The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

  • by Andrew Hayward
  • February 16, 2010 14:10 PM PST

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a quirky and utterly lovable game but its true value is this: it strengthens the idea that DLC is a viable way for smaller development houses to get their content to market. It also reinforces the idea that it isn't the size of the budget or the team but rather the ideas and concepts that serve as a game's foundation. But that's just us waxing poetic -- at the end of the day, P.B. Winterbottom is fun, and really, that's what it's all about.

Be sure to follow GamePro on Twitter for a chance to win a limited edition P.B. Winterbottom print signed by the Odd Gentlemen.

From its amusingly named protagonist to the children's storybook interludes and pie-centric premise, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom oozes whimsy at nearly every turn, but don't mistake this brilliant Xbox Live Arcade release for a lark. Like the best puzzlers out there, Winterbottom's creative challenges play with your emotions, deftly alternating between making you feel like a genius and an absolute buffoon. And if you're anything like me, you'll feel both -- but you'll also come away with a sense of great admiration for this skillfully produced adventure.

Crotchety old Winterbottom's unending quest for baked goods fuels this time bending puzzle platformer, as each stage serves up a smattering of pies to claim in an ever-increasing variety of ways. Following a handful of introductory stages, Winterbottom's tasty exploits unearth a newfound ability to record and then interact with duplicate versions of himself, which continually loop through their recorded actions unless disturbed. Each stage allows a set number of simultaneous clones to exist, so working within these limitations comprises part of the game's unique challenge.

Initially, the cloning skill leads to strategies like stacking Winterbottoms to reach high platforms, flicking them to grab arced paths of pies, or plopping one on a switch or one end of a seesaw to catapult you into the air, but the game doesn't rest on its laurels for long. For example, some later stages only allow clones to grab pies, and some even require you to obtain every pie within a limited window of time, forcing you record a dozen or more cooperative Winterbottoms in rapid succession to clear the stage. And without digging too deep into spoilers, let's just say your cloned Winterbottoms lose interest in simply being complacent followers at some point during the game.

Winterbottom's pastry-fueled quest is wrapped up in a narrative that's less heartbreaking or open to interpretation than Braid's, but is nonetheless memorably told via storybook-like cut-scenes (complete with rhyming poetry) and funny jabs at the player. Better yet, the stunning hand-drawn visuals, depicted in a mostly monochromatic manner, pop off the screen despite hiding behind a film-like filter of static and burn marks. Paired with a stellar original soundtrack, Winterbottom's presentation puts many of its downloadable counterparts to shame, especially considering the game's origins as a student project.

While the 50 narrative stages pass by quickly -- though another 25 leaderboard-equipped challenge levels are included -- the amount of variety and mind-twisting scenarios depicted in just a few dozen puzzles should make seeing the credits feel like a well-earned reward for puzzle junkies.

Braid may seem like the closest contemporary to Winterbottom, as time manipulation is key to each game's platform challenges, but World of Goo is a near-equal counterpart in my mind. Both offer devious challenges complemented by fantastically clever aesthetics, but regardless of which game makes the most sense as an existing touchstone, simply mentioning The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom in their company should say a lot about how worthwhile and refined a game The Odd Gentlemen have created. And like those earlier classics, Winterbottom strikes me as a game I'll come back to every couple of years, when the solutions have faded from mind and the earlier sense of discovery and wonderment again dominates the experience.

PROS: Wonderfully imaginative premise and puzzles; excellent visual design and stellar original soundtrack; $10 is a perfect price point.
CONS: No hint/skip system when you're stuck; some will no doubt find it a bit short.