Review: Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust
Genre: Sandbox Action/Platformer
Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Funsta
Release Date: 03/31/09


A little over twenty years ago, when terms like “EGA” and “VGA” had meaning to people other than gaming historians, Leisure Suit Larry was born. Created by the slightly warped genius of Al Lowe, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards was a bawdy, juvenile and incredibly self-aware adventure game that pulled no punches, and while it’s now incredibly archaic, draconian, dated and short by today’s standards, at the time it was edgy and unique, which is probably why Mr. Lowe was given the freedom to make another five of them. The sixth and final game in Lowe’s series was Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love For Sail!, and yes, I’m aware that the sixth game was marked as the seventh in the series, and no, I’m not going to explain it, go ask Wikipedia. Anyway, Al and his fans were patiently expecting Leisure Suit Larry 8: Lust in Space!, but it was not to be. Al was unceremoniously canned by Sierra and the Larry franchise was shelved. Fans were of course distraught, and though we were upset that there would be no more Larry games, we were able to take solace in the fact that the last game was arguably the BEST game, and that the character was allowed to go out on a high note.

And then Sierra brought him back. Well, sort of.

A lot of negative press has been generated about Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, but I think the simplest summation of everyone’s feelings on the game at the time it was released was written by none other than Randy Milholland of Something Positive, when he summed it up thusly:

“It’s just a bunch of mini-games attached to a loose plot about getting laid. There’s no innuendo or charm in it, just blatant sex. None of the people who helped make the Leisure Suit Larry games popular were invited to help make it. Hell, it’s not even the same main character. The game’s about his nephew. That’s like buying a new Tomb Raider game only to find out Lara Croft isn’t in it and the story revolves around her awkward preteen neighbor and his coming to terms with juvenile diabetes.”

Needless to say, critics didn’t care for it and the game was more or less ignored. Parent company Vivendi always subscribed to the theory that there’s no such thing as a bad game, however, and opted to bankroll ANOTHER attempt at making a Leisure Suit Larry game, despite common sense essentially pointing out that this was a bad idea. They left the task to developer Team 17, who is, at this point, most well-known for pretty much everything related to the Worms franchise. As such, Team 17 is a developer studio known for having made something of quality in their career. Unfortunately, Sierra would not actually see this game published under their banner, as they more or less ceased to exist during the Activision/Blizzard/Vivendi merger. Box Office Bust was deemed to be unnecessary by the newly formed Activision-Blizzard. The game sat in production limbo for a few months before Codemasters picked the game up to be published under their Funsta label, which brings us to where we are now.

So then, there are three obvious questions. The first two obvious questions are, “Is this game any good?” and, “Is this a game worthy of carrying the Leisure Suit Larry name?” As I’m certain you could have probably guessed, the answers are “No.” and “HAHAHAHAHAHA, no.” respectively. But Al Lowe himself asked an interesting question on his own website that also bears answering…

“Mr. Melchior said he wanted to make a game that “Al Lowe would like to play.” I can’t wait to see what he thinks that is! I wonder why he didn’t just ask me? Ah, well; it can’t be worse than Magna Cum Laude! Can it?”

Yes.

Now, before we begin, I’d like you to understand three things up-front:

1.) I am a fan of the Leisure Suit Larry franchise. Despite the fact that I wasn’t exactly able to grow up with the games (I wasn’t of the appropriate age to play one until Love For Sail came out), I have played all of the games (Yes, even the mediocre mobile phone game), and the franchise as a whole holds something of a special place in my heart, mostly because it’s crass and juvenile, but in a moderately intelligent way, if that makes sense.
2.) I have no problem with cheesecake being in my games, and in some cases openly welcome it. Rumble Roses XX and Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad are games I openly admit I like, and I can fully understand why a game like Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 exists, even if I don’t care for it.
3.) I am a profane person, by and large, and as such, I have no problems with profanity in my games. I thought Kane and Lynch was perfectly acceptable, and House of the Dead: Overkill is hilarious.

I want you to understand these things because when I tell you that Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust is a horrendous game in almost every single respect, I want you to understand that it isn’t because I don’t “get” Larry, or I hate polygon boobs, or I hate profanity in video games. I’m saying this game is abhorrent because the game itself is, unfortunately, not at all good.

