Reviewed: November 16, 2004
Released: October 13, 2004
Larry Laffer and I go way back, nearly 20 years. It was 1987 and I was working at a computer retail outlet selling the “new line” of IBM personal computers. A friend of mine came into the store with a 3” floppy and said, “You have to check this out.” We stuck the disk in a new IBM Model 50 with a color (yes color) monitor and I found myself on the street outside Lefty’s Bar. My life would never be the same.
That single trip into the Land of the Lounge Lizards literally set the course for my life that has in some part put me where I am today, writing this review. You see, after playing the original Leisure Suit Larry (my first graphical adventure game ever – even though it was EGA) I became a huge fan of all things Sierra. I pursued the company with a near-stalker dedication until 1990 when they finally flew me to Oakhurst, California to work for them. My first project – the VGA remake of the original Larry game. Irony or fate?
A lot has happened in the past 15 years but Larry has always been a significant milestone in my gaming, my career, and in some way, my very life. I’ve followed Larry on multiple adventures, to health spas, a cruise ship, a secret island lair, and more, and now it’s with great pleasure that I get to take on the personae of Larry Lovege, the inept nephew of Larry as he tries to “make the grade” at the Walnut Log Community College in Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude.
Of course Larry’s major field of study is the ladies, and even though he is about as smooth an Indiana county road, I do have to give this guy props for effort. He’ll deliver the corniest pick-up lines in the history of dating with a straight face. Girls will ridicule, insult, or even ignore him yet he remains oblivious to his own geekdom. Larry is the consummate ladies man, a legend in his own mind.
Magna Cum Laude breaks the conventional boundaries of adventure games by managing to include a tribute to every popular game and pop-culture reference in the past 20 years, but at its core, this is a true-to-form adventure game that will have you exploring levels, talking to dozens of wickedly clever characters, and performing all sorts of mindless and often demeaning tasks.
Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. This game suffers from horribly long load times. We’re talking 20-60 seconds and sometimes you won’t even play that long before you trigger another load time. Example: You leave your dorm room. 10-20 sec load. You walk a straight line to the exit door not talking to anyone – this takes 14 seconds. You exit the dormitory, which triggers another 20-30 sec load. Load times also interrupt your game experience when you want to play any of the dozens of mini-games that make up the college experience. The designers seemed to have anticipated your possible annoyance by decorating the load screens with a bevy of babes, both real and CG. You can even spend your valuable game dollars to unlock additional and naughtier screens.
With that single flaw out of the way I am happy to report that the rest of Magna Cum Laude is a total blast, a mix of Animal House and Porky’s and probably a few dozen other teen-sex movies you may or may not have seen. The entire game revolves around Larry getting on a game show called Swingles; a plotline stripped from Leisure Suit Larry 6 - Shape Up or Slip Out!.
Being the dork he is, Larry must convince the producer/host, Uma, he is worthy to be on the show by providing various “tokens of affection” from his conquests. Of course the women on campus aren’t your easy scores. You have the token slut, Luba, also known as the community bike (everyone has had a ride), a sexy Jewish cowgirl, a demon-possessed band geek, a high-maintenance Mafia daughter, Russian sorority babe, sexy science professor, and perhaps the coolest virtual girl on the planet, Morgan. Who doesn’t love a hot babe who follows wrestling, plays D&D, and will give a Wookie a hand-job for a Cappuccino? I knew I saw Chewbacca at Starbucks the other day.
On your quest to bed every significant female cast member you will engage in countless mini-games to earn respect, money, or simply progress the story along. The most frequent mini-game you will play is the “conversation game”, because really, isn’t talking to women a game? Conversations are very dynamic. Rather than picking topics from a printed list of choices you are in control of a smiling, swimming sperm that must navigate the flow of conversation that is littered with choices, good and bad.
Your goal is to have the heart meter filled by the end of the conversation. Green positive choices increase your meter while red bad choices will lower it. The trade off here is that the red choices can be quite fun and totally tempting to try. Saying the right thing will win you the game quicker, but going off on some random tangent will have you rolling on the floor in hysterical uncontrollable laughter.
As the game gets deeper so do the conversations. Some can last upwards of 2-3 minutes. You’ll even play a game of D&D using this branching conversation game. Later in the game orange icons will appear in the conversation flow. One icon will freeze your sperm so you are temporarily unable to navigate the flow. Other conversations are strewn with beer mugs that will increase your alcohol content making it very hard to steer your sperm. Friends don’t let sperm swim drunk.
Gameplay couldn’t be simpler from a control standpoint. You move Larry around campus (and off campus) with the analog stick. Everything else is handled with the four face buttons, which change function based on the person or object you are interacting with. At any given time the current function of any button is shown in the button map on the HUD so the A button might open a door or start a conversation depending on what you are looking at.
When you aren’t running around or talking you will be playing a variety of old school mini-games. One game has you passing out fliers in a clone of the game Tapper. There is a primitive variation of Pong (don’t ask about the penis and the bell), and of course you can’t go to college without learning the art of Quarters. This drinking game makes excellent use of the analog stick for some precise skill-based arcade gaming.
Then you have some other creative games like pattern matching where an overlay of the four face buttons appears on the screen and you have to repeat the flashing buttons in the order they are displayed. This is used to do things like mix drinks or perform extreme makeovers. There is also a rhythm game that plays out much like any other dance game. You’ll have to match directional cues and button presses to dance and compete on trampoline jumping contests. There is even the old hand-slap game. It might seem a bit childish until the girls start stripping when they lose.
