The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
Video game villains these days all have an endgame – some elaborate plan involving unwitting pawns and world domination. P.B. Winterbottom comes from a simpler time, where cartoonish capers and a diabolical moustache were all one needed to become a pinnacle of infamy. Winterbottom lives in an age when pie thievery is a deplorable offense, and insults like “buttwit” are the height of vicious wordplay.
While The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom draws its antiquated antihero and silent film aesthetic from a bygone era, the game doesn’t feel remotely outdated. On the contrary, its devious puzzle design, entertaining writing, and striking artistic style earn Winterbottom its place as one of the best downloadable titles since Braid and Castle Crashers.
Players control P.B. Winterbottom, a notorious pie thief who has obtained the ability to manipulate time to create clones of himself. Fitting in with the old-timey movie theme, you’ll record your actions, generating a P.B. doppelganger who performs the recorded sequence in an endless loop. This concept is at the core of every puzzle, governing P.B. and his temporal copies as they filch pies across the game’s five levels. It sounds simple, but when you’re managing several clones in a multi-pie gambit, things get delightfully tricky.
Once you master the basics, the game switches things up by adding a fresh set of conditions or restrictions. Sometimes P.B. needs to nab pies in a specific order. Sometimes only your clones can collect pies. Sometimes your clones are evil and kill you on contact. These twists on the formula aren’t just to make things complicated; by periodically changing the rules, developer The Odd Gentlemen has ensured that you aren’t just reusing the same tricks on an escalating scale. The variety makes every puzzle feel like a unique hurdle, making the experience satisfying without feeling bloated.
Since Winterbottom is a 2D puzzle game involving time, it invites comparisons to Jonathan Blow's hit downloadable title, Braid. However close they may sound in concept, don’t make the mistake of assuming Winterbottom is just Braid in a different skin. It has its own clear identity, forged not only by distinctive puzzles but also by the charming writing delivered via interstitial poems and “hints” at the bottom of the screen (which quickly devolve into blatant antagonism). Complementing the quirky language is a stylized black-and-white Victorian setting. The union of the two is ultimately what makes the whole silent movie motif come together so successfully.
While I had a great time working my way through Winterbottom’s bizarre world, as I neared the end, each success was met with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment. Most scenarios are clever and fun to solve, but the puzzle design never gets a chance to bare its fangs. I’m not saying the game is easy; the challenges still require plenty of brain bending. However, the game never throws down the gauntlet with any “you expect me to do what?” situations that push the mechanics to their limit. This left some of the final scenes unsatisfying – though they are cool in other ways I won’t spoil.
The entire quest will probably take most gamers between three and four hours to complete, which could be an issue for some people. If you’re one of them, I encourage you to stop whining. The greatness of a game isn’t decided by length. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom impresses with its puzzle design, offbeat humor, and sheer style. Hopefully P.B. has more hijinks in his future, because I already miss the ol’ buttwit.
Winterbottom is one of the best Xbox Live Arcade titles since Braid and Castle