by Stefanie Fogel
reviewed on X360
Originally a graduate student's thesis project, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is now an indie title available on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points ($10). Published by 2K Play, it is a 2D side-scrolling puzzler that oozes charm, never takes itself too seriously and features a wonderfully weird and moody Victorian art style often found in Tim Burton movies.
As the game's titular anti-hero, players will bend space and time to solve 75 unique puzzles and help Winterbottom in his quest for pie (and high cholesterol). The plot is presented in whimsical storybook rhyme and shows the consequences of Winterbottom's gluttonous pie-stealing for his fellow residents of Bakersburg. To keep things light, it never strives for anything deeper than that. This is not the type of storyline that tries to make you think. Rather, what developer The Odd Gentlemen has set out to create is a humorously silly morality tale that is as simple as it is fun.
How it works
In order to satiate his desire for every baked good in sight, Winterbottom will need to use every time-bending trick at his disposal to navigate an ever-increasingly difficult series of environmental puzzles. A press of the right trigger records Winterbottom's actions and then creates a clone that mimics them. Like film on an endless loop, the clone will replay those actions over and over until interacted with. In this way, several tasks can be achieved at once. A clone can be used as a stepping stool to a higher platform, it can be launched into the air with the smack of an umbrella, or it can be used to hit a switch, allowing Winterbottom to access areas he can't reach on his own to get to those delicious desserts. The mechanics start off simple but become more complicated over time until you are eventually micromanaging a veritable army of pie-thieving clones. Luckily, the game's minimalistic controls keep things from getting overly confusing.
The 75 puzzles are spread out over five different "movie" levels and each one introduces a new twist. Pies might need to be collected in a certain order, for example, or they can only be collected by clones. Some puzzles will only let you record while standing in a portal and clones later become aggressive. By slowly doling out each new mechanic, the game does a good job of making sure that the basic premise - collecting pies - never gets stale. The difficulty, however, can sometimes be hair-pullingly frustrating. Some solutions will come to mind immediately while others will cause you to gnash your teeth as you stare at the screen for half an hour or more. But none of the puzzles are so difficult they can’t eventually be overcome after some thought and experimentation. Finally figuring one out can be quite rewarding.
How it looks
As good as the mechanics are, though, it is the game's presentation and music that really steal the show. Drawing inspiration from writer/illustrator Edward Gorey, as well as actors Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the world The Odd Gentlemen have created is a 1920's black and white silent film complete with grainy film, subtitles, and projector sound effects. The villainous Winterbottom, with his top hat and twirly mustache, looks like he's tied his fair share of damsels to the train tracks and the eerie, old-timey soundtrack is what one would image the Keystone Cops would sound like if scored by Danny Elfman. It's an engagingly inventive departure from the usual fare of space marines, elves, and zombies, and is yet another example of indie gaming's quirky creativity.
Should You Try It?
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a solid puzzle game with an incredibly original art design and soundtrack that will charm the pants off of you. The only real downside, other than the occasional soul-crushing difficulty, is that it can be conquered in a couple of hours. A handful of unlockable timed challenges called "bonus shorts" do provide some replay value and there are leaderboards for those who like a little competition. Still, don't let the brevity of the title dissuade you from pulling up a chair, tying on a napkin, and digging into one of Xbox LIVE Arcade's more delectable offerings.
Charmingly original art design and presentation; great music
Very short; some puzzles can be frustratingly difficult