I was SO EXCITED when this came in the mail from GameNerdz: It was just released about a week ago (late March 2023), and I had been waiting for this! Cantaloop 3: Against All Odds is the third game in a trilogy of point-and-click adventure games, in book form. Honestly, this game should have made my Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2023, but I wasn’t sure when it would be released when I made that list!
The original game of Cantaloop was so great it made the #1 spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021! The follow-up game (Cantaloop 2) had it issues, but I liked it enough that it made my Top 10 Cooperative Expansions for 2022! Where will the third chapter of the Cantaloop series fall?
Just like books 1 and 2, Cantaloop 3: Against All Odds is a spiral bound book. See Coke Can above for scale.
There’s a bunch of cards in the three pockets at the front, a trigger sheet, a combine form, and some extra bits.
Like the original two books, this game is all about reading clues via the red acetate (see above) when necessary.
Although the red acetate is still the main “gimmick” of the game, there are two new “gimmicks”. The first are the clear acetate screens: see above. When you put them together, they reveal exactly one number on a postcard … which tells you which clue to read: see below. This “gimmick” is used in a number of puzzles in the game.
The other new “gimmick” is the little tokens you flip: this is used in about in about 10 puzzles in the game.
The components from this are very much like the original two books.
The Cantaloop books are the closest you will ever get to a point-and-click adventure computer game! If you like the Monkey Island computer games (which you know we do: see here and here and here), then this will appeal to you. Like the first two books, this keeps the sense of humor flowing! Cantaloop 3 is that more fun as little jokes appear as you explore.
The exploration of computer point-and-click adventure games is definitely here: you turn pages to get from scene to scene, exploring as you go! It really did feel like I was exploring when I was playing.
The game proceeded in very much like an Adventure game! In the beginning, the exploration is fun and new as you discover new areas and look around! You find new objects, combine objects, and solve some simple puzzles and have a blast. The mid-game arc is about solving some of the more complex puzzles: there’s still some exploration and fun puzzles. Unfortunately, the game seemed to fall down a bit in the last part of the game—the puzzles were a bit too baroque and non-sensical. I found myself in the help section quite a bit near the end game.
Now, there is an “easy mode” which can mitigate some of this, but the issue I had was that some puzzles were just too fiddly. I had to do something with a can (without giving away too many spoilers), but wasn’t allowed to unless I emptied it in exactly one place? The game felt cumbersome at the end. I was just reading through the help to try to get to the end story.
Let’s be clear: the end story was fantastic! I really enjoyed the final ending! It felt satisfying after going through all three books.
I found the beginning and middle story arcs to be great, the ending arc to be tedious, and the final resolution to be very satisfying.
I ended up playing Cantaloop 3: Against All Odds over three nights, about 3 hours per night. The last night was about 4 hours, so overall I got about 10 hours of gameplay out of this.
I had to put away the game at one point (for my game group): I just put all the components in a little plastic bag (see above) and put it away. It was pretty easy to come back to it the next night.
Mature Audiences and A Sense of Humor
So, this game absolutely has a sense of humor! It would easily make the Top 10 Cooperative Games With a Sense of Humor! There are jokes all over the place (just like books 1 and 2: in throwaway gags, overarching themes, and the cards have many little jokes on them.
So, I loved the sense of humor, but be careful: there’s a lot of swearing in the game, maybe at a PG-13 level. That may or may not bug you. There is one particular puzzle (you’ll know it when you come to it) that will cause some people some consternation. Even though there is a harmless and juvenile sense of humor in the game, there is still some what we would call NSFW moments.
This may just be a difference between German and American sensibilities (as the designer Friedemann Findeisen is German). I didn’t personally have a problem with it, but be aware.
Learning from the Past
One of the things I liked is that they learned from the past. Cantaloop 2 strongly needed a FAQ for some of the puzzles (see our review here to see why), and it looks like Cantaloop 3 has one! See above.
Another complaint from the first book was that the pages were flimsy and prone to tear (especially with all the page turning). Both the second and third versions fixed that! The pages are a sturdy paper that stands up to the all the page turning (and you do a A LOT of page turning as you play).
So, good job to Cantaloop 3 for learning from the past issues.
