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Cantaloop: Book 1 - Breaking into Prison Board Game Review

WBG Score: 9.5 Player Count: 1-4 You’ll like this if you like: Coded chronicles games, Unlock games, Chronicles of Crime Published by: Lookout Games Designed by: Friedemann Findeisen, Grzegorz Kobiela

NO SPOILERS!! The pictures are from the tutorial and the very first location you see in the game. Question! Do you like the old style point and click games like Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Day of the Tentacle etc? Well then you don’t need to read this review. Just go out and buy Cantaloop because believe me, you won’t be disappointed!……What?, you still need more convincing? Well then read on.

The secret of Cantaloop Island. To set up. Open the book. Done. The book is going to take you through the tutorial so I’ll just go through a brief overview just for some context. Throughout the game you’ll be visiting different locations in the town of Cantaloop. At each location you’ll find a page of location art with some four digit alphanumeric codes and some columns with 2 digit codes on them. On the other page will be a page of text with some alpha numeric codes next to them. All of this is only readable when you use the red decoder strip.

The basic idea is that you will combine items on cards with the two digit columns to create a four digit code, you then read the corresponding text using the decoding strip. You can even combine items together to make other exciting items using the inventory which is similarly coded. So combining a badger and a towel will get you a badger wearing a toga. Of course how you’re going to carry the badger and why you want it in a toga is a puzzle in itself. Wherever you read it you will either get some flavour text, some clues or may even get you to take a numbered card from the deck. It could even lead you to read conversations between characters. However some of the text will only be available to read if you’ve hit certain triggers. I’ll get to how that works later. Hook and Fly hit the road I’ve had a lot of great experiences throughout my time gaming. They’ve ranged from individual plays of a game, to entire campaigns. Some of these are based on things that I love that I’ve grown up with. From Scooby Doo to Star Wars. Whilst all of these evoke some good memories none of these have managed to throw me right back into my childhood and managed to capture the feelings and experiences and memories I had at the time as much as Cantaloop has! From the moment you start to read the tutorial you can tell that this is an absolute labour of love from everyone involved and that they probably spent just as many hours playing through as many games of this genre as I did. Well not quite as many I would wager. I’m a self confessed idiot when it comes to those sorts of games and as much as I loved them I spent a lot of my gameplay hours wandering aimlessly trying to combine every item with every other item. Seriously I’m shocked the game never just switched itself off and told me I wasn’t allowed to play it again.

Tangent aside, every mechanism and nuance in this game has been designed to feel as close to those old games as possible and for me they’ve completely succeeded. In a couple of cases I think this analog version actually works better! There are so many of these awesome things that I want to tell you about because I think they brilliantly capture the feel of the old games, but I can’t because they could be potential spoilers.

The humour is a touch more adult in Cantaloop. It tends to stick to the old school style of humour but now and again there are things in there that would push it above child friendly. The age on the back says 16+ and I’d say you could possibly go one or two years lower but maybe go through a bit and see what you think. At the very least you can use your foresight to look clever in front of the family! If you do play through with them! The day of the puzzle adventure book Up until now I’ll admit that it would appear that my love for this game comes purely from nostalgia. Admittedly a large part of it may well do. It’s hard to deny that if you love the old point and click adventure games then you will get more out of it than if you haven’t. So what would happen if we strip out all that nostalgia? Well you’ve still got a brilliant game on your hands. There is one system that I will talk about which for me is a stand out. That’s the Trigger system. No it’s not based on a well loved Only Fools and Horses character. It's something that I guess was always there in the old games but not visible since it’s essentially code. You’ll be given a grid of alphanumerics (A5, B9 etc) and at certain points you will be asked to mark them off. So for example after talking to a certain character you may be instructed to cross off E3 on that grid. Then when reading something else later on it could go one of two ways depending on what you have and haven’t crossed off. So for example it may be something along the lines of, “if you have crossed off E3 read this section, if not then carry on reading” This system alone is so clever. It stops you accidentally skipping ahead and potentially discovering something you shouldn’t too early.

Usually you won’t get the code you need crossed off until you’ve picked up an item or combined something. Knowing that makes you even more eager to retrace your steps or try new combos of things. Also knowing that there is a code you need to find for a specific section may give you a nudge in the right direction. Yes it can be frustrating if you find yourself stuck and knowing that to advance the story you need to find code L5 (not a real code). You may even find yourself taking a leaf out of my book of aimless wandering (available in all good and evil book shops. Just wander around till you find it.) When you do solve it though that feeling is awesome and you get that excitement as you feel new avenues opening up to discover what’s next. This system is also put to good use as the marker for the hint system at the back of the book. You'll find no Monkeying around here! The puzzles themselves are fun. There are a couple of escape room style puzzles but for the most part they match the style of puzzles from the original games with some puzzles requiring out of the box thinking, or should that be out of the book? If you find yourself stuck you may end up finding yourself trying to combine things that you probably wouldn’t do in a normal puzzle game, like the Badger and the towel, but again, that’s the logic that the original games had. That could be something that may be frustrating to some but once you get into that mindset that any idea, regardless of how strange it may seem, could work then I think you’ll find yourself letting go and having fun with it.

Because there’s no penalty system in the game you never feel like you can’t do something because it will lose you time or points. If anything you’ll do something just because you can and because it’s silly. The very worst that will happen is that you’ll get a sarcastic comment and maybe, just maybe something else. Sometimes your creativity, no matter how bizarre, is rewarded. Ever so slightly sad fandango. If there’s any negatives then it’s the fact that I can’t discuss this in more detail. Maybe when a few people have played it through we could make a Cantaloop book club and discuss spoilers! There were also a couple of puzzles that maybe needed a bigger leap in logic that needed hints but there were only a couple like that.

The last thing is the age restrictions. I’m glad they didn’t have to hold back because it made for some fun puzzles, but at the same time it is a game I would have liked to experience with my kids. That’s not to say it’s leaving the collection, far from it. As soon as I think they’re old enough this will be hitting the table again. Cantaloop, mighty puzzler. One thing I’ve found myself loving in the recent puzzle games is the story. I love that there are more of these that are driven by a long form story. The shorter games like Unlock have stories but at around an hour you can’t always get too invested. With the likes of the 50 clues games, Coded Chronicles and now Cantaloop you get a fun story driven game that has a puzzle element. Now for me personally this story, puzzle combo is a format I prefer so much more than just the quick one hour games. There’s more to get invested in to make you want to come back for more or make you want to keep playing. Of all my four sessions of Cantaloop I had to force myself to stop playing. When you're stuck on a puzzle you want to keep going until you’ve solved it, but then when you do you want to keep going to see what’s next. This game is touted as lasting anywhere between 5-8 hours (don’t worry you can save it) and there are two others that continue the story each at about the same run time. That’s a lot of game, a lot of story and a lot of puzzles and mostly a lot of fun. For me Cantaloop is just as much about the story it’s telling, as it is the puzzles involved and it strikes a beautiful balance between them as well as capturing the nostalgia, mechanisms and quirks that made those original PC point and click adventures as loved as they were and still are. Whether you're steeped in that nostalgia or not I think Cantaloop offers a great game experience either way. It’s now February as I’m writing this and I’m calling it now that this and the other two books end up being my game/s of the year…….and I’ve only played book one!

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