PAX ’09 – The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
If you haven’t heard of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, fear not, you’re not the only one. Before getting my engagements in order for PAX this year I’d never heard of the whimsical Xbox Live Arcade title from newcomers The Odd Gentlemen, but I’ll certainly remember it long after the show shutters its doors.
Winterbottom actually has quite a story behind it, the game started as a thesis project at the University of Southern California. Since then, the Flash prototype of the game has made the rounds in various indie game shows and was even selected for the Independent Games Festival. As the game gained more exposure, 2K Games took notice and picked the game up under its 2K Play label.
Having been working under secrecy on the XBLA version of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom for more than a year now, the game is finally playable to the public at PAX. Winterbottom has an extremely simple premise, you’re the charming title character and you’re in the mood for pie, lots of it. You love pie so much that you’ve accidentally disrupted time itself in your ravenous endeavors.
Stages in Winterbottom are simple two-dimensional boards filled with pies to obtain. To get them you’ll have to simply jump, float, swat things with your cane and create clones of yourself with recorded actions. Now, you might be scratching your head on that last one but it’s really a lot simpler than it sounds, by simply pressing the right trigger P.B. Winterbottom will create a clone of himself. The clone will simply stand there doing nothing, he can be swatted with your cane or jumped on to reach a higher ledge. If you hold the trigger while your running and then release, you’ll have a clone running in the same direction you were facing and for the exact duration you were holding the trigger. It doesn’t stop there, you can record any action you do, thus creating an infinite number of clone possibilities.
You might wonder what the point of all these clones is and to put it simply, P.B. Winterbottom himself can’t be everywhere at once to get every pie, he needs help, and sometimes a lot of it. Some stages in the demo really restricted the amount of clones you could have created at once while the final stage allowed you to create up to twenty P.B.s at once. With a whole army of clones, you can create some incredibly zany effects with clones batting you from one to another sort of like a pinball machine, but the truly beautiful thing about the game is that it isn’t the only way to solve that specific puzzle. Every stage can be approached in a number of manners and there is no right way to play The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, any way that gets all the pies is a right way. The other fantastic thing is that puzzles can feel difficult but they never felt out of reach. You’re free to experiment until you find some combination of clones and actions that get you all the pies you deserve.
The aesthetic of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom has to be noted, the game is almost strictly black and white with a bit of color on P.B. himself and in the pies he desires. The game also has a wonderful old film feel to it thanks to the subtle film grain effect applied. Matt Korba, the lead designer, mentioned Edward Gorey as one of the games’ primary influences and it is easy to see the correlation. The animation and music also lend beautifully to the simple but striking appeal of Winterbottom.
Finding a game like The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is one of the great pleasures of attending a show like PAX. Sure there are tons of great ‘AAA’ software to be played and gawked at, but there is an equal amount of great software that probably exists well under your cone of vision. If you’ve got an Xbox360 and an open mind for a non-traditional puzzle game, or if you just want to try something completely different, keep an eye out for The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom on XBLA sometime next year.