From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. This week, it's the black sheep of one of adventure gaming's most misunderstood series, and the weirdest cruise you'll ever take.
Sequels are funny things. Usually, they're relatively predictable—taking an idea that worked or struck a chord, ramping it up in the hopes that people will splash out more cash for a second helping, and putting a '2' on the end. Sometimes though, they just go crazy. The first Leisure Suit Larry was an adventure about a software salesman trying to lose his virginity. Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking For Love (In Several Wrong Places) ends with him fighting a supervillain in a volcano lair. Yes, really.
In fairness, there is a reason why Larry 2 doesn't follow in its predecessor's footsteps. The original game wasn't the first adult title on the market by a long stretch (it was itself a parody remake of an older text-based game called Softporn Adventure), though it was still a risky release. Many stores refused to stock it, and most players didn't really get what it was. In short, it wasn't a sex game, it was a game about sex. There was a hooker, there were drugs, there was a gold-digging professional wife and lots of other stuff you certainly wouldn't get over in King's Quest, but if you were after eroticism, you'd come to the wrong place. The one sex scene was a bouncing CENSORED box. The most graphic it got was a bit of cleavage. Occasionally, there'd be a rude word, a dodgy moment, a fart joke, or a conversation about flavoured condoms. It certainly wasn't a game for kids, but it was basically harmless.
While popular, the series soon became (and remains) a bit of a pariah in the games world. Largely, that's down to a misunderstanding—that they're porn games in which the player goes around trying to have sex with random women, because they can't get a date of their own. They're not, which is why they've both lasted so long as a mainstream series while garbage like Lula 3D and 7 Sins gets stuck out of sight, and why they've always had a relatively strong female following over the years.
In practice, the first three and a half are actually about a naive guy in search of love. The next few games are all-out comedies about Larry's many humiliations brought about by trying to be the player he's set himself up as, made funny by the fact that he brings pretty much everything on himself but always bounces back. The series lost its way in the seedy fifth and sixth games, but the seventh—Love For Sail—is an excellent adventure in its own right, and a genuinely funny naughty postcard game.
(The later games, Magna Cum Laude and Box Office Bust are a different story, living up to the series' bad reputation with every pixel of their pointless existence. But let's not dwell on those.)
Leisure Suit Larry 2 landed a year after the first game, and in many ways, it was a wimp-out sequel. The sex element was dialed down in the hope of getting more sales, only for fans to complain that it wasn't as adult/dirty as the first (delete according to tastes), while stores still refused to stock it on the grounds that it probably was. In its place came... how can I put this? Oh, yes. Dribbling insanity.
Larry 2 kicks off shortly after the first game. At the end of that adventure, and for no particular reason, Larry breaks into a casino penthouse on the grounds that it's an adventure game and the button was right there. Its owner, a naked woman called Eve, turned out to be spectacularly easy-going about this, inviting him to join her in her jacuzzi, and ultimately taking him to her bedroom to officially pop his cherry after he won her heart with... an apple bought from a hobo outside. Kids! Do not try this!
Not quite getting the whole 'one night stand' concept, Larry immediately decamps to Eve's house in Los Angeles and makes himself at home. She returns to find him mowing the lawn, and with only a hazy memory of who the hell he even is, politely invites him to go CENSORED his CENSORED with a fucking boat anchor, before kicking his no-longer virginal ass out on the streets with nothing but his passport, a single dollar in his polyester pockets and the rapidly thinning hair on his head.
Like all Sierra games of the time, control is via cursor keys to move, and a text parser to actually interact with the world. Tucked away in the menus, there was a Filth-O-Meter, which basically did nothing that I'm aware of except call you a dirty bastard if you cranked it up to full (feel free to add your own "That's what she said!" here), set a Trite Phrase—more on that in a sec—and trigger a Boss Key. Back when Larry 2 was released, there was no Windows, no multitasking, and no way of hiding the fact that you were playing a game short of jabbing the power button when the boss walked by. Boss keys would instantly replace the game screen with a prompt, or some professional looking screen, in the hope of hiding your corporate time-thievery. At least, in theory. Really, they were almost always jokes. In Larry 2, it brings up a screen that pretends you're placing a job advert, then forces you to load a save game.
