Computer gaming's luckless lounge lizard, Larry Laffer, has retired his leisure suit, put away his martini glass, and is out of the romance game for good. His nephew, however, still has a glimmer of hope. The follow-up to Sierra's long-running graphic adventure series comes to home computers courtesy of developer High Voltage Software, best known for games in the Hunter: The Reckoning series. Players take control of Larry Lovage, who not only has his uncle's receding hairline, but also his distinct talent for getting slapped whenever he's around women.
In an attempt to jumpstart his humdrum life, Larry decides to participate in a reality-dating program being taped at his community college. Inspired by the humor in such films as American Pie and There's Something About Mary, the game will have players experiencing a number of risqué and lewd plot twists through 20 levels of adventuring. Though it follows the same style of puzzles found in the first seven games in the series, players are free to explore the college campus in full 3D from a perspective set behind the stumbling seducer as he meets up with a variety of offbeat characters in his search for true love.
Magna Cum Laude is an update of Sierra's classic PC adventure series, which followed the escapades of would-be ladies' man Larry Laffer. This time, the hero is his nephew, Larry Lovage, 7th year junior at Walnut Log Community College. A reality dating show called "Swingles" is in town, which Larry sees as an instant ticket to sex, but before he can get on the show, he needs to prove that he deserves to be the object of desire for the show's three comely co-eds. To do so, Larry sets out across campus, hitting on the hottest girls he can find, each with their own mini-storyline. Sometimes the story is as simple as Larry saying or doing anything to get a girl into bed; other stories are a bit more wacky.
Unlike the old Larry adventure games, Magna Cum Laude is played out in full 3D, as you get to explore the campus (and surrounding areas) in search of your next conquest. In some ways, it feels and looks like Simpsons: Hit & Run, except without the cars and a much smaller world to explore. The graphical style is impressive, especially if you crank up the resolution to 1600x1200; the world is colorful and the girls are attractive enough to be worthy of their own pinup calendar, in their own exaggerated cartoonish way. Larry carries a little black book which tells him who's available to talk to and where, so once you learn the lay of the land (so to speak), you'll rarely get stuck looking for something to do.
The problems start as soon as you leave Larry's room and venture out into the campus grounds. For some reason, there loading screens every time you move from one area to the next, even though the areas aren't that big. This is kind of understandable when you're about to start a mini-game, but simply going from Larry's room to the frat house -- which involves about 40 seconds of actual walking -- requires four loading screens. As a result, any time the game requires you to go exploring or search for something -- which happens a few times -- it quickly becomes a tedious affair.
Things don't get much better with the mini-games that keep all the storylines moving. The most common is a "chat" game that takes place as Larry talks to with other characters; while he spins his lies, you guide a small cartoon sperm through an obstacle course at the bottom of the screen. There's a virtual game of quarters where you try to get your dates drunk by bouncing a coin into a shot glass, and several reflex games where you simply mimic whatever controls flash on the screen, Whack-A-Mole style. Other games include variants on Pong and Tapper, as well as a DDR-style game where you imitate your opponent's dance moves.
All of the games are relatively simple, and wouldn't be so bad if: there were more of them; if they went by quicker; or if the game wasn't so intent on making you play the few that exist over and over. You occasionally need to build up cash to continue; there are a variety of mini-games available for this, but most of them just suck up time. Equally frustrating is the fact that the controls get purposefully sluggish as Larry gets drunk (yes, Larry can not only drink, but it's occasionally required), which has got to be one of the most unenjoyable ways imaginable to increase the "challenge" of a game. "Hey, here's a ridiculously simple game with lousy controls. Have fun!"
Maybe the developers realized that the mini-games weren't that fun after a while, which could explain the presence of an auto-balancing option that makes games easier after you've lost a few times, as well as a "Wimp Out" feature that lets you win a challenge instantly for the price of a few tokens. Even so, you'll still need to play a fair amount of games to reach the game's conclusion, long after they've been depleted of any enjoyment value.
Of course, there are other important aspects besides gameplay to talk about in Magna Cum Laude, ones we rarely get to talk about in game reviews: sex and comedy. There are about 20 girls in the game that you chase after, and once you see them, you can't really fault Larry for pursuing them.
The biggest problem is that, as a comedy, Magna Cum Laude rarely clicks. There are a few funny moments to be sure, and the actors do a fine enough job with their lines, but they're simply not given much to work with. Most of the chat mini-games are loaded with ramblings that rarely get a chuckle. Jokes centering on masturbating monkeys and Hayden Christensen fall flat, and there are lots of corny lines like "that's a spicy set of meatballs" and "if you cook me dinner, I'll cook you breakfast!" Larry's pickup lines all seem to be about 25 years old, and other characters repeat the same phrases over and over. Perhaps the most annoying thing is the excessive use of profanity; the language is continually as explicit as in any porn flick, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it often feels like it's used as a substitute for actual jokes, as if the game were targeted at 15-year-olds who get a kick out of hearing the "F" word over and over.
Ironically, for all the explicit language, there isn't much sex in Magna Cum Laude. Some of the storylines culminate in Larry's room, but something often seems to go wrong before Larry gets lucky. Even when things go right, in order to get a Mature "M" rating from the ESRB in North America (instead of the dreaded Adults Only "AO," which most retailers won't stock), big "CENSORED" bars appear over the characters' bottoms, so if you're going into Larry hoping for a little CGI porn, you won't find much here. The censored bars do not appear in the European versions of the game, also there's a way to enable nudity in the North American version.
To be fair, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude isn't all bad. There are a few good jokes here and there, the ability to skip mini-games eases the tedium a bit, and the girls -- CGI as they might be -- are easy on the eyes. Still, we can't help but think how much more enjoyable this game could have been with some better jokes, a few more interesting mini-games, and the ability to explore without loading screens every 15 seconds.
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