Larry's A Loser With Ladies, A Winner With Gamers

All married women should play the entire Leisure Suit Larry series of computer games once a year, not because it's witty and entertaining, but because it will help them appreciate their husbands and demonstrate that things could be worse.

Who is Leisure Suit Larry? He is a cur of a man, a short, fat, balding man with a nose like an overstuffed sausage and an endless desire to be John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever." Larry Laffer travels the world looking for women willing to fall for his shallow charm and 1970s pick-up lines.

Despite all of his problems, Leisure Suit Larry is one the most lasting icons of interactive fiction - a media star who has struck out with more women than all other computer dweebs combined.

His is one of the biggest names of the computer revolution - the star of five games, Leisure Suit Larry Games 1 to 6, from Bellevue-based Sierra On-Line. (After completing Game 3, series creator Al Lowe swore there would be no Leisure Suit Larry 4. He kept that promise and skipped to five.)

Though feminists have complained about Leisure Suit Larry, it is their opponents among the opposite sex who should be offended. Sure Larry looks at women as sex objects. But it doesn't matter; he poses no threat. Unlike James Bond and so many fictional womanizers, Larry repulses women rather than seduces them. Larry's most endearing quality is his untiring determination to succeed in an arena where he lacks all the necessary skills. He tries hard but he offends everyone he meets.

Larry first came into public view in Leisure Suit Larry and the Land of the Lounge Lizards, published in 1987. By far the grittiest game in the series - since the beginning, it has carried a disclaimer on the box noting its adult nature - it set the pace for the Benny Hill style of humor that characterizes all of Larry's adventures. He begins the game broke but looking for action in a cheap bar. No one's interested.

Through a series of crass-but-comic mishaps, Larry finally finds Eve, the one woman in Los Angeles who will allow him to touch her. How does Larry win his way into Eve's hot tub? The same way someone else once tempted another woman named Eve.

I did not enjoy Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Later adventures would be wrapped around wildly fanciful storylines that dull the crude point of the game, but this first game was just plain base. Land of the Lounge Lizards may have introduced Larry Laffer, but it gave no indication of the lunacy and fun that would surround him in later adventures.

In Game 2, Looking for Love in Several Wrong Places, Larry changes his strategy. His new pursuit is for true love, since he has been unable to find any other kind. His quest takes him on the Love Tub, a cruise ship that's half luxury liner, half hell. Fortunately the ship sinks, leaving Larry on a tropical island where he falls in love with Tawni, the daughter of a village chief.

The chief permits Larry to marry his daughter if he can fulfill some Herculean tasks. Among other things, Larry must write a multi-user, multi-tasking operating system for an 8088 computer, also know as an IBM XT.

Larry's romantic efforts eventually win him a wife and turn the island into a successful tourist resort.

Though she is too innocent to turn down Larry's marriage proposal in Game 2, the chief's daughter has wised up by the beginning of Game 3, Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals. The game begins with both Tawni and her father trying to dump Larry.

If Larry has one lovable trait, and he very well may not, it's his unstoppable optimism. Dropped by his wife and becoming an outcast on an island he made wealthy, Larry renews his search for his special brand of romance. This time it comes in the form of Passionate Patti, a lounge singer who needs little more than a bottle of wine and a gift of flowers to forgive Larry for all of his shortcomings. Of course this relationship, like all of his others, is doomed.

The fourth game in the series, Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work, finds Larry madly in love with Patti and dreaming about her at every opportunity. Sadly, Patti no longer remembers Larry.

Of all the Leisure Suit Larry games, this game is the most fun. It begins with Larry being hired by a television producer to find the perfect hostess for his new show - America's Sexiest Home Videos. While Larry begins his search, Patti is hired as a spy by an undisclosed government agency. Both are too naive to understand the intrigue in which they're involved.

Perhaps the most slapstick entry in the series, Leisure Suit Larry 5 pokes fun at politics, espionage and Ivana Trump, who is portrayed as renting roller skates for a living.

Passionate Patty is notably missing from Leisure Suit Larry 6. In this game Larry has won a free vacation at an expensive resort where he fails with six other women. He meets a country-western singer, a body builder, a high-colonic administrator and even an ethereal and intellectual young woman who has become bored with the riches of the world.

Each of these women requires Larry to perform some task before discussing further relations. Some tasks are quite simple. Some involve a great deal of strategy. All are quite ridiculous.

Leisure Suit Larry games are available on disk in both Macintosh and DOS formats. The earlier versions can be found on remainder tables. Larry 5 is available for $29.99. Larry 6 has a disk version ($49.99) and CD-ROM ($54.99), which has voiceovers for the characters. Sierra On-Line recently released Larry's Greatest Hits and Misses ($59.99), a CD-ROM with all five games.

---------------- WHO IS THAT GUY? ---------------- Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe is arguably the Henry Fielding of computer games. Though he is not as widely recognized as his famous creation, Lowe is one of the first recognizable faces in computer entertainment. Sierra On-Line, publisher of the Leisure Suit Larry games, includes his picture on every box. Still, he is more often mistaken for Rob Reiner than recognized.

Lowe, a resident of Bellevue, entered the industry in the early '80s, programming a Winnie the Pooh game for the Apple II computer. Along with his Leisure Suit Larry games, Lowe recently published a game called Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist.