Times sure have changed since the last time a Leisure Suit Larry game hit store shelves. Once the name in sexually charged adventure gaming, the Leisure Suit Larry series has been altogether dormant since the '90s. This could at least be partially attributed to the fact that the sort of humor the series brought to the table was frequently being upstaged by increasingly foul and bawdy humor in all other facets of the media. Now, more than half a decade after the last Leisure Suit Larry, VU Games and developer High Voltage have brought out Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, a total reenvisioning of the franchise both from a gameplay and content perspective. Gone are the innuendo- and entendre-based gags of old, replaced by blatant, obscene, and downright insane humor that rivals most modern-day Hollywood comedies in terms of sheer hilarity and pure shock value. Unfortunately, also gone are the appreciable adventure gameplay stylings of old, replaced by myriad shallow minigames that aren't particularly fun. However, if you're willing to forgive its brain-dead gameplay and occasionally frustrating design, Magna Cum Laude is a hysterically entertaining romp through the world of wacky sexual hijinks.
Finally, college life has been accurately depicted in a game. Thanks, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude!
In Magna Cum Laude, you play as a college-aged loser by the name of Larry Loveage. This new Larry is actually the nephew of the old-school namesake of the Leisure Suit Larry series, Larry Laffer. Little Larry is just like his famous uncle, from his questionable method of dress and novelty-sized head to his pathetic but undying love of the fairer sex. At the beginning of the game, it seems as though Larry's desire to get with the ladies will only be achievable in dreams, but then, as luck would have it, Larry sees a TV commercial for a hot new dating show called Swingles, which is coming to Larry's community college. He is immediately determined to become a Swingles contestant so that he can try to win the heart (or at least get in the pants) of one of the three hot babes featured on the show. After a fairly rough meeting with the host of Swingles, Uma, Larry is informed that the only way he'll ever have a chance in hell of appearing on Swingles is to prove to her that he can actually get a girl to give him the time of day. Unlikely as that may be, Larry then sets off on a quest to make his dream come true.
The main portions of Magna Cum Laude's story largely involve Larry's attempts to woo a series of blatantly stereotypical women scattered about the campus and surrounding town. There's the highly popular and ditzy cheerleader, the tough greaser/biker chick, the artsy French girl, the bookworm-turned vixen/lesbian, and, in a nod to the American Pie films, a sex-obsessed and mildly satanic band geek. To try to wear down the defenses of these girls, Larry has to jump through a series of hoops to either prove himself to them or to just plain trick them. Typically, this involves a lot of minigames and a lot of alcohol. Just like real life!
The primary minigame you'll find yourself faced with in Magna Cum Laude is the conversation minigame. How do you turn a conversation with a woman into a game? Why, by putting a window at the bottom of the screen and letting you navigate a smiley-faced sperm through a wacky obstacle course, of course!
Sounds deranged, doesn't it? It's actually not all that bad. Basically, the way in which you steer Larry's conversational course of lies and exaggerations is by controlling this happy little sperm. You will frequently come upon sections in the little obstacle course with three icons, one of which you will have no choice but to pass through. These represent things Larry will say next during his conversation. By passing through the green icon, Larry will say the best thing possible. By passing through a red icon, Larry will say something wholly unappealing, and thus he will begin to lose the girl's interest. There are also other, context-sensitive icons that will appear from time to time, some good and some bad. Also, you'll frequently have to navigate around a whole host of other random, though dodgeable icons, like ones that will make you belch, and others that progressively make Larry drunker (and thus make the sperm icon harder to move properly). This is certainly an inventive way to turn a conversation into a game, though it can be a little distracting at times, especially when you're trying to pay attention to the dialogue.
Unfortunately, this is about the only inventive or interesting minigame that Magna Cum Laude throws at you. The rest range from varying types of Space Channel 5-style rhythm games--where you have to match the controller commands called out by another character--to basic "collect a whole bunch of items and run away from bad guys while you do it" games. There's even a series of Tapper-inspired games, as well as a simple analog-stick- or mouse-based version of the classic drinking game "quarters." The variety may sound good, but each and every one of these games is simple to a fault--and highly repetitive.
The oversimplicity of these games is completely rooted in the minigames' designs themselves. However, the blame for the repetitiveness of the games falls squarely on the overall game design and mission structure. A fair number of Magna Cum Laude's missions require money or specific items--or both--to activate. As you play, you'll have the ability to earn cash through a number of different side games and quests strewn throughout each level. Similarly, you can buy required outfits and accessories from a similar number of scattered locations. Unfortunately, all the minigames you have to play are literally the same games you'll be playing during missions. Furthermore, only a scant couple of the games actually net you much cash, meaning you'll have to play a lot of the same games over and over and over again.
Without a doubt, this is the funniest game to come out so far this year.
Further compounding the frustration of this sort of mission structuring is the game's problematic pacing--at least on the console versions. A number of missions require you to move through multiple sections of the game's world, which actually amounts to no easy task. Every single specific area, be it a dorm room or an outdoor quad, requires a load time of anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. In fact, only a sparing few areas actually provide you with short load times, and more often, you'll be out of action for at least 20 seconds at a time. This might be permissible if it weren't for the fact that you'll spend almost as much time loading as you will playing. The simple process of walking out of a room, then out of a building and into an open area, and then into another building can actually take upwards of a full minute and a half's worth of loading, at times. The whole game itself is about a dozen hours long, though you have to wonder exactly how much of that time is spent staring at a loading screen.