The Trite Phrase was an interesting one though. Essentially, you gave it a line, as clever or crude as you liked, and random characters would use it during conversations. By default, it's "Have a nice day." See if you can spot its subtle presence as we work through the game.
Like many adventures, Larry 2 starts out very vague. It doesn't even play the intro unless you wait on the title screen, sit through the credits, and then carefully don't touch anything while the characters explain the back-story. Los Angeles is very small, apparently only containing a barber shop, a Quickie-Mart, a TV station and a couple of other locations, and there's no real direction or hint as to where you're meant to start. On the plus side, this is one of the very, very few Sierra adventures where the roads won't kill you for daring to walk across them, even if you don't look both ways. So that's something.
On the other hand, what can you do with a dollar? Not a lot, except buy a lottery ticket. "Here's my last dollar," Larry tells the cute clerk behind the counter of the local Quickie-Mart. "How about selling me one of those Luck-O Buck-O Lottery tickets?"
"Okay, pardner," says the clerk, "here ya go. Just stick this here ticket in that machine on the end of the counter. Good luck! Subscribe to PC Gamer!"
Picking six numbers between 100 and 900, you then wait for the lottery numbers to be announced and see if you're lucky enough to continue playing the game. No, just kidding. Even Sierra isn't that cruel. (Well, not except in Gold Rush, anyway.) Not having a TV to watch the draw, your next stop is the station that broadcasts the numbers to see if you're a winner. This turns out to be one of the strangest lottery systems ever, where the numbers are picked while the game is still running.
The receptionist apologises, but she can't read your ticket. "I've misplaced my glasses!" she tells you. "As best I can remember, this week's Lucky Life Lottery Luck-O Buck-O numbers are..." followed by the randomly picked numbers. "What six numbers do you have?
This is not the trickiest puzzle in adventure gaming.
"Why, that's correct!" she replies excitedly, unless you're a moron. "You ARE a lucky guy! The last Lucky Life Lottery show of the season is being taped RIGHT NOW!"
Wait. A this is a pre-recorded lottery show? Being taped while the lottery is still running? And the prize for matching six numbers is to be a contestant? It's almost like this is all an incredible contrivance! But no! The incredible contrivance comes immediately afterwards, as Larry gets rushed into the green room, only to be mistaken for a contestant on another show, called The Dating Connection. Here, two hunks and also Larry compete for a chance to win a cruise of a lifetime with the female contestant, Barbara Bimbo. It goes... well... better than you'd expect. Except for Barbara, of course.
Fresh off the set, he's then grabbed to appear on the right show, where with the spin of a wheel, he wins the biggest prize in the show's history—a million dollars a year, for life! In one morning, he's gone from a single dollar to a million dollar bill in his pocket, with a ticket on a month long world cruise with a TV hottie, and not a care in the world. How could anything possibly go wrong?
(Hint: Score is 62 out of 500)
Before the cruise, Larry needs to pick up a few things. First, he needs change for a million dollar bill. A $100,000 swimsuit (plus tax) from a fancy shop handles that quite nicely, making it possible to buy sunscreen (fair enough), a new haircut to impress Barbara (um... you have a million dollars in change in your pocket, I think she'll be pleased to see you), and a 32-gallon cup of soda called the Grotesque Gulp, just on the off-chance you have to escape from the cruise in a hurry and survive on the contents of your pocket for an extended period of time. Not that this is likely of course. Cough.
Having poured it, Larry has to work out how to carry it. "Ah, what the hell," he decides. "This isn't real life, but merely an incredible simulation." He sticks it in his pocket along with everything else, and pays the clerk with a hundred-dollar bill. "Okay, pardner," she says. "Too bad we don't keep any change at this time of night." "But it's broad daylight!" Larry protests. "You look nothing like David Mitchell," she replies.
That sorted out, there's only one thing missing: the actual cruise liner. This won't ever show up, unless you, for absolutely no good reason, wander into the newly opened music shop elsewhere in town and try to chat up the Latina clerk. Larry's stumbling pick-up lines just happen to be the exact code-phrases intended for a guy who looks and dresses exactly like him who was meant to be showing up instead, resulting in the clerk handing him a musical instrument called an onklunk that, well, this:
Congratulations, Leisure Suit Larry! You just won the Golden MacGuffin for MOST! CONTRIVED! STORYTELLING! EVER! Even for a comedy game, this is a desperately poor attempt to explain why Larry spends most of the rest of the game on the run from both the KGB and the evil Doctor Nonookie (say it out loud) from Nontoonyt Island (ditto).
