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by Kurt Kalata - August 26, 2013

Les Manley in: Search for the King - IBM PC, Amiga (1990)

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Les Manley so desperately wants to be Leisure Suit Larry. He's a nerdy loser with a humiliating outfit, a white shirt and a red bow tie. He completely fails with the opposite sex, although his games feature lots of attractive women. He's an ace computer programmer but life is always kicking him in the groin. His first game, Search for the King, even uses an engine that's almost functionally identical to Sierra's SCI0 interpreter. But beyond its obvious inspiration, one which is acknowledged many, many times, Les Manley actually has his own style and sense of humor, which keeps it from becoming too shameless.

So, Les is a low level employee at a failing television network. His boss, ever a moron, decides to run a contest offering a million dollars to whoever can get a real picture of Elvis Presley. It's impossible, they believe, but it'd a good way to drum up some PR. Les, eager for the respect of the attractive blond secretary, decides he's up for the task and sets off on a journey that takes him to the local circus, to a resort in Las Vegas, and to "The Kingdom" in Tennessee, a not-so-veiled parody of Graceland. The overall plan is to run around and obtain various bits of Elvis memorabilia, put on a stage show, get killed by stampeding fans, take a picture of The King in the afterlife, and wake up to reality thanks to a Resurrection Ticket that Les obtains from a mysterious fortune teller.

There's a lot about Search for the King that's patently absurd. Two of the puzzles revolve around the use of Helmut Bean, the World's Tiniest Man, who can be used to fish stuff out of drains. Despite the presence of a bus station in his hometown of New York City, Les travels to Las Vegas by standing on one of those "Test Your Strength" circus attractions and getting flung across the country. To convince Helmut to join your cause, you need to steal a "dream" from a sleeping security guard, which is an awfully abstract concept.

Since Search for the King uses a text parser, trying to figure out some of these solutions can be awfully harrowing if you're not used to text adventures. And despite the obvious similarities to Leisure Suit Larry, most of it isn't particularly dirty. Sure, there are gratuitous close-ups of the female characters, sometimes salaciously rendered in all of their limited palette glory, but there's no actual sex, and beyond a few off-color jokes and a completely random set of bare nipples (which you are warned about before hand), it never really goes beyond PG-level. It's far from original, but it's entertaining enough on its own. Released on both the Amiga and IBM PC, the Amiga version is actually a bit better. It doubles the color count from 16 in the PC version to 32, resulting in much more colorful and detailed visuals.

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Les Manley in: Search for the King (IBM PC)

Les Manley in: Search for the King (IBM PC)

Les Manley in: Search for the King (IBM PC)


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Les Manley in: Lost in LA - PC DOS (1991)

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While Les ended up becoming CEO of his company in the last game, his buddy Helmut Bean ended up making it in Hollywood. However, a stalker has been kidnapping celebrities, including Bean and his extravagant girlfriend LaFonda Turner. Concerned with the wellbeing of his pal, Les takes a trip to Los Angeles to unravel the mystery.

Lost in LA uses a more advanced interpreter than its predecessor, utilizing 256 color VGA graphics, again making it look remarkably like Sierra titles at the time. There are, however, a couple of major differences. The interface only uses a single icon, where clicking on something will bring up a sub-menu allowing you to interact with it, which makes puzzle solving much easier. Since the whole game is focused on a handful of famous areas in Los Angeles - Hollywood Boulevard, Venice Beach, the corner of Sunset and Vine, and a movie studio parody called Paramounds Studio - it's a little bit more open-ended than Search for the King, plus a lot of puzzles simply revolve around exhausting conversation options to trigger new events.

While most of the game uses painted backgrounds and pixel-rendered sprites, the close-ups are all digitized photographs of actors and actresses. Besides the dweeby Les, most of these are bikini-clad girls, giving the whole affair a low budget porn atmosphere. There's an obsession with both built, muscular women and mud-wrestling, so expect lots of pandering to those particular fetishes. That being said, much like its predecessor, it's not nearly as naughty as it pretends to be, and you can find dirtier pictures in a swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

The humor is slightly more down to earth than Search for the King. Les isn't exactly an exemplary protagonist - although that's probably the point - but some of the secondary characters are amusing, like the street thugs known as The Boyz. They hang around shifty street corners and position themselves as the next great gangsta rappers, but they can't rhyme for anything and they're really just poseur street thugs that are driven around in their dad's Lexus. Owing to the evolution in interface, there's more conversation and characterization, though much of it is hit or miss.

There's a lot of obvious Hollywood humor, the type that thinks it's clever by poking fun at the propensity for numerous movie sequels. (Of course, back in 1991, Terminator 3 hadn't actually come out yet, which sort of makes it funnier in retrospect, if you look at as a time capsule.) What other bits of humor are funny, but are clearly ripped off from other games. So Les impresses two mud wrestlers/strippers with his extensive knowledge of computer programming... except Larry did the exact same thing with a group of islanders at the end of LSL2. When Les tells a tourist company that he starred in a computer game and they rattle off an increasingly ludicrous series of better-known titles ("Were you one of the really important looking pirates in Monkey Island? The 1985 Atari XE/XL version of Fooblitzky? The 3-D scratch 'n sniff Macintosh version of Leather Goddesses of Phobos?"), it's worth a laugh or two, except both Space Quest III and Leisure Suit Larry III both were far more daring in breaking the fourth wall. And while it might seem clever that a character calls the Accolade help desk for some hints, Guybrush Threepwood did the exact same thing in Monkey Island 2. Due to all of this, Lost in LA has a harder time shaking off the fact that it's just an alright game riding on the coattails of more popular titles.

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Les Manley in: Lost in LA (IBM PC)

Les Manley in: Lost in LA (IBM PC)

Les Manley in: Lost in LA (IBM PC)

Les Manley in: Lost in LA (IBM PC)

Les Manley in: Lost in LA (IBM PC)


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