While we continue to lament LucasArts' cruel and nonsensical cancellation of Sam & Max: Freelance Police while busy commissioning 49 Episode 3 titles (hey, make one of them an adventure you buffoons!), at least one old adventure game favourite has been resurrected with some success with Sierra's rebirth of Leisure Suit Larry. Except, hang on, didn't most vaguely non-retarded gamers find the whole Leisure Suit Larry series sad beyond belief? Full of juvenile humor (without the 'u') and ham fisted attempts to woo the ladies? We certainly recall the regular ferocious critical berating from the early days of PC Gamer and did the decent thing and stuck to playing LucasArts, Revolution and anyone else capable of spinning a decent puzzle-based, narrative-rich adventure. Honestly, if you had the Lucas games and a few others, why bother with the others?
But these days, anything vaguely approaching an adventure game gets the ticker tape parade around these parts, and even though you couldn't exactly bracket Magna Cum Laude in that hallowed category, it's got enough of an emphasis on hilarious conversations to pique our interest in what amounts to an almost unique title among the current status quo.
"Don't be frustrated... Your breasts put you at a natural disadvantage"
As you might perhaps suspect, the idea is once again to snare the ladies out of his league and chuckle along at Larry's hapless attempts at doing so. Except this Larry isn't the one that old timers might recall. No. As much as he looks the same, with his enormous head, puny body, annoying nasal whiny voice and terrifyingly bad dress sense, it's actually Larry's young college-age nephew, also - handily - called Larry who has inherited his Uncle's looks (as you'll discover when you meet the old anti-hero hanging out in the grotty streets and strip haunts nearby), and need to be as unsubtle and generally annoying as possible to anyone who crosses his path.
Played out in an action-adventure style, you soon realise there's no actual puzzle-solving whatsoever to hold you up - just a series of fairly mindless, repetitive yet often amusing mini-games to perform in order to gain a series of 'Objects of Affection' which go towards getting you a place on the 'Swingles' dating show that the organisers are currently trying to attract contestants onto from the sexier members of the campus.
Evidently, Larry's not really a suitable candidate at the start; rather like those haplessly deluded Pop Idol contestants that appear utterly convinced that they're the reincarnation of a young Elvis, despite sounding like a pissed off Irish brickie with a throat condition, and looking closer to Shane Richie after an intensive 12-week pie-only diet. You get the picture. The irony of Larry being rude (and generally openly unpleasant) to the plain girls and giving the regular college guys grief is hardly difficult to spot. This is a guy in trouble, and if anything rather than take his penchant for vile philandering and wind-breaking as offensive, it's actually doing the guy a favour to perpetrate his bullshit. The joke's on him, it really is, and makes for a uniquely endearing gaming experience. Somehow. Lord only knows how.
"Is there an airport nearby or is that my cock taking off?"
If you cast even the most cursory of glances at the game, talking to the babes you want to bag inevitably winds up in a mini-game session. Some revolve around conversations, which are as entertaining as they are irritating, involving the rather disturbing premise of guiding a somewhat unresponsive sperm along three 'tracks', with oncoming red and green icons dictating the rise and fall of the interest level of the babe you're trying to woo. Hit too many red fart, belch, leer, or drink icons and you might end up scaring them off with your indiscretions, but hit the required number of green love heart and smily icons and the love heart meter rises and it's onto to the next part of the challenge. As completely oddball as these sections are, the dialogue is genuinely one of the highlights, with Larry rambling his way from one unlikely ruse after another. Often failure is even funnier, and reminds us of the kind of comical conversation trees that were the highlight of adventures gone by.
While the basic button-matching rhythm-action mini-games are hardly worth a mention on their own, the context of some of the scenarios certainly give them a colourful edge, with spanking sessions, a makeover, strip dancing and breast-bouncing strip-trampolining ensuing to make things interesting. It's all very sad, it really is. Sid James would be a happy man.
Elsewhere there's some fairly lame chase n' collect games against the clock, an amusing take on Slaps that lets Larry fake his hit, charge up his whack, while others such as Quarters have our antihero in a coin-lobbing face off, with the Quarter having to land in the glass in order to get your defenceless Philly smashed and in the sack.
Twig suit sex simulator
Or that's the plan, anyhow. As ever, it all goes horribly wrong for Larry in increasingly bizarre ways, with Larry forced to endure being trussed up in a tree costume to turn on a satanic marching band square girl, or watch in hopeful anticipation while a potential lay gets to grips with a strap-on and a teddy bear. At times, it's genuinely surprising how far the filthometer has been pushed, with very little left to the imagination in terms of blowjobs, grunts and groans, hardcore swearing rarely heard in this most sensitive of entertainment arenas, not to mention the proliferation of soft core titillation that's every 12 year old boy's wet dream.
Taken in the spirit intended, though, the game gets away with some of the sadder elements and pointlessly repetitive mini-game sessions by always making the key encounters, conversations and humour such a succession of feel-good moments that you can't help feel compelled to move the story onto the next segment just to find out what befalls this idiot next. As much as you want to be all grown-up and self-righteous about his offensive patter, the dialogue is pushed so far into the realms of ludicrousness you'd have to be feeling exceptionally po-faced not to admire its gall.
Where the game ultimately falls down is its general tendency to repeat itself needlessly. You get the feeling that some of these mini-games are so basic (check out the Pong-inspired games where every successful hit raises Larry's erection until it eventually hits the bell end...) that they must have taken literally minutes to get up and running. Others, such as the constant rhythm action clones, are hardly taxing to develop, and eventually grate - especially when you're forced to replay them several times in order to win a confidence boost, or more cash, for example. If the developers had have treated us to a suite of simple Wario Ware style games as opposed to forcing us to repeat the less fun elements of the game, we'd have felt a good deal more positive about recommending the game.
I'm too sexy for this game
And if simple mini-game recycling and repetition wasn't enough of a minus point, then the horrendous PS2 loading times will have gamers checking their watches literally every time they move from one mini section to another, or so much as have a conversation. In technical terms, this must be one of the least optimised pieces of coding we've seen in a good while, which is a shame, because with its use of bold, bright cartoony graphics it's not a bad looking game at all, while the general standard of voiceovers and use of licensed tunes from Motley Crue (Girls Girls Girls), Right Said Fred (I'm Too Sexy) among others makes for a wry addition. The voice acting and sharp dialogue also dig the game out of a potentially bottomless pit - almost unbelievably, given how bad it really could have ended up.
With only a few fairly pointless nudey extras to purchase with the seemingly endless secret tokens that litter the landscape (maintaining the old compulsion to 'click everywhere') Magna Cum Laude won't last much more than a good 12-hour stint, but it doesn't outstay its welcome. For the thick-skinned (preferably male) gamer looking for some fairly harmless stupidity to amuse themselves with, this resurrection of Leisure Suit Larry is surprisingly good fun, and a welcome change from the constant array of samey me-too sludge that's peppering the landscape this Christmas. It's never going to be classed among the A list purchases at this time of year, but catch it at the right price and you might be pleasantly surprised at how funny and enjoyable the goofball adventures of the world's least likely college stud can be. Far from being among the worst games of the year, it's closer to being the most unlikely success story of the year, by a mile. Carry On Shagging, matron.