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Review: The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

Jordan Deam | 4 Mar 2010 14:00
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The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a game that sells itself on its premise alone. When you've long tired of inhabiting the same shaven-headed space marines and faux-mythological badasses, the prospect of playing as a time-traveling pie thief becomes surprisingly intoxicating. And when you've saved the human race so many times that it's become a standard weekend diversion, just snarfing down some baked goods in the videogame equivalent of a Charlie Chaplin movie sounds pretty appealing. But while the ideas behind Winterbottom are undeniably fresh, its core gameplay will be slightly more familiar to gamers who have followed the indie development scene for the last few years.

If you recall the "shadow self" levels in World 5 of Braid, you have already have a decent idea ofWinterbottom's central mechanic. Instead of rewinding time, Winterbottom lets you record multiple copies of yourself, which play through your previous actions on a continuous loop. Also unlike Braid, your past selves in Winterbottom exist in the same plane of existence as the true Winterbottom, allowing you to directly interact with your clones. You can record yourself swinging your umbrella, for example, then step a few feet forward and have your past self chip you upward into a previously inaccessible area.

While Winterbottom's time-shifting gameplay is pretty abstract, the objective of each of the game's levels is mercifully simple: Collect pie. All the pie. Early levels are incredibly forgiving, allowing you to pick up pies in any order without any sort of time limit to worry about. But it doesn't take long for Winterbottom to start imposing some strict limitations on the way you solve its puzzles. Some may require you to collect pies in a specific order and within a certain time limit. Other levels feature blue pastries that can only be acquired by Winterbottom clones, and still others require you to be illuminated by a spotlight to get your hands on the goods. Overall, the developers got a ton of mileage out of finding interesting ways to apply the same basic mechanic.

That's not to say the concept is perfect, however. Generally, Winterbottom's trickiest puzzles also offer the biggest payoff - when you finally find the solution that was staring you in the face the whole time, it's remarkably satisfying. But occasionally, a puzzle's solution is easier to pinpoint than it is to execute. You may know exactly how to reach the last couple pies in a level, but struggle for 10 minutes getting your clones paths to sync up. When they finally do (assuming you didn't give up), you feel more relieved than gratified.

And while Winterbottom's German expressionist set design and black-and-white visuals are initially striking, there are clearly disadvantages to this aesthetic. By checking their color palette at the door, the developers made it more difficult to differentiate each of the game's five chapters. In other words, Winterbottom looks quite unlike any other game on the market, but by the time you've reached its final chapter, the world of Bakersburg might feel a little too familiar.

Bottom Line: At its best, Winterbottom is charming, clever and altogether delightful. At its worst, it's downright aggravating.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed Braid but thought it took itself a little too seriously, you won't regret picking up Winterbottom. But if you're taking your first tentative steps into puzzle-platformer territory, Winterbottom probably isn't the best place to start.

Score:

- Novelty goes a long way, but not all of Winterbottom's risks pay off.

Jordan Deam is well aware that "cobbler" is not a synonym for "pie." He just didn't want to type "pie" 30 times in the same review, damnit.

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