The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
Hunger is a powerful urge, and sometimes it will drive men to do foolish things. Unknowingly the residents of Bakersfield are about to be whisked away on a misadventure for pie with the insatiable P.B. Winterbottom, little does he know his antics will push the town to the very edge of ruin. Really though, itís nothing personal, P.B. is simply a man with dessert on the brain and nothing will stand in his way, not even time itself.
At its heart Winterbottom is a puzzle-platformer with a deliciously simple objective: get that pie. As is the case with any object of great desire, obtaining said pies requires a bit more than simple platforming 101. When we first join P.B. heís just like any other silent film pie thief - looking dapper, jumping from roof to roof while on the trail of a mysteriously colored flying baked good. Before too long we find him imbued with some peculiar abilities involving self-replication, which turns out is quite handy in the pursuit of an anthropomorphic pie. Using his newfound friends, youíre able to clone P.B. doing a wide range of tasks including standing perfectly still, jumping, running and even whacking things with his umbrella. Combining P.B.ís actions with those recorded and played back through his entourage of clones is what Winterbottom is all about.
Over the course of five chapters and fifty story levels, developers The Odd Gentlemen do an exemplary job of introducing new wrinkles to Winterbottomís puzzling formula without ever turning the gameplay upside down. New mechanics are introduced at the beginning of each chapter, and although each is a welcome extension to the game the first level or two of each chapter felt a bit too easy. Considering the purpose of these levels is to ease you into new gameplay itís a minor complaint but one worth noting none the less. Conversely, none of the story puzzles in Winterbottom ever feel too difficult which can often be the case in the genre. Many will likely take you several minutes to crack, and like Braid, many of the solutions youíll find along the way tend to reveal themselves organically as you experiment with your clones.
Like any good puzzle game Winterbottom is chock full of ĎEureka!í moments. Those moments arenít only triggered by figuring out how to claim your next meal but also by discovering clone interactions you hadnít previously considered. Those interactions will serve you well once youíve completed the gameís story and moved onto the challenge levels. These levels arenít necessarily hard to complete but that isnít their point, each has a time and clone allotment challenge to try and beat. Surely you could beat all of them using all the time you desire and an army of clones to do your bidding, but with a little more thought, some quick reflexes and a few of the tricks you learned along a certain misadventure you should be well prepared for the challenge. If personal achievement isnít enough either, the challenge levels all have leaderboards for you to see where your skills rank up. Although, given the nature of these levels it might have been nice to have a replay feature to save your various solutions to a single puzzle and watch those of others.
Even with all the clever puzzles crammed into Winterbottom, the aspect that really separates it from games like Braid and echoshift is its overall presentation. Rarely are games created in black and white these days and itís even less common for them to be inspired by silent films. A number of seemingly little touches such as the subtle film grain effect or the sound while youíre recording a cloneís action help reinforce the old time feel of the title and the Edward Gorey aesthetic. To top it all off, Winterbottom has a truly charming and infectious soundtrack to accompany the whimsical nature of the story, which by the way is delivered by a series of elegant illustrations and rhyme.
The only real knocks on Winterbottom might come from its length and the execution of a small part of its platforming. Despite having fifty story levels, most gamers should have no issue completing the story over a few hours. This is due to the levels themselves not being much more than a single puzzle but also because of the great pacing, which hooks players into digesting an entire chapter with every bite. During that time the satisfaction you feel once youíve figured out a particular puzzle can occasionally be soured while trying to execute your plan. What makes the platforming frustrating on the rare occasion is trying to jump on a certain clone while there are multiple overlapping, admittedly this only happens a small handful of times throughout the game but it can cause some headache.
Started as a project at the University of Southern California, Winterbottom has traveled a long journey to make his debut on Xbox Live Arcade. Although it has a few small issues, it is an otherwise stellar first offering from the promising folks at The Odd Gentlemen. Undoubtedly itíll draw comparison to that other indie darling, but with its unique blend of fresh gameplay and timeless aesthetics, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is more than deserving of its own share of the XBLA pie.
Eight out of ten
- Delicious puzzles
- Simple elegant presentation
- Infectious music
- The occasional easy puzzle
- A bit short