Pastry-jacking. It’s a nefarious crime with a long and storied past. Its perpetrators are few and far between, but tend to be some of the most recalcitrant and obsessed repeat offenders the world has ever known.
One cannot discuss dessert theft without mentioning the Knave of Hearts. His lust for tarts led him to betray his very own mother, rebelling against both family and the crown to pull off the greatest recorded pastry theft in documented history. That is, until recently.
Indie developers The Odd Gentlemen bring us a brand new tale of a man so consumed by his desire for pie that he learned to bend the very fabric of space and time just to satisfy it. Read on to get a taste of how The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom played for Gamer Limit!
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a 2D puzzle platformer with an equally strong focus on both presentation and gameplay. The story centers around the world’s most gluttonous anti-hero, P.B. Winterbottom, who unwittingly creates a rift in time in the midst of a pie-swiping caper, with dire consequences for the town.
He must repair the damage that his greed has wrought on the people in the town, but let’s be clear about one thing – P.B.’s in it for the pie. P.B. sets things right by using his new found powers to solve a series of puzzles. Each puzzle involves manipulating time to create clones and playbacks of himself to allow him to pick up all of the pies on each screen.
Before even getting into the meat of the puzzle-solving in this game, I was immediately taken with the presentation and art direction. Winterbottom is crafted in all ways to give off the feel of a silent movie, and The Odd Gentlemen accomplish their goal flawlessly in this respect.
A black and white color scheme along with a subtle film grain filter create the general canvas for the silent film motif, but it’s the little details that really sell the presentation. When utilizing the time bending mechanic, you can see film along the edges and hear the sound effect of film being run through an old time projector. Random splotches show up momentarily on the screen, mirroring the effect of dust and aging on film cells in older movies.
The exposition is provided in the same manner as films of the early 1900′s, with short placard screens offering a few snippets of verse and static illustrations to narrate the action. The hand-drawn pictures and rhyming couplets were very reminiscent of the whimsical but slightly dark style employed by Shel Silverstein in children’s poetry books like Where The Sidewalk Ends. Anyone familiar with those books will see the use of caricature in P.B.’s design as similar.
Sound design was well executed, with an excellent organ-heavy feel to the soundtrack that supported the silent movie conceit perfectly. Sound effects were sparse but extremely effective, and there was nothing jarring to pull you out of the experience. I usually hate to use such a trite word as delightful, but it truly applies here; Winterbottom takes you to a very playful, visually engaging, and nostalgic place.
If you’re a fan of puzzle gaming, you’ll love the fact that the gameplay in Winterbottom will force you to abruptly wake up before too many levels in. The puzzles offer a strong challenge; there’s no stumbling across the solutions. You’ll need to be focused and on your game to come up with the right approach to many of the levels. This results in a real feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when you complete a level.
While many people have compared the time manipulation mechanics in Winterbottom to that of Braid, I actually found the ability to create multiple temporal clones and playback loops to be closer to the time puzzles in Ratchet and Clank: A Crack In Time, albeit at a much higher level of complexity.
Whereas Braid really just focused on a single time loop, Winterbottom really varies the tools at your disposal to solve puzzles. You can stack clones to reach higher areas, smack clones (or have them smack you) to launch P.B. across long gaps, use playback loops to work switches and levers, and even take a ride on some of your clones as they loop.
The story mode consists of 5 sections with multiple puzzles in each section. After completing each section of the story mode, a series of challenge rooms are unlocked. These challenge rooms build on the difficulty of the main game by adding the additional constraints of a time goal and even a maximum number of clones to be used.
These constraints force you to continually revisit your approach to a puzzle in order to decrease your time, which keeps the mind limber and thinking in creative and non-linear ways. Leaderboards and the ability to compete with your friends for the lowest possible time provide additional motivation to bend your mind to the task again and again.
If I have any complaint with the gameplay, it’s with a small percentage of the puzzles in the story mode. Some of the challenges place a much higher emphasis on execution than others. In roughly 10% of the levels, I would figure out the correct solution to the problem, but still be unable to complete the puzzle because of the tiny window of timing required to carry out the sequence.
Spending 20 minutes repeating a sequence even though I already had discovered the proper approach to the level was frustrating. In the context of everything else on offer, however, this proved to be a relatively minor pain point for me.
The amount of content and the high level of creativity and execution on display from The Odd Gentlemen makes the 800 MS Points asking price that much more reasonable. To see this strong of an offering priced at $10 really puts the whole Braid pricing conversation into perspective.
I fervently hope we continue to see this trend of high quality titles available through XBLA at these price points. It will require gamers supporting quality indie titles like this with their purchases to make that a surety.
Many games sacrifice engaging gameplay in favor of a unique presentation, or vice versa. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is one of those rare titles that skimps on neither. The immersive quality of the art direction combined with the well crafted gameplay mechanics and puzzle design provide an amazing value for the asking price. Considering that it’s a game about dessert, it’s wonderful to find that Winterbottom offers up a 7-course dinner.
The 1920's silent film motif is executed flawlessly; graphics, character and art design all contribute to a truly unique feel. The charm of the game is undeniable.
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Unique twists and evolutions of the time manipulation mechanics combined with challenging puzzle design create a highly enjoyable experience.
The music supports the period-piece mentality of the art design very well. You can almost see the piano player in the wings.
Story levels will keep you engaged until you've solved them all, but the challenge levels will compel you to revisit over and over to refine your approach and one-up your friends.
Powerful execution on all fronts along with an extremely reasonable price combine to make this game a must get for all fans of puzzlers, indie games, or excellent downloadable titles.