The story, if you want to define what this presents as such, casts you in the role of Larry Lovage once again, as he has been summoned to his uncle Larry Laffer’s movie studio. It seems the studio has a mole in it that is trying to sabotage their work and ruin them entirely, and Larry Lovage is assigned the task of trying to ferret out the mole before the studio goes bankrupt. This is, of course, a flimsy excuse for you to run around getting into all sorts of wacky hijinks and blah blah blah. In theory, the story is utterly by-the-numbers from the start, and you should be able to anticipate everything that’s coming long before it does, but the game tries to throw you some curveballs by way of including some movie-themed dream sequences into the mix to spice things up a bit. The dream sequences are one part attempted parody of genres and pop culture and one part attempted story expansion, which is certainly worth some points for effort, but unfortunately, the pop culture references are often dated (does anyone even remember that Michael Jackson’s hair was set on fire?), obvious to the point of being cliche (Titanic), or obscure to the point of being confusing (The Wicker Man? The old movie is a cult classic AT BEST and the new movie was a bomb of epic proportions, who remembers THAT?), meaning that the jokes are either confusing or obvious, which doesn’t help with the making of the funny. In theory, a solid writer could make the actual jokes themselves funny even if the source is obvious or obscure, but in Box Office Bust, the jokes themselves rely almost entirely on the player knowing the thing being mocked, which either means you see the joke coming or you’re lost.

I say “almost”, mind you, because the other thing the jokes rely on is LOTS AND LOTS OF PROFANITY AND VULGARITY. Now, the Leisure Suit Larry franchise is known for being “risqu锝 at times, certainly, but in most cases, the games were written around innuendos and obvious perversions. Box Office Bust does not do this. Instead, it simply comes out and explains every perverted joke in the most blunt, crude terminology imaginable, as if the developers assumed the players were both so crude that they would, for instance, know what a rimjob is (Yes, they say that in the game, and no, I can’t believe I’m using the word “rimjob” in a game review either), but not crude enough to be able to understand a basic euphemism for sex. Look, if your statement of implied sexual intercourse takes more than ten words, you’re doing it wrong, okay? I get it, okay? Larry is implying he wants the sexy nurse to give him a blowjob. You don’t need to go on this whole tangent about taking medication orally that takes longer to listen to than the writer took to think it up. THIS IS THE WHOLE GAME. There are about a hundred bestiality jokes, multiple jokes about wearing women’s underwear, all sorts of references to sex acts the average person has NEVER EVEN HEARD OF, and other bizarre statements that are neither funny nor well written. This is on TOP of the fact that the, “playful jokes about and ribbing of the main character” has somehow become “mean-spirited attacks on the main character to the point where it’s not even funny laughing at him because he’s just so pathetic”, for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom. It’s just a mess.

The internet says this game was written by Allen Covert, who also wrote the film Grandma’s Boy. It shows.

Oh, and just as a quick aside to anyone expecting the game to bear even a passing resemblance to prior games in the franchise: Larry Laffer looks so unlike himself that you wouldn’t know he was who he was if the game didn’t tell you, Larry Lovage seems like a completely different person and the very IDEA of Larry Laffer being a success at ANYTHING boggles the mind. There’s more profanity in the opening cutscenes of this game than there is in the first five Leisure Suit Larry games combined. No one involved in this game knows what a Leisure Suit Larry game IS, let alone how one works. Put simply: Magna Cum Laude was like a little girl seeing mommy put on makeup and emulating that by smearing lipstick all over her face. Box Office Bust is like a little boy seeing daddy shaving and emulating that by cutting the cat in half with a chainsaw.

