The Misadventures of P. B. Winterbottom are a throwback to that most classical of platforming staples: collecathons. The protagonist, one P. B. Winterbottom, has a weakness for pies and causes no end of trouble for his fellow townsfolk as he bids to stuff his face with as many of these baked goods as possible. Nothing will come between him and his next fruit filled crust.
However, one fateful night, ‘bottom encounters an enchanted pie which leads him on a merry chase across a Victorian cityscape. Unfortunately, in doing so, it carelessly grants him the power to control time and space.
If the prospect of a platformer beset with arbitrary items to collect already has you wracked with apathy, then fear not. True, our dear ‘bottom has the standard ability of jumping higher than a man of his portly nature should really be able to, and is equipped with an umbrella that he can use like a moustachioed Mary Poppins, but thanks to the magical pie he also has the ability to spawn a clone.
Holding down the right trigger will see all of ‘bottom’s actions recorded, and upon releasing said trigger up will sprout a replica ‘bottom who will replay his exact actions on an infinite loop. The original is then free to interact with his clone, be it turning his sturdy hat into a stepping stone to reach a higher level or using a prerecorded swing of his umbrella to send himself flying through the air like a loosely delivered cricket ball. This may sound fairly reasonable but when it clicks that you can record yourself using a recording of yourself, or even record yourself using a recording of yourself using a recording of yourself… then the brain may just begin to trickle from the ears.
Whilst fellow Xbox Live Arcader Cloning Clyde never really got beyond the premise of producing clones to do little more than to stand on switches, Winterbottom keeps the concept fresh and engaging by reinventing itself every few levels. The first world sees pies needing to be collected in a specific order, the second introduces pies that can only be collected by clones whilst the third, fourth and fifth build on those concepts with evil clones and even more ingenious methods of keeping you from your favourite food. True, there is a certain amount of standing on switches initially but soon you will find your mind being forced to think in four, or occasionally five, dimensions, and in ever more imaginative ways.
Some levels involve timing, others a basic degree of platforming skill, but all require a modicum of thought and a hefty helping of patience. As with Braid, the joy gained from such an experience is not only identifying the solution, but executing it with panache. Early on, for instance, you’ll have to grab pies swiftly from alternating sides of the screen. At first it may seem impossible but constantly replicating yourself and whacking ‘bottoms to left and to right can only be described as a perfect ballet of clone abuse.
Later you’ll find see-saws, conveyor belts, flames, moving doorways and a series of dazzling spotlights that all need to be beaten in order to reach your goal. Only occassionally will frustration creep upon you with a solution that is not entire evident, but the gentle learning curve and gorgeous presentation does a great deal to soothe any possible thoughts of storming off in a annoyance.
The entire escapade is portrayed as though it were a silent movie; over its monochromatic palette a grainy filter plays, and in between levels still-frames display text that tell of ‘bottoms tale. Written as rhyming couplets these segues do a great deal to bring the characters to life and evelates the game as a whole. Both their humour and their style can be likened to the dark comedic writings of Roald Dahl, which is apt for the accompanying imagery seems a blend of Quentin Blake and the more contemporary Penny Arcade.
Some may accuse Winterbottom of being a touch of the short side. His stature aside, it is possible to polish off his pie obsessed adventure in less than two hours. Personally I would far prefer to leave a game wanting more than feeling grateful that the credits are rolling. And with the inclusion of a host of challenge levels to test your speed and cloning proficiency, there are the means for you to carry on enjoying ‘bottom’s company long after his story has ended.
At its core Winterbottom may seem easy to pigeonhole as a cross between Braid and Cloning Clyde, but it takes their principles and improves on them both. Dothing his hat and a waving his umbrella, Winterbottom packs in more character than Indie darling Braid and provides more substance than the disappointing Clyde. May his misadventures continue.