It’s an odd thing to feel the need to take a shower after completing a game, but that’s exactly how I felt after beating Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude. As I played through it, I kept sensing the Ghosts of Feminists Past hovering over my shoulder wanting to beat me like a drum. Whenever games like this come out, a lot of us gamers want to hide under a desk and say we’ve never heard of a Nintendo before. If I were to stand on a mountain holding up a copy of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, and demand to know just how any woman of any age any where in the world could possibly be offended, how fast do you think I would be killed? Yeah, I doubt I’d get to finish my first sentence too.
The overflow of juvenile humor in both the dialogue and sight gags, combined with an over reliance on the same four mini-games, really drug Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude down into the gutter. This is appropriate when you consider the level the humor works at rarely aspires to anything more than gutter-level. For the record, I really don’t mind gutter-level humor. I love Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein dearly, and you’d be hard pressed to tear me away from Airplane or Police Squad if they were on TV. What I didn’t like about the sense of humor in Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude is that it seemed crass for the sake of being crass, and in a game with this storied a lineage it’s very important to bring the funny. More times than not, it’s very apparent that the writers forgot the funny.
There is absolutely no way I could describe the overall feel of Leisure Suit Larry without saying I was frustrated throughout. As I mentioned, there are four mini-games that the entire 20 hour experience is based on – quarters, mimicking dance or trampoline moves, the Sperm game, and slaps. That’s it. Twenty hours revolves around only a handful of mini-games, and this passed the phase where someone says, “Hey, that’s a great idea let’s go with it”?
Now I realize I sound like I didn’t have any fun at all while playing Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, but that’s not entirely true. The game does have a few moments that are laugh out loud funny, including an extended riff on a certain Star Wars actor and the entirety of the gay bar sequence, but for the most part the innumerable jokes and gags flap around in vain search of a target.
I actually got into the funky style of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude. There is an exaggerated feel to the characters and the environments, and it’s a lot of fun to just run around and look at everything. This is also the first time a Leisure Suit Larry game has entered the three-dimensional world, and it’s done so very nicely.
I really enjoyed the exaggerated look of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude. For whatever reason, the character design and slightly off look to the world felt like the exact path the series should have taken once it went to 3-D. There’s even a character hidden further into the game who openly complains about 16 colors not being good enough anymore. Make no mistake, the Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude series now has a much more vibrant color palette and this sequel makes great use of it. Every character in the game has a distinct look, from the countless women you hit on to the hackey-loving guy standing out side Larry’s dormitory. There’s never any confusion as to who said what when because you know exactly who to look for by description alone.
I also really got a kick out of the lay of the land. Back in the day, all the environments were point and click only and the original games would frequently fall victim to the “hunt for the pixel” curse. Every detail of the backgrounds in Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude perfectly stand out so there is never a question of what you might be looking at. Whenever you walk up to something, a little text description appears at the bottom of the screen just in case you might miss that you’re looking at a chair, or a billboard, or the film career of Lou Diamond Phillips.
This is an area where Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude manages to both succeed and fail at the same time. On the one hand, the uniformly great voice work is perfectly put to use. On the other hand, the other sound effects are not only grating the first few times you hear them, but they are used non stop throughout the game. Larry really comes off as the lovable loser who just can’t get past those pesky hormones to see there’s more to life than just dancing the horizontal mambo. All of the women in the game have such scorn and contempt in their voice whenever Larry talks to them, it’s a wonder he went to college instead of a monastery.
I really disliked the heavy reliance on fart gags. Any time the player hits the X button, Larry farts. Unfortunately, this is also the button the player has to use to examine things. If there isn’t anything worth finding, then Larry farts instead of exclaiming about secret tokens or hidden items. When you consider just how many things there are to examine in the game, the fart-to-discovery ratio winds up being about 15 to 1.
