things you learn along the way, turn out to be pointless. After all the fantasy crushing that was the Fawn encounter (give me presents, I will love you), the game does a 180, and finish in the silliest of fantasy realizations – you barge unceremoniously into some good-looking rich lady’s penthouse, and she says you’re cool, and should definitely join her in the jacuzzi. I expected something disastrous to happen again. And, in a way, it did – the game ended.
In the end, I enjoyed the first Larry game quite a bit. The three hours it took me to finish it were fun and occasionally even funny. It’s neither memorable nor deep, yet it has a charm. Funnily enough, it’s also filthy but in such a lame non-threatening way that it doesn’t matter. Larry the game would like to believe itself to be the adult in the relationship with the player, and it really isn’t. It’s equally juvenile and silly, poking fun and high-fiving at random. This peculiar threesome of the gamer, the game and Larry interacting with each other in various ways is what made it compelling to me.