The Misadventures of Mr. P.B. Winterbottom Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Mar 01, 2010

Originally designed as a college thesis project, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom earns high marks as a cleverly crafted puzzle game starring one delightfully driven character. If only the puzzles were as lengthy as the title...

The Pros
  • Eye-catching art style
  • Clever use of recording mechanic
  • Inventive puzzles
The Cons
  • Some will finish the game in under four hours
  • A few earlier puzzles are more challenging than later ones
  • Minimal replay value

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a puzzle-platform game that has you guiding a Snidely Whiplash-like rapscallion on a mission to fulfill his insatiable need to consume every pie in the known universe, no matter what the cost. His penchant for all things pastry is put to the test when the mother of all pies lures him into a time paradox. I bet you saw that coming a mile away.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

Gears of Yore

Winterbottom's unusual look and time-shifting play mechanic might draw comparisons to a certain other indie puzzler on Xbox Live Arcade, but like the protagonist's bent stove pipe hat and handlebar moustache, it's distinctive enough to be admired on its own. The black-and-white visual style harkens back to silent films: title cards relay the story through deliciously Dahl-esque poems, and there's enough film grain, hisses, and pops to give the levels an old-timey feel. A bouncy ragtime score perfectly conveys the sense of whimsy depicted on screen. You can't help but to grin like an idiot while playing.

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Time Bandit

The goal in Winterbottom is simply to collect all the pies within a series of fixed-screen stages. Since the pies are typically out of reach for the pint-sized P.B., he'll need to ease his troubles by using his doubles. Squeezing the controller's trigger starts a recording phase, which stops when you release your finger. Once you've "filmed" an action in real time, a blue copy of P.B. magically appears and follows your recorded routine. Contraptions such as seesaws, switches, lifts, pressure plates, sprinklers, and similar devices can then be accessed using your clones in rather interesting ways.

You can create a stationary clone to use as a single step, or stack multiple clones on top of one another to serve as a ladder. P.B. can jump and float gently to the ground with his umbrella acting as a parachute. The umbrella can also be used to whack things, such as levers or even other clones. Whacking a clone (or having a clone whack you) sends the character flying in an arc, allowing you to pluck pies through the air. Each level has a specific number of clones you can use, but once you've placed a clone in the puzzle, you can remove him at any time with a tap of the button. No fuss, no muss.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

For the Record

What makes Winterbottom so entertaining is its creative use of this simple recording mechanic. You aren't just plopping a clone to rest on a floor plate or to smack a switch because you'll often need to run, jump, land on a seesaw, pause a few seconds, swing your umbrella, and so forth -- all in one glorious take. Then you must ensure the original P.B. is in the proper position to play off your clone's choreographed routine. It's a little like synchronized swimming, or swiping in this case. While the game requires a keen sense of timing, frustration is often minimal. Clones automatically repeat their recorded actions, there are often multiple ways to solve a particular puzzle, and there's no real time limit to undermine your thoughtful planning. There's also no penalty for dying or failing, so you are free to experiment on each main level to your heart's content.

Not-So-Big 'Bottom

The game is divided into five themed "movies," each offering ten puzzles apiece, for a total of 50 brainteasers. It doesn't seem nearly enough, especially considering the first ten puzzles are part of a tutorial. Apart from the main game, you can try your hand at 25 additional pie-pilfering challenges. Each challenge has two goals that can be achieved separately: completing the level within a target time, and completing the level using a minimum number of clones. Results are then uploaded to online leaderboards. Once you've figured out how to beat these challenges, there's little incentive to keep playing. Sadly, there are no mini-games, level editor, side objectives, or hidden bonuses to unlock. That's the biggest criticism in this otherwise wonderful change of pace from other Xbox Live Arcade offerings: just when you start to master and fully appreciate the play mechanics, the game ends.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

Straight from the Tart

In many ways, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is like one of the succulent pies gobbled by the game's greedy galoot. It looks delectable, goes down smoothly, and like anything that brings pleasure, it's over far too soon. And you are left with the slightest twinge of regret, for eagerly gulping down something in a single sitting that should have been savored piece by sumptuous piece. But either way, it’s a very tasty treat.