The microfiche itself is never relevant, and by the end of the game this whole plot thread is just completely forgotten. "Thanks, I guess," Larry mumbles. "I'm Bobbin Threadbare. Are you my—" she replies, before remembering this is a Sierra game and clamming up.
Rushing to start his cruise, Larry bumps into a creepy bum who offers him a hit from his bottle. Declining because, even if he wasn't the first in a long series of KGB agents now trying to kill him: duh, Larry heads to the docks and sails away from Los Angeles forever. Will he find true love? Will he keep looking in all the wrong places? Will Barbara Bimbo fall for his dweeby charms after all?
Well, not the last one, because she's not on board. She gave the ticket to her mother.
This is Barbara's mother.
Anything you plan to do on the cruise ship, you have to do by nightfall. Mama's in the next stateroom, the doors don't lock, and rape and murder are apparently hilarious when the rapist is a fat housewife. Still, she's not the only woman on board who might be interested in Larry. He gets into his swimsuit, slaps on some sunscreen, and heads to the swimming pool to catch a few rays. As he lies back, basking in the joy of not being killed every five seconds, a pretty blonde girl decides to cut him a break.
"Why are you hanging around here?" she asks. "I've been looking for someone just like you. Why don't you come back to my place, and you won't have to hang around all alone ever again?"
Since there's nothing suspicious about that at all, Larry obviously agrees. She turns out to be an exciting date, seducing him and leading him to her own private chopper, where she flies him across the Pacific on a romantic journey to her secluded second home—hidden behind a waterfall on a tropical island. There, she wastes no time inviting him to enjoy her bed... her kinky bed, covered in automatic handcuffs, with a pit of purple liquid underneath. "Why does that look like hydrofloric acid?" Larry screams. "Because it is, silly!" she tells him, before triggering a rather familiar looking laser.
This is the start of an odd trend. The way Larry 2 gets away with dialing down its sexual content is to leave in the set-ups, but murder you instantly if you actually try to take advantage. It's not just the KGB agents and Dr. Nonookee's girls either, but every slight possibility to have Larry behave like... well... Larry. It's always a trap. Always. And that's not factoring in roughly a million other ways to die, forget to pick up some item you need, or lose track of what the hell you're meant to be doing.
At one point on the cruise ship for instance, you can pick up some spinach dip. The only reason this exists is because later, while Larry's in a lifeboat, he'll eat it and die because it's gone off. You get points in this game for throwing away the poisonous spinach dip. It serves no other actual purpose but to pop up another advert for the official hint-book if you don't do it fast enough. This pop-up appears every single time you snuff it.
Operation: Escape From The Boat is relatively easy, as long as you bought everything in Los Angeles, if only because just about anything you're not meant to do will kill you. Of course, this being a Sierra game, so will many of the things that are. After entering Mama's cabin for instance, it's made quite clear that death awaits. But you have to go back in to steal her sewing kit from the drawer, despite not knowing it's there. At the swimming pool, Larry will drown if you walk him into the water, unless you specifically type 'swim'. While swimming, you have to dive down and retrieve a lost bikini top for use later—you don't want to know—which pretends to be a puzzle, but isn't. If you keep pressing the movement keys, you'll drown. If you press them once, you're fine. Ah, adventure games.
Gathering everything he needs, including a wig made out of a mop and skin slathered with suncream, Larry steals a lifeboat and sails away in search of the right girl for him—someone smart, sexy, and who won't carve his goolies off with an industrial laser on behalf of a cackling supervillain. To be honest, he'd probably settle for just two out of three at this point. He's stuck in the boat for 10 days, and if you're playing this game without a walkthrough, you will die. Unless you'd naturally think 'I might end up in a lifeboat. I'd better find a sewing kit so I can make an impromptu fishing rod.'
