Leisure Suit Larry: The Original Forbidden Video Game

Leisure Suit Larry

Warning: “Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards” contains some elements of plot that which may not be considered appropriate for some children“.

This is the intro from 1987s Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards and it ushered in a game that would be part of forbidden folklore for kids during the 80s.

Leisure Suit Larry was a character, and video game, created by Al Lowe and Mark Crowe about a fictional character named Larry Laffer. It was an adult-themed video game, and series, that had huge success through the 80s and into the 90s. 

The name Leisure suit, or Larry, still conjures up a mindset for me that says this game is off-limits. We grew up without an internet, and 3 network channels, so anything that was considered off-limits we only learned of through word of mouth.

Leisure Suit Larry was one such thing. It was spoken of on playgrounds and in neighborhoods by kids who had never played the game. There was always the one kid in school who swore he played it, but we all knew he was full of crap. 

Despite its relative tameness, the persona of the game came off as being truly forbidden. To us, this was way out of our wheelhouse and we were better left to playing Mario or Duck Hunt. Still, the mystique behind this game made it something of great curiosity. Even if we had the chance to play it, I’m not sure if we would have. It’s something that remained a mystery at the time and probably wasn’t worth the hype at all. But that’s what makes for great intrigue.

This is a look back on Leisure Suit Larry: The original forbidden video game.

What Is The Leisure Suit Larry Origin Story?

Before we get to the creation of the game here is a rundown on the “backstory” of Leisure Suit Larry. Larry was a geek for most of his life and never had any success with girls. He would eventually become a computer programmer but lived a very meaningless existence. He lived with his mother and there was a lack of friends, work colleagues or anything like that.

When Larry turned 38, he gets a bit of an epiphany and becomes preoccupied with the opposite sex. This starts to take over his life and his work begins to suffer. A trickle-down effect starts to happen and leads to his life going downhill. He gets fired from his job and on that same day he finds out his mom has skipped town, sold the house and left for an extended vacation.

Larry then decides to do a 180 and uproot his life. He moves to the fictional city of “Lost Wages” (las vegas, get it…?) and adopts a whole new persona. Since Larry is so out of touch he believes that the 70s style is still in vogue and goes all-in on it. He gets a polyester leisure suit and puts together a look that he thinks is still cool.

The origin story of Larry leaves us with him selling his Volkswagen Bug and making a cool $94. After he sells the car to a junkyard, he ends up outside “Leftys” bar and that’s where the very first game, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards begins. 

Take that, Spider-Man…

How Leisure Suit Larry Was Created

So that’s the fictional backstory behind the character, but here’s how he really came together. Video games in the 80s were all about epic adventures and heroes. The idea with Leisure Suit Larry was that he would be the exact opposite of this. The idea was to create a very unconventional type of video game where the “hero” would constantly be mocked and ridiculed.

Whereas other games were about saving a princess and going through quests, Larry would be adult-themed and really NSFW (even though that acronym didn’t exist then. The concept was put together by Al Lowe who wanted to create “the complete opposite of a GQ model. Larry was the classic short, balding, and out of shape loser who will never land a girl. 

To complete his look – besides the leisure suit – Larry wore a Hawaiin shirt, gold chain, and a chest toupee. Yes, that was a real thing in the 70s. What a God awful decade that was. 

The tough part was that they had to make him somewhat likable. He has all the traits that make him a scumbag, but Lowe still based him on the average guy who was somewhere in between loser and noble. He has a real good to him, but he doesn’t know how to show it. 

The Real Leisure Suit Larry

I’m starting to draw comparisons between George Costanza and Larry, which is interesting because George was of course based on Larry David. Most classic characters have their roots in real-life people and Leisure Suit Larry was no different.

Lowe worked for Sierra On-Line which was a video game company from the late 70s. They brought us such games as Kings Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, and Quest For Glory (you can see a theme here…) Sierre would eventually dissolve into a part of Vivendi Games which later merged with Activision to form Activision Blizzard. 

