Magna Cum Laude  

Game Name:  Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
Developer:  High Voltage Software
Publisher:  Sierra Entertainment
PC Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  April 3, 2016

Without a doubt, this has been my longest gap between completing a game and writing a retrospective on it since I started the site.  Most of the delay is due to a first quarter in the office that saw my team struggling to keep up with year-end reporting.  I would be lying, though, to ascribe all of the blame to my job.  No, there was a bit of embarrassment and shame in my desire to play Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude; enough so that I scheduled my playtime for the PTO between Christmas and New Year when the misses happened to be working.  Just run a Google search of the game’s name and your eyes will be accosted by more polygonal boobs than are found in the Dead or Alive series.  As bad a first impression as this makes, the promises of completely unconventional storytelling and non-traditional gameplay have kept me intrigued by this title ever since its release.  However, with a baby on the way, and the inevitable entertainment restrictions that will follow, the window to clear this one from my backlog was rapidly closing.  This now-or-never scenario is what finally drove me to give it a shot, and while I found a couple of legitimately funny moments that spring up from this title’s sense of self-awareness, there is far too much vulgarity and juvenile humor to make the experience stand out as anything more special than those brief flashes of brilliance.

For those who do not immediately recognize the Leisure Suit Larry name, this is a series that has its roots back in the heyday of 1980s adventure games.  Originally telling the tale of Larry Laffer, a middle-aged virgin on a quest for sex, this particular entry was an attempt to reboot the series for a younger audience.  The premise in this title is unfortunately still the same, in that you are trying to help Larry’s hapless nephew (also named Larry) hookup with a hottie at the local college, but the exploration and puzzle elements that defined its classic forebear have been tossed to the curb in favor of a compilation of mini-games that are tied together by a campus-themed overworld.  Need cash to buy the clothes that are sure to impress a particular lady?  Well, be prepared to hand out political fliers to classmates in a manner that is almost a direct port of Atari’s bartending game, Tapper.  Are you instead ready to woo the target of your affections?  If so, conversations play out via an endless runner game that sees players trying to steer a sperm away from obstacles in order to continue with the flirting.  As novel as it is when players first experience these disparate elements working together, none of this is very deep and engaging, so it is very easy to get bored as the game progresses.  Beyond this flaw, the simplicity does not help the difficulty level scale well, and the latter stages of the game can be overly punitive when the speed becomes too much for a human to keep up with.  There are hidden tokens scattered around the world that can be turned in to skip a particularly difficult mini-game, but that feels more like a copout than anything else.

If the complaints against Magna Cum Laude were limited solely to its mechanics and overarching design philosophy, this still might have been a game worthy of a recommendation.  After all, the voice actors did an amazing job channeling their characters’ many quirks, the cartoony art style fits well with the zany plotlines, and despite the unreasonable number of load screens that always seem to accompany PS2-era games, this is a case study in how developers can cram an awful lot of content into a relatively small playing space.  Despite these positives, I could not escape the fact that this world is a disgusting, brutish place that I did not actively want to experience.  It was almost as if the people pitching this game watched American Pie and missed the fact that its crude humor was only funny because it was linked to an earnest and relatable coming-of-age story.  Here, we just see that hard outer shell without any of the heart:  Barbara Joe wearing a necklace with BJ prominently displayed on it, the local sorority being emblazoned with the initials HOZ, a penis fountain splashing a woman in the face with water, the many instances of well-endowed girls jumping on trampolines, and the ever-present need to boost Larry’s confidence by way of a masturbation mini-game.  Besides a teenage boy, who would think any of this is funny?

As grotesque and insulting as these elements of Magna Cum Laude are, they are superficial pieces of a deeper and darker form of cultural rot that is on display.  Step beyond the fact that Larry’s many ‘love’ interests are defined more by a stereotypical definition of what they are (country girl, cheerleader, mob daughter) instead of who they are, or that the game’s only black character is a homeless drunk who epitomizes all the negative imagery of the urban poor, and we enter a time warp back into a scarier day for female college students.  Larry’s modus operandi is to roll with the punches just long enough to get the girl in his sights to start drinking.  From that point onward, the only goal is to keep her drinking through a game called quarters (think beer pong, but with a coin replacing the ball) until she can hardly stand, let alone say no.  At the very least, Larry never takes advantage of girls if they pass out in the midst of this ritual, but it still wanders dangerously close to date rape territory when he leads them stumbling back to his dorm room.  I am glad that young women today are getting more verbal about sexual assault on college campuses, but it only serves to show how terrible and dated this supposedly funny tribute to the dudebro lifestyle really is.

High Voltage Software must have known that they were toeing a line, because there are moments when they clearly try to rein the madness in.  No better example exists than when Larry breaks the fourth wall in order to yell at the player controlling him, as if he were the star of a film who was angry about the artistic vision of the director.  This was almost enough to plant a seed of doubt in my mind, and I wondered if perhaps this was all just a form of satire that I was not clever enough to understand.  However, that thought quickly vanished when I came across a couple of absolutely hilarious, albeit nonsensical set pieces.  The first finds Larry trying to impress his attractive biology professor by helping out in her lab, only to accidentally swap brains with one of the monkeys being used for science experiments.  The next finds Larry in a gay bar, trying to apologize to a girl he had earlier wronged in a ridiculous parody of Summer Nights from the musical, Grease.  Both scenarios made me chuckle, but they also made me realize that there was no underlying political message at the core of this game.  That is not to say that all games need to make a statement, but Magna Cum Laude should have done so to atone for what are otherwise some pretty major sins.  Failing to find anything like that in the remainder of my playthrough, I can only say that this title is unworthy of a person’s shelf space, and I hope its journey to the dustbin of gaming history is a swift one.

Verdict:  Not Recommended