Ten days at sea later, using a wig to block out the harsh rays of the sun and drinking 32 gallons of cola to help wash down the raw fish, Larry finally crashes the lifeboat on a beautiful tropical resort. Swimming the last few waves, he crawls up on the sand, gasping and desperate, just in time for a beach bum to show up and help him out by... kicking some sand in his face. It's about this time that Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking For Love (In Several Wrong Places) would be forgiven for turning into Leisure Suit Larry Just Gives Up And Masturbates Into A Sock—but no! A hero must always prevail!
On this island, he wishes he had pretty girls trying to entrap him. Instead, it's KGB agents in trenchcoats and Speedos, and while Dr. Nonookee's girls may offer a bikini-clad fate worse than death, followed by actual death, the KGB go straight for the 'Ve vill stick zees saxophone reeds up your fingernails' school of death message. Here's the slice of nightmare fuel that awaits there.
Avoiding the KGB agents, but unable to get past them to get to the airport and fly to—give or take—anywhere else at all, Larry explores the island resort. There's not much to look at. Some woods. A restaurant. A nude beach. Nope, nothing you want to see in any of that.
Oh, alright. Here's the picture I know you want.
The restaurant is just one long comedy sequence, where Larry has to wait while a hundred other people get served before him, only to be given a rickety little table by the kitchen. Even with a Wad O' Dough in his pocket, he can't get any respect—only a plate of poisoned food, because this is a Sierra adventure and it's probably been at least five seconds since your last completely random death. "Please, help yourself," the maitre'd spits. "By the way, Dragon Age 2 deserved at LEAST 98."
Leaving the restaurant, Larry finds yet another barber, who dumps a bottle of bleach onto his head to give him long, flowing locks, in exchange for another stack of cash. From there, he stumbles through the woods to find a guest room, where a maid is cleaning up. For once, he can be pretty sure that she's not with either the KGB or Dr. Nonookee, so he tries his luck. It goes about as well as you'd expect.
In another parallel universe, a more genre-savvy Larry kept it in his pants, striking back at the world cruelly denying him satisfaction by... stealing someone else's soap and matches from their hotel room and moving on without so much as a regretful look back. It's a small victory, but such is his life.
Like a great mystery, it's now that all the pieces come together. How can Larry slip past the KGB? He can dress up as a woman using the bikini he found on the ship, and the conveniently matching bottoms that someone down on the nude beach isn't using at the moment. Truly, this place is sheer elegance in its simplicity. With just one teensy-tiny problem...
"Only in Russia do vomen haff such flat chests!" declare the KGB agents, seizing Larry in his unconvincing disguise. The solution to this? Stuff the bars of soap from the hotel room into the bikini top, because boobs and bars of soap are just so alike. Even by comedy logic, this doesn't work. It's a tropical island, and Larry can't find a couple of mangos or something to pad himself out with? No. Soap. Square bars of soap. You'd think a sex-themed game would at least get the basics right. Who is this thing aimed at anyway? Socially awkward adventure gamers or something? Pffft. As if ...
Right. Pausing only to head back to the barber for a full body-waxing, Larry's disguise is complete and it's off to the airport to... do whatever it is you're meant to do at the airport. This game does rather keep it vague until the very last scenes. Before he can get there though, there's a scene that's weird even by Larry 2 standards.
Larry has to navigate across a deadly cliff with pixel-perfect precision... but can't die. No matter how much you screw up, you stay on the ledge. The game even gives you points every time... only to take them away at the end. Could this be a rare occasion of a puzzle even Sierra thought was too sadistic? Nah. Couldn't be. At the end of it, it gives you precisely four seconds to change clothes, otherwise you get instantly arrested as a cross-dresser when you arrive at the airport, with no other option. If it's anything, it's lulling you into a false sense of security, just to better kill you.
Bidding bye-bye to his bizarrely bodacious bikini ballast, Larry switches back to his normal white leisure suit in time. The airport is no safe haven though. The police ignore him as he approaches the door, but the two KGB Hare Krishna agents... KGBishnas, yes, really—have to be befriended with a flower before they'll let you through. Hopefully you brought one. If not, bye-bye!
Since Larry's passport doesn't show him with long blonde hair, the first stop isn't the ticket desk, but the barber shop again. Except it's not a barber. It's Princess Rosella from King's Quest IV, still with pictures of naked ladies up on the walls of her shop. Larry asks her for a trim, and she promptly cuts all of his hair off, leaving him with his normal bald patch. "All done," she says. "What do you think?"
