Sin & Vice in the City of Lost Wages in Leisure Suit Larry’s Debut
What do you think of when you think of adventure games? Do you think of kings, knights, princesses and heroes dodging danger and perform valiant feats? Then check that attitude at the door, because today we’re celebrating something far less altruistic. How about a middle-aged virgin looking to get action in a sleazy mock-up of Las Vegas? This was the core concept behind Al Lowe’s somewhat debauched and less than immaculate Leisure Suit Larry and today is the day that the less-than-heroic Larry Laffer graced the dark corner of game stores everywhere in his debut escapade: Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards.
Leisure Suit Larry is a seedy set of games and it would only be fitting that it had a slightly seedy background. Sierra had been in the adventure game for some time already and even had a license to produce licensed Disney educational titles, but when the company lost the license to continue to produce those titles, Al Lowe approached Ken Williams with the idea of a remake of an earlier text-only adventure in Sierra history: Softport Adventures. Williams agreed and Mark Crowe, creator of the Space Quest series, was brought on board, bringing an experienced and comedic knowledge to the project.
As risqué as it was, nobody knew how release of Land of the Lounge Lizards was going to play out. Sierra kept it low-key without much advertisement or publicity and even then, some stores refused to stock it and it stirred up controversy among audiences. The team had tried to provide countermeasures to ensure children couldn’t play the game, but the system was immediately dated, flawed, and contained questions that players outside the United States wouldn’t get, such as a question pertaining to acquitted murder suspect and controversial celebrity O.J. Simpson.
So was all of the fuss worth it? Is the content in Leisure Suit Larry really that bad? The answer is sort of. The series’ most edgy parts are somewhat tame compared to what games get away with today, but it is also unmistakably misogynistic and shallow in its portrayal of Larry, the women he meets, and several other groups both racially and sexually oriented for a comedic effect. The core of the game is Larry sleazily attempting to bed women and often failing in the process, after all. That said, it’s not without some cleverness. Mark Crowe and Al Lowe occasionally went beyond the easy joke to chase more elaborate humor. One particular bit takes place after Larry dies. His body is dumped into a factory, destroyed, reassembled and pushed out into the world, with narrative telling us this is the process every time a player dies in a Sierra game. For Sierra, known for their numerous and varied forms of death in their adventure titles, this was more than a little cheeky.
When it comes down to it, Leisure Suit Larry was most certainly a risk-taking product of its time. It was progressive in some ways and regressive in quite a few others. Looking between the sleaze, Leisure Suit Larry was a joke that parodied masculine society and the underbelly of Las Vegas and unfortunately, that’s a joke that invites seedy, shallow characters representing the most stereotypical of their kind and no short supply of double entendre to follow. That said, if you can get past the purposely offensive nature of the game, there’s still a Sierra game with some interesting puzzle solving and glimpses of clever writing behind it.