Reinstall: Leisure Suit Larry: Love For Sail
Poor Larry Laffer. Few characters have ever been so misunderstood or unfairly looked down on than Al Lowe's perpetual but loveable loser, thanks to a couple of basic misconceptions about the series—that the Leisure Suit Larry games are sex games rather than comedy games about sex, and that Larry himself is some kind of sex monster, rather than a guy who spent at least his first trilogy specifically looking for love. Really. No fewer than three times is he happy to settle down after finding Miss Right. The whole 'ultimate pervert' thing comes far more from marketing than the action in the actual games.
Now, admittedly, by the time of this, the sixth and final game—at least, the final one whose name can be uttered in public without diminishing all who hear it—that had faded somewhat. Love For Sail is very much Larry Laffer on holiday, on a cruise ship full of cartoon babes and casual opportunities for fun in the sun—at least, in the few precious seconds when Al Lowe isn't busy torturing him with a very different kind of slapstick. Thing is though, it's also a damn fine comedy adventure that deserves more attention.
Love For Sail doesn't have much plot, and yes, what little it does have plays straight into the series' reputation. At the end of Larry 6, the health-club set Shape Up Or Slip Out, Larry won over a new-age hippie type called Shamara and the two settled down to watch stock footage together. This is a series happy to lavish lots of attention on goofy fan-service and Larry's pain, but is ultimately so coy about actual sex that its most infamous scene involved a censor bar. Even in this game, which features a nudist character who hangs out at a clothing-optional pool, the only real nudity is saved for Easter eggs. Larry 7 picks up the next morning. Shamara declares that a night with a man like Larry "gives a woman plenty of time to think", and decides that what she really wants out of life is money. She steals his wallet and leaves him handcuffed to his bed with nothing but a cigarette to remember her by. Larry, being Larry, promptly sets the room on fire.
It's a great opening that shows off the series' new-found cartoon chops. The scene has a real sense of pace in spite of the limited animation frames. Larry can't die in this game, but the scene still manages to pump up the danger as the fire spreads. Larry puzzles his way to safety by way of the nearest balcony and a slow-mo cry of "OOOOOOOH SSHHHHHIIIIIIII-" that takes him straight into a cactus. He cheers up, and shrugs off the bruising spikes with the discovery of a free cruise ticket aboard the, sigh, "PMS Bouncy", whose exhibitionist captain, Thygh, runs a regular competition to spend the trip in her cabin. Larry of course enters, in the hope of being able to.
Your eyes are rolling. Of course they are. But give it a chance. Larry 7 has no shame about being the game version of a naughty postcard, but the way it actually does it is fairly surprising. Unlike most games that play in this water for instance, it's a cheerful, sex-positive, and above all good-natured story free of the usual creepy misogyny and cynicism. A couple of characters are willing to bait Larry into a trap, but most are simply hanging out and having fun. Larry is neither Casanova nor a Witcher-style card collector whose interests begin and end with getting everyone into the sack. Occasionally puzzles do involve a little manipulation, like slipping the ship's tightly-wound librarian an erotic book in the hope of loosening her up a little, but even in those cases it's with characters who don't mind. Far, far more often, the women who Larry chases are entirely in control of the situation from the start to the humiliating end where he almost inevitably ends up sneaking back to his cabin stark naked and unsatisfied.
Even at his most successful, Larry's adventures never rate more than 'naughty'. The universe is built to frustrate him, and he has a knack for stealing defeat from the jaws of success. This is a comedy game, not a porn one, best summed up by the fact that one of his challenges is to persuade nudist academic Drew Baringmore (on board along with the likes of Dewmi Moore, Annette Boning and—wait for it—Jamie Lee Coitus) to visit his cabin by getting a completely naked woman into her clothes. That cabin incidentally is the engine room, with the kind of smell that needs a Scratch And Sniff card to convey. Coincidentally, the original version of the game came with one. A very smelly one.
Most of the time isn't spent trying to get Larry laid either. Instead you explore a world of lovingly written puns, bad jokes and visual gags. Larry's narrator, Neil Ross, delivers every description and bit of bad news with delicious glee. His cynicism and Larry's relentless optimism make a perfect partnership. Every character has a ton of dialogue, more even than first appears. For Larry 7, Lowe decided to reintroduce a parser interface, making it possible to type in subjects and verbs that might not be on the official options list. They're almost never actually needed, aside from in the intro that shows off how they work, but they're there.
Lowe also played with some other amusing features. You can record lines of out-of-context dialogue so the game can insert them mid-way through to voice one of the characters. You can also set your desktop wallpaper to a particular file and it'll reflect your progress with pin-ups of the most recent character Larry dealt with. It also features a game-long item-hunt puzzle where you repeatedly track down a mysterious figure in red and white—"Where's Dildo?" (though that gag didn't work so well in the UK, where the character is called Wally). Love for Sail arguably contains the greatest default response in the history of adventure gaming courtesy of Peggy, the ship's foul-mouthed, peg-legged deckhand. Ask her about something she doesn't know and, complete with bleeps, she just replies "I don't know **** about that. But! I do know this! Your mother was a ***** ***** ****** ****** *****************!"
The fact that Love For Sail bleeps its swears and keeps even nudity to Easter eggs is an indicator of how harmless it is as a game. A few specific scenes, like Larry's game of Strip Liar's Dice with a hot casino fly who has no intention whatsoever of playing fair, or an encounter with a pair of country and western singers, do get a little more graphic than the rest. Even then, those bits are short, and stop before they've even started to tease. This is a comedy, and a funny one, built on deliberately bad jokes and physical humour and bursts of surrealism courtesy of the high-resolution (for the time) cartoon graphics. If you find it sexy, that's a bonus. It's absolutely not required to enjoy the game.
There are though a few definite 'urgh' moments scattered around, including a couple of overplayed stereotypes, and one genuinely misjudged scene where Larry—thinking he's getting lucky with a rich black widow in a darkened room—accidentally ends up... how to put this delicately... banging an old man to death. This is unfortunate. Not very funny either. By the end of the game, the basic goal of getting Larry with Thygh also goes pretty sour, both for the fact that they've barely even met by that point, and Larry doesn't typically fall into the trap of chasing lovers as prizes and she has to be outright bribed into finally sleeping with him anyway. None of this works. Larry was always at his best when chasing people because he genuinely wanted to be with them rather than just to have them, usually to the point of being punished with death for aiming for a quick shag. This was very much living down to expectations.
The rest of the game though more than makes up for that, being a rare case of a game that includes sex having been made with actual love and attention rather than treating the fan-service as a reason not to bother. Love For Sail was able to harness the power of CD and high-resolution graphics (well, for a 2D game in the mid 90s, anyway) to look great and focus on the comedy in a way it never had, with the writing and design to make it well worth doing that. It ended up being a great send-off for the series in its original form, even if two more games and a flat remake would subsequently bludgeon it to death with its borderline sociopathic main character—Larry's nephew, Larry Lovage, a failed younger copy stripped of any sense of innocence or emotional connection in a series that saw targets where the original merely saw opportunities. That's a massive, crucial difference. Love or hate original Larry and his games, he deserved better than that as a legacy. Specifically, he deserved more adventures like this.