The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
Publisher: 2K Play
Release Date: 02/17/2010
Since Paul Bellezza from The Odd Gentlemen filled us in on the details of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom with our recent interview, I had grown even more interested in exploring the black-and-white, pastry-filled world crafted in the title. The big worry, however, was if the game would avoid the trap of allowing its artistic flare to take the spotlight over its game play. Now that we’re a couple of weeks removed from the game’s release date, though, I can assure our readers that this crust has plenty of satisfying filling.
The title introduces players to P.B. Winterbottom, the notorious pie thief plaguing the quaint village of Bakersfield. P.B. will go to any lengths to nab pies and no amount of type of pie is ever enough for his never ending sweet tooth. After a run-in with a magical Chronoberry pie, P.B. gains the ability to bend time and space, recording himself in order to unleash time-looped clones to assist him in scoring more pie than he ever imagined. With the game being featured as a silent film, the story is progressed with still art and rhyming text dialogue, all cued to a wickedly eerie, yet appealing score. As players progress, they find out how Winterbottom’s escapades are affecting the lives of the citizens in Bakerfield as P.B. makes time stop altogether, runs through a blaze at the local bakery and plugs up the water supply in the sewer. Although players won’t be spending a huge amount of time engrossed in the story, it is charming and full of wit, and each level is named and subtitled with a clever phrase or description that taps into a lot of parody and humor as well.
These facets piece together an impressive environment, but players will find a shortage of modes within the game world. Although there is an impressive number of puzzles and film scenes accessed through a central game hub, the game can be boiled down to only two game modes, both of which employ the exact same game mechanics. The top two levels of the in-game hub unfold as players progress through the story-based films while progress also unlocks bonus short films in a third row. The short films act as a sort of challenge mode, where players tackle the same goal of pie snatching while aiming for medals earned by either completing the level in par time or by utilizing a set number of clones (or both). This wouldn’t normally be a negative on its own, however, there is no real incentive to play through the story sequences again once they are completed. The package still offers a suitable amount to do in a puzzler, but a level editor, two-player co-op puzzles, downloadable puzzles, or other modes would have easily taken the game an extra mile.
Upfront, the main hook of the title was in its noir motif and The Odd Gentlemen really ran with this concept to produce top-notch visuals while implementing a varied and intense score. As soon as players boot up the game, they are greeted with a film grain and flicker that transforms your Xbox into a black-and-white world while eerie music in the vein of something you might hear in a Tim Burton film rings in. The P.B. Winterbottom character is immediately identifiable and definitely breaks the norm of the stacked heroes we tend to be presented with in today’s games. The game’s story panels feature fantastic fantasy-style artwork with a number of different characters and even though the in-game models are small, they certainly do not lack detail and are still full of fluid animation. The environments really steal the show, however, with all of the locations featuring detailed and motion-filled backdrops. Even though the vast majority of the game is experienced in black and white, it still looks incredible and the conservative usage of color actually has meaning when players eventually see it.
Instead of being filled with “old-tyme”Â piano jingles like one would associate with a silent film in its heyday, P.B. Winterbottom pulls in a full-feature ensemble that creates some memorable results. As I’ve already stated, the opening theme makes a huge impression and is definitely memorable. The rest of the music fits each scene well and shares the same quality throughout the title. As for the sound effects, much like the game’s color, sound is used very sparingly, as this is a silent film, after all. There are little jingles when a pie is collected, when clone recordings are made a nice film reel roll is played, and items hit with P.B. Winterbottom’s umbrella result in an appropriate thwack. When you mix all of the visuals and audio together, P.B. Winterbottom has one of (if not the) best presentations you can find on the Xbox LIVE Arcade service.