Visually, Box Office Bust is hideous. It’s hard to know where to begin, because nothing works on even a base level, but let’s start with the character models. The intention, one assumes, was to make the character models exaggerated, not unlike something out of Wallace and Gromit or another such product. Instead of looking appealing and silly, however, these characters look deformed and bizarre. The structure of the characters is hideous, with nearly all of the characters looking deformed, and for some reason, everyone has GIGANTIC teeth that look entirely too glossy to be healthy. The game also has a wonderful tendency to represent some articles of clothing by simply coloring them onto the model instead of making the items ACTUAL clothing, which is a visual technique that, in this day and age, is dated and hideous. The character animations are also unpleasant in most cases. While the basic walking animation is fine, running makes your character look gangly and awkward, fighting looks disjointed and broken, and platforming features jerky, stop-and-go animation transitions. The environments are no better; clipping and draw-in plague the game constantly and the buildings are generally lacking in personality in most cases. The special effects are easily the worst of the lot, though. The explosion effects are fairly horrible at the best of times, and on the rare occasion that you can blow up a car golf cart, the effects show associated with this is amazing in its hideousness. The lighting effects are inconsistent, as some light effects cast shadows and change lighting, while others are background effects that only cast shadows on what they’re rendered over and not, say, characters or movable items. Shadows are cast THROUGH objects half the time as well, which is also amateurish and very sad. There are all sorts of visual lighting and water effects that essentially look like blobs of polygons instead of actual, well, THINGS, and frankly, there are PS2 games that look better than this.

The audio pretty much meets the definition of “serviceable”. The music is flat and uninspired, but often matches the tone of the scene at the time, which is better than nothing. The sound effects are acceptable, if ultimately uninteresting. The voice acting is mostly of solid quality, though some voice actors are better than others, mostly because Shannon Elizabeth is not a particularly good actress and Jay Mohr is not a particularly good ANYTHING. Seriously, Jay Mohr? What, was Dane Cook busy? I mean, I don’t have anything against Mohr as a person, and if you’re looking for someone to play a smarmy guy, he’s about as good a choice as any, but the man’s IMDB page reads like a “What Not To Do If You Want To Be Respected” guide, yet SOMEONE decided they should give him more money? Who? Why? Further, when Jay Mohr is just about the BEST thing about your game, you are in some serious trouble. How did that happen? Anyway, Jay Mohr (and the distinct lack of Jay Rabson as Larry Laffer) aside, there’s also the matter of CONSTANT sample repetition, which would be fine if the samples were something simple or at least FUNNY, but after the fiftieth time one hears an incredibly bad piece of dialogue about, usually, their boner, one ends up with a strong desire to jam a screwdriver in one’s ears. The fact that this sort of thing happens about twice an hour while playing the game? It REALLY doesn’t help matters.

Now, most Leisure Suit Larry fans will probably remember that, until Magna Cum Laude, the franchise was based firmly in the “Adventure” genre. As such the gameplay revolved mostly around point-and-click gameplay and puzzle solving. Magna Cum Laude kind-of sort-of understood how that worked, to a point. While it tried to add in a bunch of unentertaining mini-games, it seemed to get that there was no point in, say, making the game into something COMPLETELY different. Box Office Bust doesn’t seem to see the wisdom in this, so instead, it’s essentially a bizarre cross between Prince of Persia and Grand Theft Auto with some hand-to-hand and a few derivative mini-games thrown in. The controls are simple enough: the left stick moves, the right stick looks around, the buttons are used to fight enemies, shoot at enemies, and jump, as context demands, and the triggers are used to drive and brake in vehicles. As such, everything is simple enough to figure out with little effort. Indeed, the controls are the simplest thing about the gameplay, and are thus the best. Everything else is flawed from the get-go, so much so that the ONLY positive thing one can say about the gameplay is that, yes, the controls are easy to learn, if not use.

The sandbox gameplay is functionally easy to adjust to, but the game environments aren’t designed well. Locations you’d actually want or need to visit are spaced out far enough that walking from place to place is an absurd proposition. However vehicles are surprisingly hard to come by, meaning you’ll often find yourself walking places because you HAVE to, rather than for any sort of GOOD reason. In a game like Spider-Man: Web of Shadows this sort of thing is unimportant because Spidey can swing through the city, while in a game like Grand Theft Auto, cars are frequent and easily accessible. The fact that this game offers neither option means you will spend a good amount of time running from place to place for no reason, which gets old fast. Further, even if you DO get a vehicle, this doesn’t improve things. On the main movie lot, the world design is cramped and cluttered, meaning you’ll find yourself bumping and crashing into things constantly and having to take all sorts of convoluted routes to get to simple locations. There are three Dreamscapes Larry will visit throughout the game that mitigate this problem somewhat by not offering open-world travel the nearly the same degree, though this doesn’t improve the experience any, oddly enough.