One of the mini-games is the rhythm game where you have to match the on-screen directions at the correct time. Basically, a character will say something like, “Button, button, down, left, right, button,” then as the directions scroll across the screen you have to perfectly mimic them to succeed. It’s really strange when you’re dancing or jumping on a trampoline to have someone shouting literal directions at you, but what makes it go from strange to bad is an event later in the game. Larry has to join a band and put on a concert, and again has to go through the rhythm game. What makes this lone example different than all the others is that the girl on-stage plays notes on her guitar, then you have to mimic them using specific directions. I almost fell out of my chair in shock at this and even shouted at my wife, “This is how it should have been done this whole game!”
The controls for Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude are actually pretty smooth on the PS2. You control all movement with the left thumb stick and the camera with the right thumb stick, and use the X button to investigate and activate things. Holding down the L1 button displays your stats like how much money you have, how many secret tokens you’ve gathered, and how drunk you are. The R1 button pulls up the camera and lets you take pictures by hitting the X button.
Where the developers went completely off the charts loco was on the menu screen. On every PS2 game I’ve ever played, when you make a selection on the menu screen you hit the X button. This is so ingrained in my mind that I just do it without thinking. Imagine my surprise when I would go to make a selection or save a game and whenever I would hit the X button it would go back to the menu screen. I then carefully watched what I was doing then saw that the triangle button is what I should have been hitting to make a selection in the menu. That smells of making a change just for the sake of making a change, so here’s a heads-up on it.
As I have said before, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude is a game based on a handful of mini-games, and that’s it. The crux of the entire game is affectionately referred to as the Sperm Game and it pops up during every conversation. You control a sperm and have to navigate through several obstacles and hit all of the green icons to fill you heart meter to full. If the conversation ends while the heart meter is not green, then you lose that challenge and have to play it again. During the Sperm Game, you can alter the course of the conversation by hitting rather colorful icons like a woman’s bust or an implement that tends to vibrate. This often leads to some funny asides in the conversation, but the later the game gets, the more frequently alcohol icons appear. As you continue to hit these, the more inebriated you get and the more difficult it becomes to control the sperm. There were plenty of times where I would get completely wasted so fast that I would have to just try and get through the conversation while drunk off my tail, and when I would go back to repeat it the same thing would happen.
Another mini-game that bears mentioning is the quarters game, which features Larry and his opponent trying to get a quarter into a glass. If one person gets their quarter in the glass, then the other has to take a drink. The first person that gets drunk loses. Somewhere in the game is a lighter quarter that once purchased pretty much ensures that you’ll win every time. What gets old is how so many challenges resort to playing quarters or mimicking the rhythm of someone else. These games are fun the first handful of times you play them, but they get real old real fast.
If there were better incentives towards hitting on the women at Larry’s college I can see how playing the game would be a lot more fun than it is. But after a while, it became so obvious that the women were just as screwed up as him that I wasn’t sure who was the bigger loser in any given scenario. I won’t argue that several conclusions were dang funny, and I’m thinking of Harriet the band freak and Koko the mime in particular, and if you don’t peg who Morgan is based off of from the second she starts talking then you’re probably not the one who bought this game.
If there was a lesson to be learned at the end of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, then I could see it scoring higher than it did with me. There are only a few stand-out parts like the aforementioned gay bar sequence, and running around in the mascot’s uniform is the right kind of silly the game should have aimed for, but more times than not the humor falls flat. Combine unfunny jokes with repetitive mini-games and it’s really hard to recommend Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, but dang those few and far between stand-out moments. Those few moments are such stellar examples of just how funny and wrong the series could be when it was firing on all cylinders, that I would suggest renting it for the weekend.
There’s not a terrific incentive to play through Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude a second time, other than the chance to unlock nude models of all the women. If you go through the entire game and play every mini-game, uncover every secret, and play through every sub-quest, then believe me when I say that you have seen it all. If you stay through the credits and finish the final quest, then you really have completed the entire game and nothing changes the next time through. As far as I can tell, there is not even a way to view all of the load screens in an individual gallery and that alone is an epic crime.