What is it with game developers being obsessed with food? First it was Valve who proclaimed that the cake was a lie in their critically acclaimed hit Portal, and now The Odd Gentleman, creators of the XBLA title The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, have a story centred around a time travelling pie thief! As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s clear that the story isn’t this games raison d’etre, rather it’s the puzzles which take centre stage.
You control the moustache donned pie thief through five hand drawn, black and white worlds, each split into ten chapters. The art style has great personality and adds to the charm of the early 1900’s silent movie world which Winterbottom inhabits. The jovial yet sinister music is another great addition that helps craft the unique, and slightly unsettling, Tim Burton inspired atmosphere.
Winterbottom’s goal is simple; collect all the pies. Initially you only need to complete very basic actions such as standing on switches and jumping over gaps etc to progress, but soon our top hat wearing mischief maker manages to gain new time controlling powers. These allow him to record and playback time, producing a clone of himself. Creating and manipulating these clones is incredibly easy and it doesn’t take long before you realize how invaluable they are in solving the puzzles. Each chapter restricts the number of clones that can be placed on the screen at any one time, directly influencing the difficulty of that puzzle.
Each world also has a unique way that the pies must be collected, ensuring that they don’t feel too similar. For example, one world may require that only Winterbottom’s red clones can collect the pies. Another might require the pies to be collected in a specific numerical order. This keeps the interest level high and ensures it never feels boring.
The puzzles can be fiendishly difficult and there are definitely a few which stand out as being likely to cause some real brain ache. However, the amount of satisfaction gained from solving a particularly difficult puzzle is wonderful. A comparison with Braid is undoubtedly to be expected, especially considering the time control aspect. Despite these commonalities the difference in atmosphere, feeling and art style, manage to separate them effectively.
Both replayability and longevity of the game are completely dependent on the players ability to solve the puzzles. Those who haven’t played these games before might find themselves staring at the screen for hours, trying to figure out what to do next and this can be exacerbated by the lack of a hint system. In addition, progress is completely hindered if you can’t manage to solve a specific puzzle. A collection of separate trials, linked to a leaderboard is the reward to those who persevere and complete each world. Most of these are just as difficult as the main story and will continue to satisfy those looking for more challenges.
P.B. Winterbottom is a charming, enjoyable and challenging (but very rewarding) title. It won’t appeal to everyone but for those who enjoy using their brains once in a while instead of just holding down the shoot button, it comes with a very high recommendation.