Aside from the sandbox gameplay, the game will also frequently ask you to navigate jumping and climbing puzzles, ala Prince of Persia and similar games, only nowhere near as responsive or good. Larry’s a surprisingly athletic loser, in that he can perform double-jumps, shimmy across thin ledges, jump from ledge to ledge with ease, and walk tightropes, among other things. Even if you can actually believe that he’s capable of such feats, the game makes said feats detestably lame. The collision detection in these sequences is spotty, which means that when you’re trying to jump to grab a ledge above you, you’ll often end up clinging to the wall instead, and vice-versa. This often ruins jumps and occasionally ends your existence, which is AWESOME. The game also has this wonderful habit of changing the camera angle WHILE you’re in the air, which means, at best, you miss the jump you were making, and at worst, you eat it. These gameplay problems often occur in pairs, though as an extra-special treat, one of the last sections of the game (the one based around Titanic) actually gives you ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS AT ONCE. This gets to the point where the game literally becomes virtually unplayable. The game also assumes that you have a far better understanding of where you need to go and how you need to get there than it should reasonably expect. The in-game map, while serviceable, doesn’t show you details that would make a difference in determining how to scale seemingly unscalable obstacles. While discovery CAN be half the fun, considering this game expects you to spend five minutes running around a building looking for the ONE place you can climb up, that’s not discovery, that’s punishment. The game also seems to have a very large problem with allowing the player to pull themselves up onto things if Larry is hanging from them. When Larry is hanging from a wall or a platform, pulling yourself up isn’t hideous, but there will be plenty of occasions where he’ll simply fly into the air, glitch a bit, then fall off the platform and grab on again, forcing you to repeat the process. When Larry is hanging from a balance beam of some sort, however, the game does this lovely thing where Larry will pull himself up, take a step, and then FALL OFF OF THE OTHER SIDE. This happens OVER AND OVER AGAIN unless you try and move him while he’s pulling himself up, which, yes, can potentially end with you falling to your death. THANKS GUYS.

If I devoted an entire paragraph to every horrible play mechanic in the game, we’d be here for another fifteen pages, so let us instead hit the high points. For one, making a cute and “clever” joke about a terrible gameplay mechanic while stuffing it into the game is not “funny.” It’s annoying as hell and anyone involved in that gimmick (It happens like six times in the game.) should be ashamed of themselves. Also, there are a metric ton of timed missions, which is bad enough, but there are also timed jumping puzzles and ESCORT MISSIONS. As you might expect, they are absolutely shameful, especially when there’s no obvious point to the timer and you watch yourself fail seconds before completing the mission multiple times over because of the crappy play mechanics and the horrid AI. The game also seems to have a big problem with checkpoint spacing, as it will frequently make you play an exceptionally annoying mission, then make you do something that allows for the possibility of death. When you fail the section where you can die, you’re then forced to play the annoying mission over again as well. There are also FAR too many stealth missions in this game, and all of them are horrid. They either involve sneaking around slowly for five minutes or hiding under a disguise that makes the controls WORSE, ON PURPOSE, just because the developers seem to openly loathe you. The combat in the game, as it is, is also fairly horrible. Larry is given a regular attack which can be turned into a combo, a pirouette-thing that can knock enemies down, and a block that can be turned into a counter, but the game is rather loathe to explain how the timing on these things works, meaning you’ll only ever time them properly about half of the time. Further, the combat is honestly even more bare-bones than the hand-to-hand in Grand Theft Auto 3, as there’s no reason to do anything but spam the pirouette, kick the enemies while they’re down, and repeat as needed… assuming you can get Larry to even aim in the right direction in the first place, of course, which is a wonderful battle all its own.

The game also has its fair share of mini-games and such. While these are pretty much the best sequences of the lot, they’re not particularly good either. One mini-game tasks you to direct a movie scene by choosing the correct camera (of three) to view during a scene, where one camera is the “best” scene, one is the “okay” scene, and one is an outright wrong scene entirely. This game is okay as a diversion, but it’s not particularly exciting or anything. There are also Seduction mini-games, which are apparently meant to be similar to dating-sim, “choose the right answer to win the girl’s heart” conversations, except that wrong answers don’t cause you to fail and Larry doesn’t want the girl’s “heart”, so to say. These too, aren’t awful in their execution, even if the dialogue is terrible, but they’re impossible to fail and don’t add anything to the game except more wasted time. The third mini-game is shuffleboard, and, uh, what? SHUFFLEBOARD? Really? I mean, I get the whole “seagulls crap on the board every round” twist to the game because the writers are mentally five years old and think poop is hilarious, but SHUFFLEBOARD? Anyway, it can be played, but it’s neither fun nor interesting. There are also a few shooting sequences in the game, and these are in and of themselves tolerable diversions, but the aiming is very touchy and awkward and most of the segments require you to play them multiple times because you HAVE to know the pattern to survive some of them, which is frustrating at best and hair-ripping at worst.

