Do the ends justify the means? Regardless of the topic, it's a classic question that's been raised time and time again, and it usually has no clear solution. This moral puzzler sprang to mind after playing Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude and seeing the sad, pathetic way it delivered genuinely enjoyable comedy. Like many others before me, I can't honestly say that I have a definite answer to the question, but after seeing this title to completion, I do have a pretty good guess.
Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude is the latest in a line of infamous adult-oriented adventure games originating on the PC. The entries previous to this one were classics of a sort, featuring humor and racy situations atop some mind-bending puzzles and a slow, methodical pace. With Magna Cum Laude, the same taste and sensibilities carry through intact, but in every other aspect there's practically no relation to the earlier games at all. Abandoning the quasi-cerebral approach, this disc is mostly made up of feeble mini-games that wouldn't keep lower primates busy.
Taking on the role of horny college man Larry Lovage, my only purpose was to get him in the sack (or on a bench, or in an alley) with as many nubile coeds as possible. I didn't have a problem with this. As a means of trying to tie these sexual escapades into a sensible whole, the writers erect a pretense about getting Larry on a reality TV dating show, but it's instantly forgettable and isn't well-integrated with the overall game. Simply focus on getting some, and you'll do just fine.
There is a healthy and somewhat diverse selection of women, and romancing (or rather, deceiving) each one starts out with a comical conversation followed by Larry performing a number of boring, witless tasks. I miss the old-school conversations that took place in the original games, but the new style isn't all bad. Now, instead of simply picking choices from a menu, I was put in control of a wriggling sperm cell. Maneuvering it through an oncoming stream of good and bad icons determines how smoothly Larry talks. Besides the good and bad, there are also other icons shaped like various objects (body parts, sex toys, excrement) that exist only to trigger Larry into saying some pretty outrageous things. A few of the quips almost made me drop my controller out of mild shock, though in a good way.
After the banter, Larry then moves on to a variety of mini-games. This is where Magna Cum Laude totally falls on its face. In a nutshell, every one of these mini-games blows infected, sloppy chunks. Nothing more than boring, unbalanced wastes of time, I had a very hard time imagining that some developer somewhere actually thought that this patchwork crap qualified as gameplay. For example, the monkey feeding and flyer-passing games are inferior clones of the old arcade game Tapper; Pong makes an uninspired appearance, and there are several timed games that tried to convince me that running around streaking people, or making women on the street become prostitutes by giving them a pimp-hat icon was some kind of fun. It's not. Worst of all is the infinitely-repeated drinking game "quarters," where you use the analog stick to flick a quarter into a cup with the loser taking a drink. I played this pointless and not-entertaining game so many times, I could sink the coin without even looking at the screen.
Not only do these mini-games lose all appeal after approximately one try, the difficulty level of each spikes and dips erratically, giving a very untested and rough feel to "progression." I breezed through several of them in a row with no problems, only to get completely stuck at a trampoline-jumping game where the button inputs were obviously not being recognized. Then there were other stumbling points, like a few conversation sequences where there were so many obstacle icons that they were impossible to finish by normal means. The developers clearly knew this inconsistency was a problem since they included an option to pay a nominal fee and pass any mini-game instantly, which I gladly took advantage of several times.
With the gameplay contained on the disc being totally worthless, the only things left to look at are the writing and cut-scenes. In contrast to the gimpy minigames, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude actually shines brightly and succeeds in these areas where it counts the most.
Going far further than expected both verbally and visually, I imagine that being on the writing staff for the game must have been a nonstop exercise in creative debauchery. The content is extremely explicit, featuring frequent use of profanity, simulated sex acts (though no penetration is ever clearly shown) and endless bare breasts. Also featured are a few scenes of mild S&M, a nod to "furry" antics with Larry doing the deed while dressed in a mascot outfit, and even a little alternative action via a hilarious close encounter with a transsexual (or was it a transvestite? The game didn't really specify.)
Rather than coming off as nasty or too serious, the game's cartoony appearance coupled with heavy doses of humor give this side of Magna Cum Laude a lot of appeal for the sort of audience that can appreciate it. I count myself as one of those, and give credit to the game for many laugh-out-loud moments. One of the disc's more memorable scenes was a conversation with a girl who's a D&D fanatic, and the takeoff on the interaction between "Dungeon Master" and "Role-Player" was absolutely brilliant. Not every scene is a winner, but they hit the mark more often than not. Naturally, people who don't find the Porky's or American Pie style of comedy to be enjoyable should stay far away. But, if masturbating lab monkeys and helping a hottie with her thesis on porno films sounds like a good time to you, this might be worth a rental.
So did the ends justify the means? In this case, I don't think so. Although I do admit that I gleaned more than a few moments of guilty enjoyment from the experience, it's really just a terrible, terrible game that wouldn't be able to justify its own existence without the gleefully gratuitous content. There's potential for starting an adult-oriented console series, or even a genre here, but I hope the developers go back to the drawing board (and spend a lot of time there) before even thinking of putting out a sequel.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway