In 2008, an Xbox Live Arcade game became a sudden hit thanks to clever and challenging puzzles, a memorable art style, and a gameplay mechanic that relied heavily on time manipulation. It’s been nearly two years since Braid became a breakout indie title, with few downloadable games achieving the same level of notoriety since then. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, a new XBLA game developed by The Odd Gentlemen, also has a unique aesthetic, and uses time manipulation as its major puzzle-solving gameplay technique. Despite having a lot in common with Braid on paper, P.B. Winterbottom is one of the most original games on Xbox Live Arcade, providing a challenging, charming, and genuinely fun light-hearted adventure.
The “hero” of the game is P.B. Winterbottom, a selfish, mustachioed man with one goal in mind: stealing and eating pies. He doesn’t care how he gets them or who he hurts in the process, Ol’ Crudstache (as the game lovingly refers to him) needs his pies. During a typical pie swiping, he somehow disturbs the rules of chronology, and ends up with the ability to manipulate time and create clones of himself by abusing this wrinkle. He does this by “recording” his actions, then rewinding time, at which point his clones will repeat the actions he just recorded. This core mechanic is the bulk of the gameplay in P.B. Winterbottom, though the rules change slightly in different sections of the game. Additionally, each level requires some light platforming, and Winterbottom can use his umbrella to float briefly and whack objects (or clones). By manipulating the clock and creating clones, P.B. Winterbottom is able to collect pies in otherwise impossible-to-reach places.
Though the gameplay sounds straightforward, the slight tweaks made throughout the game keeps it from ever feeling repetitive. Sometimes Winterbottom can interact with clones, while at other times they’ll kill him; in some levels, only clones can collect pies, and in others, they must be gathered in a specific order. Environmental hazards, like cliffs, fire, or dangerous traps also serve to change things up at various points throughout the game. P.B. Winterbottom, despite seeming simple at first glance, is actually deceptively challenging, though never impossible. Early levels can be completed in a matter of seconds, but the difficulty slowly builds, with some stages that may stump you for half an hour or more before you finally figure out the solution. Those especially hard levels, however, are immensely satisfying to solve, and help lengthen what would be an otherwise short game. There are 51 regular levels, but a couple dozen can easily be completed in a single sitting, meaning that if you’re dedicated, you could breeze through P.B. Winterbottom in a day.
Thankfully, even after the core levels of the game are completed, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom has a number of bonus stages that basically serve as challenge rooms, tasking the player with finishing them in a certain amount of time, or with only a given number of recordings. Levels that could easily be finished with ten clones may be nearly impossible with five, and collecting a few dozen pies in half a minute is tough no matter how many Winterbottoms are running around the screen. These challenges are harder than most of the regular levels, and should have players coming back to the game long after the story is completed.
The entire experience is made even better by P.B. Winterbottom’s presentation, which draws inspiration from the silent film era. Humorous title cards are interspersed with black-and-white visuals, and the developers even added film grain and camera scratches for a more authentic look. Since not a lot of games have been designed around the silent film aesthetic, this really makes P.B. Winterbottom stand out, and the art style suits it perfectly. The catchy, whimsical score will be stuck in your head for days, and though the game has absolutely no voice acting, it doesn’t seem like anything is missing at all because the style suits The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom so naturally.
There’s honestly very little to complain about with The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. It’s challenging, but never frustrating, and offers some of the most satisfying and addictive puzzle gameplay in recent memory. The art style is unique and exceptional, and the entire package is completely charming, despite the protagonist being a selfish old pie thief. If anything, I would have liked more story levels, since other than a few stumpers, the campaign doesn’t take particularly long to complete. That being said, I’m still struggling with the bonus challenges, so there’s not exactly a lack of content. Overall, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a fantastic game that anyone with an Xbox 360 should enjoy.