"MY HAIR!" Larry cries. "IT'S GONE!"
"Serves you right," she tells him. "Never trust a barber with longer, prettier, blonder hair than yours." Still, as compensation, she gives him some hair-growth formula, warning that it's highly inflamatory. "All chicks dig adventure gamers," she adds, completely unprompted.
What. If you can't trust Princess Rosella, who can you trust?
Pausing only to avoid another death-by-laser courtesy of one of Dr. Nonookee's girls, Larry buys a ticket. No. Wait. That would make sense. He walks through Customs without buying a ticket, hanging out where the X-Ray inspector is asleep on the job. Pay attention yourself though and soon...
Bravely, Larry grabs it, and runs back to the ticket desk, screaming and shouting. The line soon empties, and finally he can buy his ticket. Because that's how airport security works. Suddenly, the pre-recorded lottery show doesn't seem so stupid. After fielding a million pointless questions about whether he wants a movie, headphones, stewardess fondling privileges, etc, Larry finally buys a ticket to anywhere, on the last plane out for two weeks, due to leave in... a minute. ("Too bad you spent so much time here, you might have made it!" chuckles the ticket agent.) He has time for one quick stop though—a snack bar, where he picks up a special for lunch, wolfs it down after over a week's starvation at sea and...
...dies, because there's a bobby pin hidden in it. SIERRA! When you reload, even the game admits that there's no way you could have seen it coming, telling you that 'this time' you carefully remove it for future adventuring use, before dashing on board the plane. And a short time later, you'll die, because you forgot to buy a parachute from the vending machine marked 'Flight Insurance' that's elsewhere in the room. SIERRA!
Alternatively, you might die because you didn't notice the handful of pixels next to the gate that marks out a brochure that you'll also need. SIE— oh forget it. Believe it or not, we're about to get to the silly part of the game. Yes. Really. All this stuff so far? Relatively sane.
Surprising nobody, including Larry, his ticket buys him a seat so cramped, he has to briefly bend the laws of physics to fit into it. Once there, he's trapped by the boring man next to him, who will actually scalp him right there and then unless you fend him off with the equally boring pamphlet, and stewardesses pinning him in from both sides. It'd seem like this wouldn't be a problem, but again—SIERRA!
If you just sit around, the plane is forced to land, the KGB come on board, and it's one last trip to the dark room for saxaphone reeds up the fingernails. There's no actual hint about this, so as far as the game's concerned, Larry buys a ticket, gets aboard a plane, then takes an air sickness bag for no apparent reason, picks the door lock with a bobby pin... because airplane safety doors are locked apparently, instead of simply held shut by the air pressure and designed to be easily opened on the grounds that they're safety doors... and leaps out with his own parachute. This would seem rather more dangerous than eating lunch, but it's okay. Not only does he survive the fall, he survives to find himself on the beautiful tropical Nontoonyt Island. Hey. That's where Dr. Nonookee lives!
Floating down in safety, Larry gets stuck in a tree. He cuts the parachute with the knife, tumbling down to the ground and breaking the onklunk. Remember that? The stupid MacGuffin at the heart of what this game jokingly thinks of as a plot? Well, it's gone now, just left behind in the mud. After this game, precisely one more Leisure Suit Larry game would bother with one: Larry 5's equally cack-handed nonsense about the Mob controlling the music business and assorted other stuff that didn't matter. The others stuck to what Larry is good at—failing miserably at scoring with women who don't want him dead.
Well, most of them don't want him dead.
For the next few screens, it's Larry against the elements. Killer bees. Quicksand. Piranhas. Pixel-perfect precision. Lots of saving and reloading. Finally though, he breaks through into what passes for native civilisation, and what awaits him? What he's been dreaming of all this game.
The girl's name turns out to be Kalalau, and it's love at first sight. "This is the girl I've dreamed of; the woman I've longed for; the moment I've waited for!" Larry thinks to himself, as she happily waves to him from the water. "Is this the love I've been looking for?"
