With its cartoon illustrations, pudgy main character and cute poetry, one could assume that The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom plays like a baby with a rattle. Not so. After playing this XBLA game, it becomes obvious that it isn't just a platformer, but rather an intricate puzzle game that uses physics, cloning and even time travel. There's always a sense of discovery while playing through each of P.B Winterbottom's 75 puzzles. Not one of them will come easy, but they're entirely worth the blood, sweat and tears that each player will surely shed.
P.B. Winterbottom is designed to look like a 1920s silent film. The developer, The Odd Gentleman, executes the genre perfectly through a black-and-white canvas of gorgeous artwork and stark lighting. There's also a constant flickering effect that evokes the impression of viewing an old, deteriorating film reel. The story takes place in a Victorian city with some resemblance to London. Here, players take control of a malicious pie thief called P.B. Winterbottom, who eventually comes across the mother of all baked goods: the Chronoberry pie, which imbues him with special powers. Like the rest of the game, Winterbottom looks to be straight out of the funny pictures of old, with a clumsy, bumbling appearance clearly inspired by the likes of Charlie Chaplin.
P.B. Winterbottom's presentation is exquisitely charming. Its story is told through little more than music, illustrations and humorous slides of text that read like classic children's literature. The writing is so good it simply has to be read aloud, even if you're playing alone. If P.B. Winterbottom were a book, it would definitely be one to read to the kids every night before bed. However, letting them play the actual game might not be such a good idea. It's not because of mature content; it's actually a very difficult game.
The controls are probably the only simple part of P.B. Winterbottom. The pastry bandit can jump and glide with his umbrella, or he can use it to smack objects in the environment. The objective of each level is to collect all of the pies while overcoming obstacles and traps. Soon after starting the game, Winterbottom will be given the ability to produce clones of himself to get the job done. While it might have the soft exterior of a fairy tale, P.B. Winterbottom's gameplay takes cloning as seriously as a hardcore science fiction novel.
Cloning works by pulling the right trigger and performing whatever action you'd like the clone to replicate. This starts the sound of a winding film reel and causes that old-time silent film vibe to kick in. After letting go of the trigger, a blue clone will start reproducing the original Winterbottom's movements in a loop. Clones aren't merely ghost recordings of you, though. They exist as physical objects within the environment that can be stood on or tossed. In essence, they become a true part of the game's platforming landscape.
Completing most puzzles will usually require the work of one or more clones. For example, Winterbottom might need a clone to stand on a switch at one end of a room in order to open a door on the other side, so you'd put him in two places at once. However, this simple equation is the equivalent of "two plus two" in the world of P.B Winterbottom, and it won't be long until players have to contend with advanced algebra. Eventually, groups of clones will need to do multiple tasks simultaneously, all running like extravagant machines from the industrial revolution.
P.B Winterbottom is a fantastic puzzle game because at no point is it possible to master it. In each level, the gameplay gets turned upside down and inside out, thanks to new mechanics and challenging tweaks that make things more difficult. Some sections only allow so many clones to be used, others have blue pies that only clones can collect, and some pies need to be collected in a specific order before they disappear.
It doesn't stop there. The game later introduces portals, which force Winterbottom to record clones in specific places. Then there are the evil red clones, who do Winterbottom's bidding but will also cause death if touched. In addition to those restrictions, players have to contend with traditional platforming obstacles, such as locked doors and environmental hazards.
P.B. Winterbottom is remarkably able to keep stacking these complex mechanics on top of each other without having them come toppling down. The continually evolving gameplay makes each new world feel like an entirely different experience. Be warned: It is an extremely challenging game and might turn off less-hardened gamers or even make them go insane. Solutions to puzzles are not always obvious, and the concept of recording oneself over and over takes some time to get used to. Unfortunately, P.B. Winterbottom doesn't even allow time to sit and ponder about what course of action is best, as lightning-fast reflexes are required to perform near-acrobatic stunts with multiple clones.
The game is divided into five different chapters, or "movies," which can be selected by walking around in a theatre menu. Each movie is then broken down into 10 stages. The posters for movies, with titles such as "Spelunking for Sweets" or "Savory Salutations," are one of the few places color makes an appearance in P.B. Winterbottom. Their design is so good that the developers could probably make a good chunk of change if they sold them as prints. Due to the level of difficulty, the campaign will likely take quite a bit of time and sheer mental energy to complete.
While the main levels take a subtle and precise approach by using a relatively small number of clones in complex puzzles, the bonus levels of P.B. Winterbottom let players go nuts. Stages are a lot less claustrophobic and often require the use of many clones to catch dozens of pies, making for some enjoyable mayhem that's different from the main campaign. There's a competitive edge to these bonus levels as well. Players are rated on how much time it took to collect all the pies and how many clones they had to use to get them, with the results being uploaded to a global leaderboard.
P.B. Winterbottom's musical score is another winner, as it should be given the importance of live music played alongside silent films. A mix of mysterious piano and organ tunes fit perfectly with the game's silent film style. The only problem is that there aren't many different tracks. Whenever you're stuck on a particularly dastardly puzzle, the repeating score can get annoying and might have to be muted.
Because of the difficulty, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom will torture some players and hypnotize others. Just like Winterbottom's fixation on chasing pies, gamers will become obsessed with the quest of conquering every one of the game's deliciously challenging puzzles. The innovative use of cloning and rich silent film aesthetic makes it one of the most original games available on XBLA, and at 800 MS points, it's an easy buy. Heck, it probably would have been worth 1,500 points.
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