01 July 2013
Ah, Larry. I've been playing this series since 1987 when the original LSL came out for the Amiga and I had to go to my dad to ask him for the answers to the trivia questions because I didn't know about the cheat to skip them and I was too young to be playing the games at that time anyway. ;P
The Larry series in general has had its high and low points but even when the license seemed dead and buried for good after the complete abomination that was 'Box Office Bust', the fans wouldn't give up on the series and now thanks to Kickstarter, Leisure Suit Larry has been born anew... sort of.
Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded is a fan game. It was developed and brought to life by ex-Sierra employees including the original creator himself, Al Lowe and funded by loyal fans. Because of this, any professional criticism almost doesn't matter at this point because it's a labor of love and the people that supported it could care less what websites like GameSpot have to say about it.
This isn't the first time the original Leisure Suit Larry has been remade. In 1991, it got a VGA remake with a full soundtrack. And it was alright, the background art was a bit too garish and cartoony for my personal tastes but I enjoyed the new soundtrack quite a bit. Still, it was pretty much the exact same game with a fresh coat of paint.
Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded takes this a step or two further and gives us many new features to enjoy. For starters, it now has full voice support and narration. The voices are all well done, Jan Rabson is back as the voice of Larry and does his usual excellent job. The narrator is not Neil Ross from LSL 6 and 7, but Brad Venable and he did alright too. Though, nothing personal to Brad, but I much prefer to read my game descriptions rather than have them read out to me... unless it's Gary Owens. ;P
Also, it's nice that not EVERY woman on the planet who isn't one of the main cast, instantly snubs or insults Larry. In past Larry games, you really got the impression sometimes that 90% of the world either refused to acknowledge Larry's presence at all or flat out despised him. Yes, I know he's supposed to be a hapless loser, but the hate and cruelty directed at him was pretty damn harsh at times and to have a few women who actually laugh *with* Larry and even find him cute was a pleasant surprise and I truly hope this trend continues in future Larry games as not every man is an asshole and not every woman is a bitch.
Much like LSL 6 and 7, you can interact with and look at most things on each screen and there's a joke for every one of them, some better than others. On several screens outside, fans who donated a good portion of money have been given their own star on the 'Wall of Shame' which then Larry comments on and makes fun of. Normally I'd find this kind of stuff very distracting from the game, but interacting with the stars is entirely optional so I don't have a problem with it.
The graphics for Reloaded have been given the HD treatment and they look absolutely gorgeous and much more appealing overall than the 1991 VGA remake. There are new animations as well, and while the background ones are very well done, it must be said that some of the character ones were more than a little underwhelming for me and in a few places where it seemed an animation was called for, nothing happened. I don't know if this was a matter of budget, time or technical issues, but it was noticeable. And since I know it's going to be an issue for some, yes, there IS nudity in the game. It's hidden and not excessive, but it's there. ;P
The music has also been redone from the ground up but this is where I was a bit disappointed. Sierra games, and Larry games in particular, could almost always be counted on for providing a great soundtrack, and I own a Roland sound card so I'm able to get the most out of them. Reloaded uses real instruments for a soundtrack that is certainly decent and not bad at all, but... not really memorable either. It's almost... I dunno, TOO understated. It does the job, I guess, but the soundtrack just didn't stick in my mind and grab my attention like past Larry games.
Some of the puzzles have been changed around to make a bit more logical sense and provide a bit more challenge for veterans of the game as well as eliminate the dead ends, thank god. Likewise, a new woman for Larry to pursue has been added and while she fits into the game well enough, she feels all too brief at the same time. Not to say I didn't enjoy and appreciate the extra content but I would've liked to have seen even more encounters like this and expanded upon a bit but I can understand to a point how they didn't want to deviate too much from the original Larry.
Actually, that may be one of the game's biggest problems. While I completely understand wanting to pay homage and proper respect to the original game, there are a few things that really should've been changed and/or updated. One of these is the Casino games. Much like the original LSL, gambling is not optional and you will need to save/restore a whole bunch of times to have enough money for the game. If you haven't played LSL before or in a long time, I highly recommend avoiding breaking the bank until AFTER your encounter with Fawn, because otherwise it's a big waste of your time.
What makes it worse is that there's no (as of this review) maximum bet button, which means you need to manually up your bet each time you win in order to build up enough. (You'll need at least several hundred.) This is tedious, boring and really should've been changed to something more entertaining and a lot less frustrating.
The changing channels sequence was another tedious exercise that should've been updated in some way, as you had to do it ten times with the same description of said action spoken EVERY time. One reason it may have been so tedious is because, to be honest, the new television show gags weren't nearly as amusing to me as the ones in the original games. Not even close. Really, the objects in the room itself were funnier to interact with.
Finally, the Taxi mechanic was a bit annoying as well. The original game required some backtracking and Reloaded is no exception. Again, I know the original game was like that but I think the whole process could have been made a little less stale and lame sign gags weren't the way to go.
While some areas of the game have been expanded and new rooms added, there are a couple of moments that just feel unfinished, like Lefty's bathroom, and the timing of a few of the jokes seem to be completely rushed and off. Case in point: In the original Larry game and 1991 remake, you can make Larry take a crap in the bathroom. As Larry reads the paper, there's a pause and the message 'You feel a great relief!' comes up. Another pause and the sound of a fart is heard and the message 'What's that aroma?' comes up.
In Reloaded, Larry sits down on the toilet with his paper and the two messages come up instantly one after the other with NO pausing and NO fart sound effect, completely ruining the timing of the jokes and being less funny as a result. I'm not going to say this sort of thing is a deal breaker but it's still irritating all the same and should have been tested more closely.
But what about the humor you may be asking at this point? Well, it's Al Lowe and Josh Mandel so if you're a fan of their humor and descriptions from past Sierra games, you'll be in heaven. While there were a few puns that made me wince, I can't deny that I'm a sucker for the majority of them and I'm also the type of person who really enjoys clicking everything on everything just to see what they're going to say next.
I also wanted to mention something about the story, and I admit this is entirely selfish nitpicking on my part, but I was really hoping for a brief prologue to the game taken from the old game manual showing Larry as the computer software nerd who got kicked out of his house by his mother and thus transformed into Leisure Suit Larry. I think they mention Larry selling software once or twice during the game but otherwise no backstory is given to Larry at all, which is a shame because it would've been nice to see it finally animated. Also, the ending of the game was far too abrupt, and yes, I know, the original game was abrupt too, but... in an age of endless cutscenes, you really couldn't give Larry and his lover one extra minute to enjoy themselves? Really?
So my overall feelings on the game? I enjoyed it. There was room for improvement to be sure, and I have my few personal nitpicks but overall, I did enjoy replaying the game as a longtime fan of the Leisure Suit Larry series and the old Sierra games. I would look forward to a sequel as long as improvements continue to be made and lessons are learned from Reloaded.
The original Leisure Suit Larry 2, IMHO, had a few bright spots and a LOT of problems so I personally think the makers of Reloaded would be best served starting fresh with that game, maybe keeping the few things that did work, and most importantly, not handcuff themselves by sticking too close to a game design that while a classic, is now showing its age in many aspects.