Perhaps the biggest sin of the game, however, is that it at no point feels like a Leisure Suit Larry title. Forget, for a moment, the horrible writing, abysmal plot, and awful not-even-close-to-an-adventure-game gameplay. Larry Lovage is, in essence, fucking Superman, something Larry Laffer was never even CLOSE to being. He’s as acrobatic as a ninja, can fight three-on-one battles and walk away the victor, is as stealthy as Solid Snake, and can survive the most hazardous of conditions with nary an injury. His “gigantic loser” status is therefore suspect from the word go, and as such, the game has to go to great lengths to MAKE him a loser, by having characters inform us he smells bad, is hideous (Which the visuals are incapable of convincing us of, since he’s as ugly as everyone else.), is weak and wimpy, and has a tiny pecker. This is all on TOP of the fact that he’s a reprehensible jackass who says the ABSOLUTE WORST THINGS EVER constantly. This is not Larry Laffer. This is not even CLOSE to Larry Laffer. Larry Laffer was a lovable loser who was often a prick, but Larry Lovage is an unrepentant jerkass you want to punch in the face not five minutes after meeting him, and HE IS THE PROTAGONIST. The fact that everyone else has to be WORSE to make him likable is not lost on the player, certainly, but this STILL doesn’t make him likable. Further, the whole point of the franchise is that Larry wants to get laid/achieve something that will get him laid, and you go through various girls to achieve that. In Box Office Bust, hitting on girls is an afterthought, a side-quest that can be ignored completely, which is completely antithetical to the product as fans know it. So, in a series based on a lovable loser who wants to get laid, this game is NOT about a lovable loser who wants to get laid, but rather is about a super-human asshole who wants to save his uncle’s studio.

No.

There’s nothing to sum up about this game, frankly. Every single element of Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust is broken on a base level. The story is insulting and is the very antithesis of funny, the graphics are hideous and technically flawed, the gameplay is broken and functionally unsound, there’s no reason to play it ONCE let alone multiple times. This game is utterly unappealing, and anyone who plays it will be left with a horrid taste in their mouth. Everyone involved in developing this abomination should be ashamed of themselves. Anyone involved in playtesting it (DID anyone playtest it?) should resign from the profession. Frankly, I’m honestly surprised they didn’t name the game Box Office Opening Bust or something, just so the acronym for the game would be LSL:BOOB. When you’re playing a game where the main character asks himself, “Why would I imagine a world without some decent transport?” and you as the player are left to ask, “Well, why would you imagine a world where all of the women hate you and you STILL have a tiny dong?” that’s pretty much where you can safely say that absolutely no one involved in the game was even trying to make something that wasn’t an abomination in word and deed. Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust is an offensive usurper of the franchise, a horrid abomination of epic proportions, and no one should ever play it, as even the most self-loathing of gamer will be left unprepared for how truly terrible it really is.

The Scores:
Story: WORTHLESS
Graphics: WORTHLESS
Sound: BAD
Control/Gameplay: WORTHLESS
Replayability: WORTHLESS
Balance: WORTHLESS
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: WORTHLESS
Appeal: WORTHLESS
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS
Final Score: WORTHLESS GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Look, I’m not even going to recap the game here. Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust is absolutely god-awful in every single aspect save for the slightly-less-than-offensive audio, and that’s all you need to know. As a person who prides himself on his tolerance for and enjoyment of horrible video games, even I don’t ever want to play this again. Instead, I’m going to suggest that if you were considering paying money for this, you should instead stop by Al Lowe’s website and leave him a donation in the amount of what you intended to pay for this game. Not only does he deserve it for making a franchise solid enough for this parasite of a game to attach itself to, but maybe, just maybe, if he earns enough in donations, he’ll be able to afford to buy the license from Codemasters so it can either be done justice once again or fade away peacefully, as it deserves.