Cantaloop Book 1: Breaking into Prison [Review]

Point-and-click Adventure Game Book (Seriously)

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 8, 2021

Team size: 1; we recommend 1-4

Duration: 5-8 hours

Price: about $30

REA Reaction

Cantaloop Book 1: Breaking into Prison was described to me as “a really good point-and-click adventure game in book form… that actually feels like a point-and-click adventure game.”

After taking this product into the lab and studying it, I can confirm that description as entirely accurate.

Cantaloop book cover depicts the main character in a mugshot with a lot of swagger.

The art, writing, characters, and puzzle design all worked together to feel like a great point-and-click adventure game. The difference is that you can play it in a small group, with physical (albeit mostly paper) props, and enjoy it communally… like an escape room.

Our group of 4 loved playing Cantaloop. It was smart, funny, and craftily designed, with all of the tropes that make people love (or hate) point-and-click adventure games. If that sounds appealing to you, then this is a must-buy. If you despise point-and-click adventure games on computer, I doubt that Cantaloop will suddenly convert you.

When we finished playing, we mused about how this game could easily be translated into a mobile app, and go full point-and-click adventure game… but concluded that it shouldn’t, because it would be less fun.

Paper might be the future of the point-and-click adventure genre. No joke.

Who is this for?

  • Point-and-click adventure lovers
  • Story seekers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Strong writing and characters
  • Tons of humor
  • It felt like a proper point-and-click adventure

Story

Charismatic crook “Hook” Carpenter is back on Cantaloop Island and assembling a new team for one last job. The catch: the hacker he needs for this job is locked up in prison.

An in-game environmental image of a light house.

Setup

Every element of Cantaloop recreates the mechanics of a point-and-click adventure game in analog form. The key components were:

The book & supplemental written pamphlets – The bulk of the experience was contained within the pages of the book. This included 20 different illustrated locations to look at. Each location had a unique look and personality, along with objects to find and interact with. Additionally, there were character conversations that carried the plot, and hints to help the team get unstuck.

Cantaloop inside cover has a series of pouches, and an envelope, all loaded with game materials.

Cards – The cards functioned a lot of different ways, but the book told us when to reveal them. Some were items that we could use to interact with the game world (or other items in the game). Other cards augmented the illustrated locations within the book.

Closeup of text obscured for reading via a red filter.

Red filter – We used a piece of red filter paper to reveal text and dialogue throughout the game. Because things were largely open-world, the designers didn’t want the players breaking sequence. The red filter was a simple way to facilitate this.

The card for tracking player progress through Cantaloop.

Progress Card – The entire game hinged on a card with a grid labeled A-K and 1-9. Whenever we accomplished anything, small or large, we marked it off on this card. The game was constantly checking to see if we had met prerequisites by referencing the codes on this card. Keeping this organized and up-to-date wasn’t hard, but it was essential.

The gameplay was largely driven by alphanumeric codes that corresponded to passages in the book.

To make up an example, if an environment had a board that was nailed in place, and we had a clawhammer card, we could combine the codes on those cards, read the corresponding passage, and learn that we had used the hammer to rip the nails out. After doing this, we’d be told to mark down a square on the progress card.

Gameplay

Cantaloop Book 1: Breaking into Prison was a play-at-home point-and-click adventure game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, experimenting, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕/❓ I’ve said this a bunch, but it bears repeating: Cantaloop perfectly recreated the point-and-click adventure game on paper. This came with the vibrant colors, over-the-top characters, and silly yet particular gameplay. If you like this, it’s amazing. If you hate this… then it’s not going to be your book of puzzles.

➕ The red filter worked well for both obscuring and revealing text within the book. At first we thought that this was going to be annoying, but it generally felt unobtrusive.

➕ Similarly, the code designs within Cantaloop worked remarkably well and weren’t easy to brute-force, even when we tried to test that system a bit.

➕ The early game functioned as a fantastic tutorial, giving narrow goals and options. This allowed us to learn while playing, and get comfortable with the unusual game systems.

➖ The mid game dragged a little, and suffered from some of the typical point-and-click adventure challenges. There were too many directions to go in at once. It made for an open world feeling, but I would have preferred a tighter, slightly less open experience. In this very open segment, we found ourselves spinning in circles, and questioning whether we had done anything to substantively advance the plot… doesn’t that sound like a point-and-click adventure game?

➕ The hints worked surprisingly well, and helped us get back on the rails when we flew off of them. There’s no shame in taking hints in Cantaloop. We were reluctant at first, but started taking them whenever we looked around the table and felt like the group’s energy was dropping.

➕ The late game was fantastic and energetic, pulling everything together.

➕ The writing was fantastic. We were invested in these characters and their story. This is more impressive because, near as I can tell, Cantaloop was originally written in German and translated into English. The translation work was top-notch. If the writing had faltered, the game would not have been fun.

➕ The characters and their voicing were a lot of fun. We started doing voices for our favorite characters. Honestly, for me, the highlight of Cantaloop was reading the jazz bar bouncer’s lines while doing an imitation of my very New Jersey neighbor. I’m sorry that none of you will be able to enjoy that.

➕ The art was great and captured the tone of the game world.

➕ Some of our more ridiculous actions resulted in us earning achievement cards. There were a lot of achievements that we didn’t earn, but we picked up 4 of them over the course of our playthrough.

Minor Spoiler: Which achievements did we earn?

“You are a nerd!” “You are going to hell!” “You are a tree hugger” and “You are wasteful.” I’d say 2 of these are true of our team in real life… I leave it up to you to guess which ones.

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Cantaloop was self-aware enough to make fun of itself (and the players) about its own limitations (and ours). This product knows that it isn’t perfect, nor are its inspirations, and that’s part of its charm.

➕ At $30, Cantaloop had a ton of value. Whether you evaluate it in terms of time for money, effort for money, or quality for money… Cantaloop’s got it. When a sequel is released, we’ll definitely purchase it.

❗ For a game of this length, I felt that it needed a soundtrack. I strongly urge you to play Cantaloop while listening to The Mighty Imperials. We tried a lot of music, but nothing mirrored and executed the vibe of the game quite like The Mighty Imperials did.

Tips For Players

  • We suggest playing over multiple sessions. There is a lot of game here.
  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pen and paper

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