Those DADIU students have been up to their old tricks again, as yet another thematically and mechanically interesting game emerges from the school’s doors, so much so that we’d be foolish to ignore it. Kudos goes to indiegames.com for bringing this one to our attention. That being Cantrip – a puzzle platformer with a magnetic personality, quite literally. In this grayscale title, you play as one of two orphans as they scavenge for “refundable cans” so that they can use them to claim food for themselves. Things start off with you leading them both into a scrapyard picking up yellow cans while a narrator speaks of their actions. Unlike Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road, this one consisting of cans ultimately leads the pair into the crooked hands of a witch. She then makes off with the sister while you play as the brother who has been cursed.
This is where the game really kicks off, the parts preceding it doing a very good job of framing the game and its environment. The curse the boy in now encumbered with supplies the central mechanic; he’s magnetic. As you can imagine, being a scrapyard this isn’t particularly convenient, but it does turn out to have its advantages. You’re taught straight off the bat that by concentrating hard enough the boy can temporarily become non-magnetic. So off you set with this knowledge in mind to rescue the sister, with bits of scrap metal and cans sticking to you along the way.
The narrator that did such a good job of accompanying earlier in the game now appears to be absent, joining you only in death to describe how you died with a touch of black humor. In this scrapyard are crushers, ravenous dogs, electric fences and, worst of all, various sharp pieces of metal like scissors and buzzsaws that will hurtle towards you and leave their bloody mark. Suprisingly for a game that seems to adhere to a fairytale plot (particularly Hansel & Gretel), Cantrip is quite brutal in its depiction of death, with big pools of blood and dogs allowed to feast on the boy’s carcass. Nothing that a player of Limbo wouldn’t be used to. Despite that, death isn’t actually all that punishing in the game, nor is taking damage. Upon dying you’re reset almost immediately to a nearby location in the same area, so within a few seconds you’re caught up with where you were.
“An orphan boy is searching for his sister in a big scary scrapyard. The sister has been kidnapped by an evil witch. The witch also cursed the boy with magnetism.”
Similarly, the puzzles aren’t all too taxing on the brain, allowing it to soak up the game’s rather unique art style. The use of the magnetism is done pretty well with a few variations as you progress, but it’s nothing too mind blowing. You find that it can be used as a weapon, as a means to activate buttons and to drag heavier objects that are blocking the way. The game mostly relies on the player learning these things without so much as a prompt, and with these kinds of games this is pretty much the standard way of teaching the player – by allowing them to experiment. It works well here, but come the game’s end I found myself questioning what I was supposed to do (right at the end this is), but then it turned out to be obvious and the game just wasn’t working too well at recognizing that I was doing the correct action.
tl;dr – Cantrip is another delight from the development kitchens of DADIU featuring an interesting central mechanic and presentation. As a puzzle game it won’t blow your mind as it remains quite basic in its design. It does have an enjoyable fairytale narrative, though.