Yes. Yes, it is. Until Larry 3, when she ditches him in favour of a lesbian slot machine repairwoman. But that's a problem for another sequel. Right now, the issue is more cultural. On Nontoonyt Island, there's no such things as dating, so if they want to be together, they have to get married. Unfortunately, with a supervillain in residence in the local volcano, nobody's getting hitched any time soon. Kalalau explains that since Dr. Nonookee moved in, the volcano has been locked off by a glacier, all her tribe's most beautiful women have been mind-controlled into fulfilling his every whim (which so far appears to have been limited to fanning him and feeding him grapes, so it could be worse), and most importantly of all, his presence has totally ballsed up the natives' plan to commercially exploit their unspoiled island by turning it into a multimillion dollar tourist trap resort. That fiend! Clearly, he must pay!
Larry immediately volunteers to go deal with the Doctor, but it's not that simple. Before he can do that, the tribe's chief insists he prove himself a real man. Fight to the death? Training from hell? Retrieve an ancient trinket? No, before Larry can save the day, he has to bow down before the ceremonial Peesea and code a short program in assembly language. Luckily, this is handled in a cut-scene, and soon, Larry proudly presents his offering: a complete multitasking, multiuser operating system for 8088 CPUs.
Its name? Eunuchs, of course.
The chief temporarily impressed, Larry tools up, and heads out to face his nemesis. "You're almost at the end!" calls the Chief, though that might just be another Trite Phrase kicking in. Larry 2 is actually relatively short, but the number of locations you go to, and the number of times you have to repeat bits due to forgetting something makes it feel like a real epic. None of the puzzles on the way to the volcano are particularly interesting—use ashes on ice to melt it, use vine on tree to climb it—until you get to the top. At this point, all those trips to the barber finally pay off, as Larry mixes his bottle of hair growth formula with an airsickness bag to create a molotov cocktail.
At least, that's the idea. It's typical Sierra that the very last puzzle should be the glitchiest. If you type 'put bag into bottle', Larry does it. He then automatically throws it into the volcano, where it smashes harmlessly on the ground. Due to a parser error, you have to type 'put THE bag into the bottle'—the only time you ever have to use 'the' in the game—to get the chance to actually light the damn thing with a match before throwing it, thus opening the door to Dr. Nonookee's lair.
Down in the lair of ultimate evil, Dr. Nonookee is abusing his mind-control orchestra by making his henchwomen play bad jazz. The monster! Larry bursts in, dazed from the quick trip down, accidentally activating the lair's self-destruct button, and triggering the base's turrets. These don't hit anyone, but they do knock over a marble column which falls onto a grand piano and sends it flying across the room and down onto the evil genius in the most shameless abuse of physics this side of Portal 2.
The base still self-destructing, Larry turns to the hypnotised women and tells them to snap out of it. "Freed at last from the hypnotic trance of the evil Doctor, the women liberate themselves, resuming their native ways," comments the narrator, which is the fancy way of saying 'they rip their shirts and bikini tops off, and if you really squint, it's almost filth!'. The one exception is the girl who was playing the piano, who explains that she's not really a character in this game, but that her name is Polyester Patti, queen of the women's singles scene, and you should watch for her in the next game.
Larry boldly leads the captured women to a waiting helicopter, but they decide they'd rather take the safer option—sliding down the glacier covering the mountain. The copter pilot turns out to recognise Larry as the lottery winner, but has some bad news for him—the station went out of business while he was travelling, so he can kiss goodbye to that cool million dollars. All he has now is whatever he saved, which after two tropical islands and the KGB and saving the day, comes to... exactly nothing.
Oh well. Easy come, easy go. (Yes, yes: that's what she said!) Still, he's happy. He's found love, happiness, and has nothing to fear but the wedding ceremony itself.
Oh, and then the volcano erupts. But that's okay.
Thus ends the silliest episode of the Leisure Suit Larry series. The next game, Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals, stayed on Nontoonyt Island, but a more modernised version of it—one where the natives had successfully turned it into a resort, and a fatter Larry rebounded from his failed marriage with Kalalau (spoiler warning) to finally hook up with his one true, true love... until the whole series was basically reset for Larry 5. It was a much less sadistic game, at least in the first half, and the first Larry game to switch perspectives, the last third or so of the game spent controlling Patti, who generally solved problems by throwing her pants at things, but not in the way you may be thinking.
But what if things had gone wrong during Larry 2? Let's leave with this four-part tribute to failure.
Oh. And have a nice day!