While Lowe was working there, he met a salesman who would become the future influence for Larry. This salesman (who was never named but was apparently Jerry) would always be away on a sales trip and would brag about his ability to score with the ladies. He was apparently hated by Lowe and the other game coders.

This “Jerry” guy never realized he was always being laughed at behind his back and would become the influence for Larry. They went with “Larry” as it seemed too obvious to use the real name of Jerry. Larry was also the name of a childhood friend, Larry H. Parker.

Larry’s last name is actually Laffer and for that Lowe just started skimming through an encyclopedia, They wanted to use a lot of L-words for the title and Lowe chose the “L” volume of the encyclopedia. He randomly landed on Arthur Laffer who was an American, worked during the Reagan Administration, and actually won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The fact that the name Laffer was basically Laughter worked perfectly for the character who is the butt of all jokes. The real-life Laffer was never aware of this connection even though his secretary was a huge fan of Leisure Suit Larry and, also, never made the connection. 

Launching Leisure Suit Larry In The Land Of The Lounge Lizards

A classic video game “trailer” or ‘non-playable demo’

If you didn’t grow up in the 70s and 80s you probably don’t remember text-based video games. They are just as they sound like as the game contains graphics but not actually graphic gameplay. You would type various commands and the game would respond to them.

The game would be co-designed, and illustrated by Mark Rowe. It was first released on the Apple II, PC DOS, and then would be ported over to some more familiar systems including:

  • Amiga
  • Atari ST
  • Apple Macintosh
  • Tandy Color Computer 3
  • Apple II GS

The game would feature 256 colors and besides using text controls, you could also move Larry with the directional keys. If you were to stand in front of a bar, for example, you could type in the command to ask for a drink. If the command wasn’t recognized the game would give you hints to help move it on. 

The early parts of the game actually included Larry being able to take a crap in the bathroom which, as kids, blew our minds. I remember hearing about this and always thinking it was made up. But before any of that would happen, you had to show you were old enough to play….

Proving You Were Old Enough To Play The Game

To start the game, you would have to prove you were old enough. The game would ask you for your age and then request you answer 5 different questions in order to prove it. If you missed two questions, then no soup for you.  Let’s take a look at those questions:

1. The term “working girl” refers to:

  1. A secretary
  2. A lady of negotiable value
  3. An industrious woman
  4. An employed female

2. Which U.S. president was not elected to office:

  1. Johnson
  2. Eisenhower
  3. Ford
  4. Cleveland

3. Elizabeth Taylor is:

  1. An actress
  2. Creator of a line of cosmetics
  3. Celebrating her silver wedding anniversary
  4. A singer

4. The G-Spot is supposed to be:

  1. Ground zero at a nuclear blast
  2. A female erogenous zone
  3. An unexplained astronomical discovery
  4. The place where the FBI was first established

5. ERA is an abbreviation for:

  1. Earnest Realtors of America
  2. Equal Rights Amendment
  3. Erogenous Readers Association
  4. Error Recovery Associates

The Final Question: Which is not a currency?

  1. Yen
  2. Lira 
  3. Fennel
  4. Rupee

Assuming you grew up in the 70s and were able to answer these question in 1987, you have now made it into the game where you are told: “And now, slip into your leisure suit and prepare to enter the “land of the lounge lizards” with “Leisure suit Larry!”. I think I maybe would have got one of these correct, and it was the Elizabeth Taylor one. Actually, most of my friends today would struggle with getting 3/5 correct here. 

Honestly, why don’t all web sites go back to this barrier of entry instead of just having to enter your date of birth – which every kid is going to fake anyway…

The Game Play

So we’ve had a bit of a rundown but here’s the “plot” of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. You’ve started outside Lefty’s bar in ‘Lost Wages’. This is one of five different areas that you have access to during the game, the others being the casino, a disco, a 24-hour wedding chapel, and a convenience store. Fun fact: the convenience store is named the “Quicki Mart” which you have to think was an influence on the Simpsons which would debut a few years later. 