What I Liked
This game has a great story. I felt like I just finished binging Season 3 of the Netflix classic Cantaloop, but the difference is, I was part of it the whole time! The overall story and final resolution were worth waiting for.
The designer is obviously a Ron Gilbert and Monkey Island fan (as are we): we loved that. There were more than a few allusions to Monkey Island, and one particular puzzle from Monkey Island 2 almost stolen as-is! You’ll know it as soon as you see it!
One of Ron Gilbert’s later games was Thimbleweed Park. There was a newish mechanism where the two characters had to “split” and you ran each of them separately. Cantaloop 3 did this well by having Alice, Hook, and Fly have separate (but connected) adventures within.
Notice how certain items only belong to Alice and Hook (see above). This separation was interesting, and explored the puzzle of how separate characters can communicate with each other. That was interesting.
I had fun playing through this, even when I was very stuck and needed the help system.
There is a help system, and it really helped me move along when I got stuck (especially at the end). I can’t underscore how important it is to have this help system! In a video game point-and-click, the system keeps perfect track of the state of the game. In this game, you have to be marking off points … and you may forget to mark one off! So, the help system will help you recover if you ever get stuck.
The help system was just … okay. There was one particular puzzle that I got stuck on for 20 minutes and the help system didn’t help at all. I only knew I missed solving a puzzle: the help system just affirmed I was in the right area of the game to solve it.
Still, I would have thrown this game in the bin if I didn’t have the help system. Some of the puzzles were baroque and unintuitive: I would have never finished without the help system.
Part of me feels like that’s a failing on my part: “I’m not smart enough to solve all the puzzles”, but at the end of the day, if I am not having fun looking around, the help system helps kick you in the right direction and puts you back to the fun parts of the game.
What I Didn’t Like
I am not a cheater: I solved a musically based puzzle with some musical knowledge, which means I bypassed a clue which I didn’t need. I guess it’s kind of funny, but it bugged me that I got this card because I solved a musical puzzle without needing extra help. This kinda made my grumpy.
Some of the puzzles were too hard or too baroque or just plain unintuitive. Many times, I felt like I solved a few puzzles, but some strange precondition means it wasn’t really solved. In video games, it’s sometime “fun” to revisit old locations and look around on a journey to solve harder puzzles, but it is a little too much work in this paper-based adventure game with the red acetate: sometimes extra exploring in this physical world with red acetate is exhausting. The harder puzzles in a video game are less exhausting because it’s more fun to explore. The harder puzzles here in Cantaloop 3 were frustrating because it was so much physical work (turning pages) and eye-strain (red acetate).
Solo vs Cooperative
At the end of the day, this is really a solo game. You can play multiple players, but they will all just be helping through. It’s good to have multiple brains to solve puzzles, but the way the game interacts and reads, it’s probably best as a solo experience. But, I could see this being fun playing with maybe one more person, if they had the right attitude.
If you do play this, make a copy of the time trigger sheet (see above)—that way the game is completely replayable. I look forward to playing it again in a few years when I have forgotten all the puzzles.
Although you can play this without playing the previous two books (no state carries over from the previous books), why would you? The story that unravels over all three books is fantastic, and you want to be part of the whole trip!
If you have already played the original books a few years ago, do you need to replay them now? Not really. I didn’t! I just had a vague sense of where they left, and that’s all I needed! You can just jump in and pick up where you left off!
I loved Cantaloop 1: Breaking Into Prison so much it made the #1 spot of my 2020 games! I liked Cantaloop 2: A Hack of a Plan well enough, but I had some reservations. The third book Cantaloop 3: Against All Odds fits somewhere in the middle. Book 1 gets a 9/10, Book 2 gets a 7.5/10 (if you ignore the last 2 puzzles), and Book 3 gets an 8/10.
Cantaloop 3: Against All Odds is more of the same: a sense of humor, a fun point-and-click adventure game, and a fascinating story. It really only loses a point because some of the ending puzzles are baroque and unintuitive, but not enough to take away too much from all the great times I had playing the rest of the game.
I look forward to playing through the adventure again in a few years when I have forgotten all the puzzles! And I look forward to Cantaloop being a Netflix series.
What a ride! Thanks to Friedemann Findeisen to making this game. I had a blast playing all the way through!