Friday, August 27, 2010

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

7.0 - [Great]

Gameplay: 7
Visuals: 7
Music: 7
Sound: 6
Value: 6

Publisher: 2K Play (XBLA), Valve (Windows)
Developer: The Odd Gentleman
Multiplayer: N/A
Console(s): XBLA, PC
Reviewed on: PC
ESRB rating: E (Comic Mischief)
BMR rating: E (Copious Pies)

Good points:

Dapper presentation - Humorous script with a magnificent vocabulary - Puzzling puzzles - Captivating clone system

Not so good points:

Obtuse concepts can hamper the learning curve - Some puzzles are too chaotic and difficult for their or good - Short experience

P.B. Winterbottom is no ordinary thief. Jewels and gems do not tempt him, nor does gold and money. No, this devious gentleman is interested in only one thing: delicious pie. As persistent as he is portly, Winterbottom will stop at nothing to achieve his pastry-based escapades, yet everything changes when he breaks the rifts of time and encounters a giant, magical, somewhat creepy-looking blueberry pie. This is the basic premise of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom and its odd presentation is as integral as the head-scratching puzzles it offers. Set in an 1800s-inspired world of strangeness, the game plays out like a silent film, so you can expect a complete lack of any dialogue and a black-and-white color pallete. The humorous narration text is the scoop of ice cream on the pie as it seems to have an endless stream of quaint, charming, and sometimes downright insulting tips for the player. I'll try my best to avoid mimicking its infectious, old-timey speaking style as I write this review. Crumbs! Well, that didn't last long.

Even without the imaginative frills, P.B. Winterbottom has a lot of really good ideas. It's almost impossible to talk about the game without mentioning a similar product, from the artistic indie style to the time-manipulating, puzzle-based gameplay: Braid. If you've played the stellar indie game before, you'll have a better understanding of how P.B. Winterbottom works. However, the folks at The Old Gentlemen took their project in a decidedly different direction. With the goal of grabbing as many pies as humanly possible in a given level, you'll soon learn how to record Winterbottom's actions as you hop to and fro along the 2D plane. Playing back your recording will spawn a clone of the gluttonous burglar, allowing you to interact with it however you wish. You might want to stand on its head in order to reach a ledge, or perhaps you need it to hold down a switch for you so you can pass through a gate. Whatever you choose, the clone will keep looping its course until you delete it, either by making a new one or simply growing tired of the lazy bum and blotting it out of existence for the spite of it. This is the backbone of P.B. Winterbottom's gameplay, each world adding new twists to the basic formula. Sometimes you'll have to grab pies in a certain order, some pies only clones can obtain, time restraints will keep you on your toes, and evil clones will harm you if you aren't careful. There's a wide breadth of subtle alterations that change the entire experience, and you'll rarely be doing the same thing for long.

They might be cooperating for now, but just wait until it comes time to share the pie...

The varied puzzles take a delicate mix of dexterity and mind-power, forcing the player to think ahead and then successfully complete the required steps to nab every last crumb of dessert. It's a tricky business trying to arrange all the clones to time the current scheme just right, but finally solving a seemingly impossible task is satisfying to the utmost degree. However, the game can get a little too tricky in this area, occasionally venturing into frustrating territory. Perhaps I'm just a little slow at it, but some of the earlier concepts were difficult to grasp, which made things a bit less intuitive than felt proper. It didn't help that mistakes forced me to wait on a long clone animation or, worse yet, set up my plan all over again after accidentally deleting an important clone. These problems gradually dissipated until they were gone for good, replaced with fun and merriment, eventually leading to a great final boss that ended with a bang. Nevertheless, whether it's the learning curve or an annoyance that one learns to deal with, it certainly hampered my enjoyment for a good while. As a final frown upon P.B. Winterbottom, my journey of pie lasted only three hours, including my extended periods of staring at the screen and feeling like a full-blown idiot. A host of challenging bonus stages will keep competitive spirits going at each other on the leaderboards, and the game simply begs for a speed-run or two, but the story mode is fleeting.

Yet the time you do spend in this oddball world, however brief, is a pleasure to both the eyes and ears. From the pseudo-3D character models to the wonderfully crafted backdrops, P.B. Winterbottom stays true to its theme from start to finish. Illustrated cutscenes unfold the goofy yet captivating story and the screen has just enough of an old film grain to be effective but not annoying. Pianos and strings set the mood of a silent movie with a perky yet oddly ominous score, greatly adding to the overall effect and making the game fun to listen to. There aren't many sound effects to speak of, which makes sense considering the whole "silent" part of "silent film", so it ends up helping the premise. Yes, art is alive and well in P.B. Winterbottom, and it's obvious the creators put time and thought into its presentation.

Times like these make me wonder if the narrator just makes up words on the spot.

If you've played and enjoyed time-and-space-bending puzzle games like Braid and Portal, this misadventure is probably right up your alley. Although it doesn't nearly reach their caliber of greatness, P.B. Winterbottom has its own story to tell and quandaries to pose, making a unique name for itself with the fantastic setting and lots of funny, little clones. Even with its frustrations and brevity, it's hard to turn down such a thought-provoking and charming adventure. Considering the current price point of $5 (or 800 Microsoft Points for the XBLA version of the game), it's really a no-brainer: The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is fun waiting to be had.

No comments: