PAX West 2018: Can Larry rise again in Leisure Suit Larry – Wet Dreams Don’t Die?

You’d have to be crazy to revive an iconic 80’s adventure game icon best known for being a sleazy swinger, but 80’s adult gaming icon Leisure Suit Larry is coming again, courtesy of Crazybunch Games.

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Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

For the uninitiated (or young): A (very) brief history of Leisure Suit Larry

If you’re not familiar with Leisure Suit Larry’s long, hard history in video games, here’s a short primer.

Leisure Suit Larry, aka Larry Laffer, was created by Al Lowe and embarked upon his first titillating (mis)adventure game in Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, published by Sierra Online in 1987 in glorious 16-color EGA graphics.

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Larry was often described as a “lovable (or laughable) loser looking for love.” His life goal was seducing women, which typically required solving a series of puzzles to impress them and almost always climaxed by backfiring on him, ending in a comical, often humiliating catastrophe. He was basically a sexual Yosemite Sam or Wile E. Coyote.

Though Larry’s adventures were certainly adult in nature, LSL games were generally more suggestive than explicit, and rife with innuendo-fueled, raunchy contemporary social satire—with a dash of softcore cartoon nudity sprinkled in here and there.

Larry’s original sexcapades of the 80s and 90s were generally clever, well-written, and unique in that they existed in a medium (computers) relatively few could experience. Add to that the anticipation of seeing pixelated, low-resolution boobies and (for the underaged) breaking rules to view technological forbidden fruit and you had the perfect storm for Larry’s success

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Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

Larry’s creator, Al Lowe, left Sierra Online in 1998 after publishing  LSL7: Love for Sail. Additional games have been released since Al’s departure on various platforms, including some by Al himself and by other developers without his involvement. Al formally announced his retirement in 2013.

[If you want to read more LSL history, check out the Leisure Suit Larry Wikipedia page.] 

Enter a bunch of crazy Germans

Previous Larry games created and published without Al Lowe’s involvement have failed critically and commercially, including Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (2004) and  Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust (2009). You’d have to be crazy to try reviving him with Al Lowe, right?

Or maybe just crazy like a German. German publisher Assemble Entertainment and developer CrazyBunch Games are big fans of Leisure Suit Larry, and just can’t let a sleeping Larry Laffer lie. And according to CrazyBunch creative director/CEO Malte Schmidt, point-and-click adventure games are still very popular in Germany.

CrazyBunch hopes to revive Larry Laffer in Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die. But can CrazyBunch honor Larry’s past while building him a future in all his new-fangled 21st-century tech, hand-painted backgrounds, and more advanced skeletal animation and more (4K) pixels?

Here he comes again…

In Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die, Larry has gone full Rip VanWinkle, waking up in the aftermath of yet another characteristically catastrophic rendezvous to find that 30 years have passed, setting him on a crash course with the 21st-century.

“We’re telling a man-out-of-time story, kind of like Austin Powers,” Malte explains. (Side note: I briefly wondered if explaining an 80’s pop culture icon by referencing a late 90’s pop culture icon made sense to the 20-something in the room.)

In the 30 minute demo at PAX West, the game’s contemporary satire wasted no time in taking shots at modern technology, companies, smartphones, Instagram, Facebook, Uber, Tinder, Apple, and even American craft beer.

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Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

Wet Dreams Don’t Die is also loaded with homages and references to previous Larry games. An obvious one is the picture on the wall in Lefty’s bar, which is the exact same pixelated EGA picture from the original game.

The puzzles should feel familiar to any fan of adventure games, and for noobs, there’s a simple mechanism to highlight all the hot spots if you want less hunting and more clicking.

“The art and gameplay are definitely like Larry Games, but the puzzles and interaction are perhaps a little more like LucasArts games, like Monkey Island 2. I am a big fan of many LucasArts adventure games, too.” Malte explains, pausing to point out a small background object in the Sex Shop that looks just like LucasArts’ tentacle from Day of the Tentacle. 

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Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

Welcome back, Larry

Larry’s story (prologue) begins at Lefty’s, the bar from the original Leisure Suit Larry, which is now a dilapidated, crumbling den of ill repute. True to Larry’s tireless optimism and vast over-estimation of his prowess, he wastes no time hitting on a young wannabe-social-media-starlet, who speaks in 21st-century social media babble while taking selfies for Instacrap and wondering how Lefty’s dismal bar survives with such a low Gulp rating.

Larry, undeterred, still makes a play. And in relatively short order (and to speed up the prologue), Larry drinks too much, retires to a restroom, throws up, and finds a prototype smartphone with a holographic AI like Halo’s Cortana.

The phone demands Larry return it to Bill Jobs (ahem, “BJ”), the CEO of Prune, the company that created it.

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Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

A few short puzzles later (we’re still largely in the prologue), Larry returns the phone to BJ in his very phallic HQ (complete with water-spraying fountains at its peak) and is rewarded with a shiny PiPhone—his new window into the 21st century—along with the dating app Timber.

Ever the unflappable optimist, Larry is far more interested in the allure of female forms in front of him and on his new technological wonder, the PiPhone. He seems to hold little interest in solving the mystery of how he fell asleep for 30 years, but it might make an entertaining thread for future games if CrazyBunch continues to make any.

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Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

Thus Larry’s new “futuristic” adventure begins as he pursues Timber dates to earn enough points to get the ultimate date with  BJ’s executive assistant, Faith.  (This is also a throwback to the original game, which featured a receptionist named Faith.)

In the demo, CrazyBunch seems to have captured Larry’s essence fairly well, along with many of the elements of the original LSL games. They’ve certainly stocked the game with fan service in the many references and easter eggs waiting to be discovered.

And the folks at CrazyBunch have (in my opinion) probably picked about the best possible setting for Larry’s new adventure. It will provide plenty of opportunities to poke fun at Larry and spray contemporary social satire everywhere.

Can Larry come again?

Successfully reviving an iconic character is hard, but reviving Leisure Suit Larry is a particularly difficult road. The emerging technology and media of the 1980s made that period the perfect time for Larry to break new ground and rise to prominence.

But in today’s broadband-powered world of easy click-and-porn, not to mention countless adult, animated TV shows,  Leisure Suit Larry no longer has time or technology working in his favor. Granted he was never exactly hard-hitting, but has gone limp? Can he regain some mojo in the aftermath of the game, pop culture, and media avalanche of the last 20 years that has largely buried him?

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Liesure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

Sure, you could try to make an LSL game more extreme or explicit to “get with the times”, but it would go against the very nature of Larry Laffer and his roots. CrazyBunch is going to have to really nail the gameplay—and hopefully, stick the landing with witty social satire on par with Cartoon Network’s best without breaking Larry’s character.

It won’t be easy, and writing in German and translating into English makes it more difficult to hit the humor and timing properly. What I read and heard in the demo was not particularly snappy, cutting dialog. Maybe it sounds better in German.

And Larry’s new voice, while certainly similar to the original, quickly became rather grating. Even if he’s funnier than hell, I’m not sure I wouldn’t just click through his more verbose commentary.

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Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die (Credit: CrazyBunch)

Not your dad’s Larry Laffer

The PAX West 2018 demo for Wet Dreams Don’t Die looked technically excellent as an adventure game. It combines the best of old-style adventure games and mimics elements of classic LSL games, wrapping them in fan-service and modern visuals.

Admittedly, it still just doesn’t feel like an Al Lowe Leisure Suit Larry game, but it’s unclear if that will work for it or against it in any fashion.

We’ll see if CrazyBunch and Larry can both rise to the occasion when Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Die lands November 7th, 2018 on Steam.

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