The gameplay in Winterbottom is as simple as it sounds: the A button makes Winterbottom jump, holding the A button allows him to float using his umbrella, and pressing the X button makes him execute a strike with the umbrella. These simple commands will guide P.B. through the introductory levels until he gains the ability to make clones of himself. As players progress through each film, new gimmicks are implemented in favor of a previous one to keep the game fresh. For example, traveling through the clock tower, pies must be picked up in a numerical order, through the bakery, blue pies can only be picked up by clones and in the sewer, P.B. needs to use specific portals to record clones, and red portals create clones that will harm P.B. if he comes in contact with them. However, no matter what the current gameplay gimmick is, one thing always remains constant: P.B. cannot continue on to the next level until all pies are devoured.
The beauty of the title is this can be done in a number of different ways and players are posting online methods that achieve this in more efficient, quicker and innovative methods. Cloning P.B. allows players to defy gravity or space, hit out-of-reach switches, weigh down floor switches, and more so the player can score the current stage’s pie. The cloning process is actually very responsive and I can’t say I ever had a clone do something I didn’t want it to do. The platforming is also on par with where it should be and all of the game’s puzzles are extremely satisfying once the player triumphs. There are certainly no qualms with the controls and the core gameplay is extremely enjoyable, however, the title gets hit the hardest in its replayability and balancing.
Once again, once players tackle the main story, there is essentially no incentive to go back through the levels unless it has just been a long time since the player cleared the game or they are looking for faster or crazier ways to grab all of the pie. On the other hand, the challenges are more suitable to replay, featuring the different medals and various leaderboards. Ultimately, the replayability in the title amounts to how much of a perfectionist you are and I could see many players viewing P.B. Winterbottom as a once-and-done experience. This further hampers the experience when you figure the title will likely take you only around three hours to complete. Players will burn through the game quickly once they have the mechanics under control, and the shallow amount of content is a definite sore spot on the “ËœBottom.
It should also be noted The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is not the easiest game on the block. The puzzles aren’t afraid to amp up in intensity as soon as the second film. While there was nothing obscenely difficult in the title, there were quite a few times I had to stare at the screen for upwards of 10 minutes before I finally had that “ah-ha!”Â moment that allowed me to progress. This is great for puzzle junkies; however, the more casual of audiences will most likely be discouraged as the puzzles become more and more complicated. The pacing could be a potential matter for players as well, with one of the game’s mechanics finally picking up full speed only to be dropped completely in the next set of challenges. The balance is nice in the fact each story movie introduces a new game mechanic with a very simple puzzle that holds the player’s hand for a level or two. However, it gets pretty hairy toward the last few puzzles in the lot and players will have to do a lot of experimentation to see what actually sticks. If you enjoy a great challenge, P.B. Winterbottom will definitely be your ticket, but if you get frustrated easily, be warned you will most likely hit a brick wall somewhere amid P.B.’s journey.
However, these are just minor setbacks as any puzzle fan will find it hard to put the controller down until they finally solve a puzzle that has been eluding them. It is very easy to try and draw some parallels between this title and something like Braid and the whole time and space mechanic is certainly not a new happening. However, The Odd Gentlemen have crafted an experience with so much charm and personality, P.B. Winterbottom easily stands out from the crowd. However, unlike some of the other titles pushing the oft-discussed boundary of art, P.B. Winterbottom actually has some substance under its hood and, mechanically, by far the title is best offering on the Xbox LIVE Arcade service so far in 2010. That isn’t to say the title will be for everyone, however, the experience and puzzling gameplay are well worth the 800 Microsoft Points.
Originality: VERY GOOD
Appeal Factor: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Building off its stellar presentation, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom offers up a puzzling adventure that is sure to challenge gamers all the while captivating them in the endearing world of Bakersfield. The audio and visuals are superb and are used to maximum effect in producing a unique silent film environment, and the gameplay keeps players performing new tasks while offering tight controls. The only downsides to the purchase include a very short game with shallow mode offerings and, for some, the difficult nature of the title may turn off a portion of the casual crowd. The difficulty serves as its own reward when players finally reach the solution, however, and the game is extremely memorable even when you consider there is little to be had in replayability. While the experience isn’t the longest, it is definitely sweet and satisfying.