Another interesting sidebar to the game is the photography element. You are given a camera early in the game and you can take pictures of anything or anybody. You can then have these photos evaluated (for a fee) and sell them. Sometimes this is part of a quest and other times it’s just a way to make some spare cash. You can save your favorites to the Xbox hard drive.
Fashion sense is always crucial for a successful love life and Larry has more costume changes than the new Elton John show in Vegas. You’ll need the right clothes and accessories to even talk to some girls. Dressing up as Twiggy, the school mascot will light a fire in the loins of the band geek, and you’ll need to raid the closet of Steve Urkel (thick glasses, pocket protector, and all) if you want to get Morgan back to your room.
Of course clothes cost money and money doesn’t grow on trees, even in an adventure game. Money can be found lying all over the place. It comes in small quantities but there is no indication of where it might be so you need to keep an eye on your button HUD and whenever the eyeball appears hit the A button. There might be some cash lying around or perhaps a secret token that you can use to “buy out” any mini-games that prove too difficult.
Larry is more of a party game than a true adventure. This is the kind of game a bunch of frat guys are going to dig out and play while putting down a few cases of beer. There’s no multiplayer, but the game is just as much fun to watch, (and hear) as it is to play so passing the controller around is a viable option.
Larry is all about exaggerated stereotypes and the graphics pull off the concept flawlessly. Larry is disproportionate to everyone else in the game. He looks like a miniature bobble head doll when standing next to any normal character in the game. The overall visual style is like the CG stuff we are now seeing on Nick. Think Jimmy Neutron with tits and ass…err…not literally. Pervert.
The levels are colorful and populated with just enough minor details to make them convincing. There are even plenty of non-relevant characters scattered about to make the campus look more alive. Nothing livens up the quad like a masturbating monkey on the loose. They will even offer some humorous interaction, but not on the same level as the key cast members. There’s nothing more humbling than getting pummeled by a frat boy while streaking the grounds.
The girls are HOT, or at least as hot as CG girls can get (which is pretty hot for a game reviewer). They can get a bit blocky and angular in the game but their CG renders in the splash screens are smokin’ and each girl is based off of a real human model. Those images are also available as unlockable bonuses. Some of the models (like the cowgirl) are sexy while others look pretty slutty.
Movies are created with the game engine and blend perfectly with the gameplay. The opening movie will have you laughing your ass off and sets up the general Monty Python attitude for the rest of the game. The Swingles promos are a bit creepy. They look like Shockwave animation, the kind of stuff you might see on Camp Chaos, with the floating severed head of the MC. He introduces each new chapter of the game including the new locations and girls that are now available to you.
The HUD is small and very well designed. The color-coded buttons and easy symbology make it easy to know what to hit to do what. The diamond pattern for the Simon Says game works well as does the streaming symbols for the rhythm games. The photo album gives you easy access to your current film roll and any pictures on your hard drive.
Larry delivers a great soundtrack that features plenty of college music even if it is a bit dated. Pearl Jam is out and Motley Crue is in. 2 Live Crew performs what is perhaps the single best musical track in scrolling credits history. You even get to streak the campus to the Benny Hill theme.
Sound effects are subtle and suitable. If you kick a can or bottle it skitters across the floor making the appropriate sound. Most of the sound is purely ambience. The frat house has rock music playing in the background and science lab has all sorts of gadget sounds. The world is alive with realistic sounds. Nothing is too over-the-top with the exception of the excessive belching and farting when your sperm hits the red icons during conversations.
Of course this game is all about the dialogue and Larry has enough humorous content to lift this game out of the sewer and put it in the gutter where it belongs. I have never laughed this hard with any game I have every played, not even the original Larry games. Each and every voice is perfectly cast and flawlessly performed. Listening to the band geek slip in and out of her possessive demon voice is scary and funny. Uncle Larry is perfect as the narrator and everyone else from the sorority president to the Commissar is unique, and totally hysterical.
Larry isn’t a four-year program, but you can laugh yourself silly for a good 15-20 hours before you have seen and done everything the campus and surrounding locales have to offer. There are three possible endings to the game but you can explore them all from a single save point near the end of the game, so no need to replay the whole thing unless you are a glutton for swimming sperm games.
You’ll probably want to explore many of the conversations with multiple failed attempts. I know I played the D&D game with Morgan at least four times before I had milked all the humor from the various paths and most of the other conversations unfold in at least three or four hysterical paths. I bet you didn’t know Willie Nelson had butt implants or owned a submarine.
Game designers seem to be testing the boundaries of the M rating these days with games like Singles and The Guy Game. Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude takes the obvious and safer humoristic approach to campus sexcapades. It never becomes offensive, even when it reaches new levels of lowbrow humor.
Gameplay is generally a mix of random mini-games with a bit of exploration and minor puzzle solving. It gets a bit repetitive at times but the difficulty does ramp up the deeper you go so it remains challenging. The quest for more humorous dialogue will drive you to completion and probably a few replays to show your friends or relive the laughs.
Fans of the original Larry games should have no qualms about adding this to your Xbox collection. Larry makes the transition to next-gen console perfectly and creates his own little naughty slice of niche-genre pie. If you love to laugh you’ll love this game.