Despite Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizard’s classic status, one can’t help but wonder why it needed to be remade again. This is as much a statement of ignorance as one of ponderance, as it must be noted that I played neither the original (which was itself something akin to a remake of Softporn Adventures) nor its 1991 remake. But my ignorance doesn’t change the fact that after a rather abhorrent slew of reasonably recent Leisure Suit Larry games it would surely have been a more powerful statement for Al Lowe to present the Kickstarter community (if such a thing exists) with a new Leisure Suit Larry game which would prove that a reimagined Larry Laffer could happily exist in the modern world where things like sexual nihilism are now looked down upon, but humour is no more progressive.
Such fears quickly faded as the menu music began: an intoxicating, almost midi-fidelity collection of chirpy synthesisers which explode with no more than a cymbal clash into amusing, catchy live brass and wind jazz noodling—a strikingly original musical style for what is in many ways a pastiche of the 1980s. There are no brief and obligatory drum breaks unceremoniously inserted into the percussion, and the slight snippets of chiptune synthesisers only help to juxtapose and emphasise the live, contemporary instrumentation that should be no less synonymous with the era than new wave and drum machines.
If such fears had faded, then they disappeared completely as I began the tutorial—an experience that was all too necessary for an adventure game, but was endearingly earnest: narrated by Al Lowe no less; his voice full of genuine enthusiasm, excitement and pride at not only the opportunity to explain how his labour of love functioned, but also at the chance to do something as absurd as narrate the tutorial!
Unfortunately, such an enjoyable tutorial was not necessitated by a need to service fans or indulge Al Lowe but because the way one interacts with the world of Lost Wages is unnecessarily complex and awkward. Objects, people and pretty much anything can be interacted with in a number of ways: one can touch, unzip in front of, lick/sniff, look at and talk to whatever one desires. Beyond unzipping and licking, that doesn’t seem like an overly complex system—in fact, it’s one that many adventure games follow.
The issue is that to perform each action one must manually select them either from a drop down menu at the top of the screen, by holding down the left mouse button on the curiosity in question, or by cycling through the actions with the right mouse button. But even this, awkward as it is, would not be too intrusive if it weren’t for the inventory system.
The inventory must be manually opened with a click. An item can then be placed in Larry’s hand. The inventory must then be closed, and only then can Larry finally use the item in question. Worse still, if a password is written on an item, that item must be used on the gatekeeper every time to proceed, and unlocked doors relock themselves with clockwork regularity. Items must also be touched and looked at as a matter of course so as to discover something that was not immediately obvious about them. This discovery often constitutes solving a puzzle; secrets from items one has picked up sometimes reveal or are the answer to a puzzle one is trying to solve.
Indeed, the vast majority of the puzzles are simple and easily solved—certainly not what one would expect from a remake of such an old adventure game. Wasn’t that what killed the adventure game genre? Esoteric, illogical puzzles that only mentally challenged adventure gamers such as myself could even begin to comprehend? But there’s my ignorance again; the original and original remake may not have followed such early adventure game conventions.
But perhaps it’s not nearly so bad as it seems (except for cycling with the right mouse button which definitely is: there are so many ways to interact that it’s all but impossible to memorise the order correctly; and if one right-clicks one too many times, one must start all over again). The simple puzzles combined with the fact that the rest of Reloaded moves along at a wandering, nonlinear pace across an equally flexible structure only helps to exaggerate the finicky nature of the interface and vice versa.
But worse still is the excruciatingly inexcusable gambling system. Larry is in Lost Wages so his wages are at the mercy of games of chance, and gambling is an unavoidable tax because taxis, drinks and prostitutes all cost money. Technically prostitutes don’t (say what?), but condoms do.
This means that to be able to simply progress (and survive; not having enough money to pay for the right item or a taxi fare are just some of the amusing ways in which Larry can die) gambling is compulsory, either through the medium of slot machines or digital blackjack—neither of which have the charm of flashing bright lights and old people smell or card counting respectively. Place your bets; save if you win, and reload if you lose. That way it doesn’t cost you any money; just time and your soul. And if you go broke? It’s effectively game over if you hadn’t saved.
It’s a significant blow to the pacing that is so happy to allow the player to move from setting to setting and pun to pun; exploring at their own leisure. Although the narrative does unfold in a linear fashion, the way that one can solve the puzzles and take in the world (I advise you to lick/sniff everything) are left to one’s own discretion. This structure is often most effective in adventure games that confront the player with challenging puzzles as it affords the player a chance to give their brain a rest and consider a problem elsewhere in the world, but it works just as effectively here; even with the simplicity of the puzzles present. In fact, it compliments them, and means that the lack of satisfaction that the puzzles provide never feels like too much of a disappointment because one can so easily move optimistically on to the next puzzle or lick/sniff the ground in a new setting.
One remnant from in the Land of the Lounge Lizards that even I could pick up on is the use of narration in place of animation. Although Reloaded is lushly illustrated with rich environments (that could probably have used a little more direction in navigational design: an invisible bedroom behind a wall is a little jarring when one has been otherwise given so much aural direction from the narrator), much of the action that takes place is described orally while the characters in question stand statically; or Larry itches his crotch when he’s meant to be doing something far more dignified (or even less).
Technically Leisure Suit Larry may not have done this, but it’s an archaic adventure game convention that is nothing short of charming here thanks to the quality of the narration, and the tawdry, flash-like quality of the animation. The narrator puts in a performance no less earnest and endearing than Al Lowe in the tutorial, but performs all the more professionally; prosaically pulling together paragraph after paragraph of poetry in a perfect performance that is the opposite of perfunctory. Even the most groan-inducing jokes elicit at least a smile from the sheer earnestness of the performance alone.
Which is not to imply that the jokes are bad (at least not bad in a bad way—on the contrary: although alliteration is the literary equivalent of puns; err, puns are literary too? What was I saying?), but they are quite clearly, obviously jokes. And jokes are so passé. Jokes are so unfashionable. When was the last time a cool stand up comedian told a joke? Probably 1987. And it’s stand up comedy that makes the humour seem all the more fresh and divergent (or dated). An in-game stand up comedian delivers an almost full-length routine featuring jokes about Jewish mothers and haemorrhoids at an empty cabaret—perhaps a serious commentary on the state of stand up comedy? Probably not.
But the truly funny thing is that once one looks past the carefully composed narrative of a modern stand up comedy routine, one can see that the same oh-so-contemporary, controversial and edgy comedic “truisms” and stereotypes that are delivered today have actually been repeated ad nauseum throughout the history of stand up comedy—it’s just that they used to be delivered with a punch line.
Which is exactly what Reloaded is lacking. Although the flexible composition of the setting and structure offset the simplicity of the puzzles, it’s still left to the narrative to give Reloaded the climax that it desperately desires, and which it does not deliver to the player. There is no tangible sexual catharsis in the climax, not that Reloaded tries in any way to be erotic; but there is no tangible excitement or fulfilment for Larry as a protagonist—nor any emptiness, guilt or shame. There’s no more humour than in any previous individually illustrated encounter; probably less, in fact. There may be drowning, but that’s a little more disturbing than funny given that the humour is saccharinely white in every sense of the word.
The final visual gag involving latex and helium is a predictable yet appreciated climax, but it comes prematurely; even if almost at the end. Those of us who did not fund the project weren’t quite there yet, and although the rewards for those who did can be enjoyed with a sense of sadistic voyeurism (the Kickstarters credited in the game receive mocking jest in return for their money as well as a cabaret song as musically enjoyable as it is funny, with just the right amount of tragic melodrama to really sell it), we’re still left to watch from behind the trench coat only a little less alone than Larry.