To get around, you either have to pay some big-time case to get a taxi, or you can walk between places – as long as they are right next to each other. If you try to walk to places that aren’t nearby, Larry either gets mugged or gets hit by oncoming traffic. He can also earn more money to get through the game by playing at the casino.

Based on a game of a guy trying to score with women, they play a big part in it. When Larry talks to any key woman during the game, you get a very detailed description of who you are talking to. Larry is always shot down at first but then can hit them with some pretty lavish gifts which gets him a favorable reaction. Some women don’t fall for it but you have to give gifts to proceed through the game.

The final area of the game – the hotel penthouse – is where you have hopefully completed your quest. This is where I have to try to describe things in a PG manner: You have 7 reak-time hours to complete the game and if you don’t do it in time, Larry commits suicide. When you start the game a “lady of the night” is available but if you are to use her services without protection, you also die.

This is the ultimate goal of Leisure Suit Larry and this whole ordeal can be accomplished as long as Larry buys protection in the convenience store. It’s probably a good thing you had to pass that age requirement test at the beginning…

The Success Of Leisure Suit Larry

So it’s the 80s and things take a while to catch on. Word of mouth was the best advertising campaign that could have existed at the time, and it was a big part of the success of Leisure Suit Larry. 

The sales started off pretty badly and the game only sold around 4000 copies. Not surprisingly, many stories had a problem with the adult-themed nature of the game and didn’t want to put it on the shelves. I remember this being the case where I lived, as I don’t remember any video store that carried it – and sure as hell wouldn’t rent it out to kids. 

It was the lowest first-month sales for any product that had ever been released for Sierra On-Line and it was thought that everyone involved had wasted half a year of their lives. 

But then people started to talk…

Spurred on by rumors on playgrounds, neighborhoods, schools, and colleges – the myth of the game grew. Suddenly, Leisure Suit Larry was the hottest thing in video games and by the end of the year had sold over 250,000 copies. One interesting thing is that a large percentage of the people who bought and played it were female.

An interesting occurrence happened too. No stores wanted to advertise or promote it but were still selling a ton of copies. It had great reviews from video game magazines like Computer Gaming World, and the game was touted for having great graphics and improved gameplay. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards would actually win Best Adventure or Fantasy/Role Playing game in 1987 awarded by the Software Publishers Association

The Future Success Of Leisure Suit Larry

I want to mainly focus on the 80s here but Leisure Suit Larry would only continue to grow. Over the years other iterations would come out which included:

  • Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking For Love (In All The Wrong Places)
  • Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patty in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals
  • Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patty Does a Little Undercover Work
  • Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Love For Sail

You might have noticed a fourth game is missing there and well spotted. Turns out the fourth Leisure Suit Larry game: “The Missing Floppies” has some varying stories surrounding it. Some say it was just a prank and others say the whole game was made but never backed up when the original floppies were lost. The designers refused to remake the game, but it seems like the real reason was just for a bit of marketing. Lowe had commented in 2012 that jumping right to game number 5 would make customers ask and wonder what happened to Leisure Suit Larry 4. 

There was also going to be Leisure Suit Larry 8: Lust in Space and Leisure Suit Larry: Pocket Party but both would never see the light of day. A Kickstarter project started in 2011 to create Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded which would be a modern HD iteration of the game.

Final Thoughts On Leisure Suit Larry

So there it is; the original forbidden video game. It’s part folklore, part urban legend, and part classic. The game and series has become one of the classics of all time and is looked back on fondly. PC Games ranked Larry 6th on its list of best video game characters of all time. He was voted 45th top video game character of all time from a Guinness Book of World Records poll. 

It’s been ranked in the top 100 games by different magazines and the five original games combined have sold over 2 million units. So the next time you’re in Vegas, and you see someone stuck in the 70s, remember, he’s only looking for love…