Thursday, June 27, 2013

Adventures in Larryland

Early this morning, around 3 a.m., I sat in front of my laptop and downloaded a video game. This was no ordinary hack and slash or explosion-laden shooter. The game's protagonist is a 40-year old virgin named Larry Laffer and his only weapon is his rampant libido and penchant for striking out with the ladies.

The game, Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded, is the latest offering from Replay Games and N-Fusion Interactive. A tribute to the halcyon days of point-and-click graphical adventure games, LSL Reloaded was made possible through a successful crowd funding effort on Kickstarter last spring. It took one year  for the developers to go from a rough demo and concept sketches to one hell of a game.

Back in 1987, Leisure Suit Larry was one of my favorite computer games. Larry Laffer is a leisure suited lothario who arrives in the gambling and vice mecca of Lost Wages for one bawdy night of gambling, drinking and chatting up women. Larry's goal is to score with the woman of his dreams. The snag: he's an uncool dolt who fancies himself a Casanova. Despite his posturing, the lovable loser is an Everyman the players can root for.

He shoots! He scores! Larry's a disco douche, but the ladies love his moves. 
When the game's creator, Al Lowe, pleaded for funding for the Kickstarter campaign last year, I jumped at the chance to support it. Now, over a year later, Replay Games and N-Fusion Interaction released the game to backers. I completed the adventure in a matter of hours for the purpose of writing this blog entry. I'll return to Lost Wages later to savor and explore every cranny and orifice, just to make Larry proud.

Replay Games released Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded at midnight Pacific time. That meant for those die-hard Larry fans on the East coast, the game went live at 3 a.m. I went to Replay's website, entered my special key expressly for Kickstarter backers, and began downloading the game to my Mac. A few minutes later I was immersed in Larry's world of Lost Wages, seedy bars and dodgy characters.

The final product is a spectacular journey into familiar territory for fans of the original Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Slicker hand-drawn graphics, superb soundtrack by composer Austin Wintory, fresh puzzles, hilarious dialogue and a new girl - Jasmine, an Asian whale trainer - make this version a must-have. The original voice of Larry, Jan Rabson, returns with his usual brilliance. Hearing Rabson deliver Larry's signature introduction, "Hey, baby. My name is Larry; Larry Laffer" reminds fans just how that voice brings the nebbishy would-be playboy to life. Brad Venable is the cheeky narrator, adding snarky commentary on everything and everyone Larry interacts with.

Back at Lefty's. It's like Cheers, but sleazier, and nobody knows your name. 
Some of the puzzles have been rewritten, but the basic plot is still present. Left's bar still holds a drunk, secret back room and hooker, but making things happen involves different puzzles instead of the ones from the original game. There's also a plaque in Lefty's dedicated to the Larry Kickstarter 69'ers, those Kickstarter backers who pledged an additional 69 cents. I'm listed on the plaque, and it left me gobsmacked seeing my name in one of my favorite adventure game franchises. Thanks to the designers for honoring the donors who gave a little bit more for Larry.

Larry Kickstarter 69'ers scrolling plaque. Because 69 cents means we give AND receive.
I posted last month how disappointed I was with not having a Mac beta to play with in advance of the general release. The PC beta was available to PC users, but us Mac users were left suffering. However, I think Replay Games compensated for this perceived slight by releasing an exceptionally well-designed, well-executed game. LSL Reloaded is fun to play, and a fitting homage to old school computer games.

Larry celebrating with a willing romantic partner. Bottoms up! 
A series of icons enable Larry to move, examine, taste, touch and talk to the world around him. There's an inventory menu where the player can store and interact with various objects Larry acquires by poking around. Larry still requires a taxi to get around Lost Wages, and this can be expensive. I found gambling at Caesar's Phallus casino can restore Larry's depleted funds.

There are some red herrings in the game. One puzzle involving bungee cords and a fire escape tripped me up, but I eventually solved it after much cursing. Another puzzle involving creating the perfect perfume is also new, but is easy if you know what you're looking for. There's also an endearing moment with an inflatable doll, which comes in handy for Larry (and not the way you're thinking).

Josh Mandel as Dr. Frankenstein and Paul Trowe as Igor during Larry's resurrection scene. 
Of course the big reason I supported the Kickstarter was Al Lowe's participation. Lowe designed games for Sierra-Online, the original publisher for the Leisure Suit Larry games. Josh Mandel, another veteran game designer and comedian, provided writing and voices. Paul Trowe, who tested games for Sierra, founded Replay Games, the publisher of Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded. These gentlemen, along with the New Jersey-based N-Fusion Interactive, labored tirelessly on reworking Leisure Suit Larry. Their endeavor shows in the game's high quality, from the voice acting, to musical score, to the animation and humor. The entire team did right by the Kickstarter backers, and after a frenetic year, they can finally sleep soundly knowing they made one kick-ass game.

Larry's romantic escapades land him in hot water...
Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded is a love letter to retro-gaming. It's Al Lowe's gift to all of the fans who enjoyed the Larry franchise and had to endure years of no games, or two terrible games by Vivendi, which re-imagined the franchise with Larry's nephew, Larry Lovage. Lowe had no input into the Larry Lovage games, and it showed.

With the success of this Kickstarter, Larry Laffer is reborn, bigger and better. All of the right elements coalesced into a superbly funny adventure game and a lighthearted adult romp reminiscent of 1980s interactive entertainment.

Hopefully, Lowe, Trowe and Mandel will remake the other Leisure Suit Larry games, and give the polyester-clad hero more cheesy pickup lines and awkward situations for our sadistic amusement.

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