‘P.B. Winterbottom’ Review – Pie Is Unending

Before being picked up by 2K Game’s “Play” label, “The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom” was a student’s award-winning media thesis. But now it’s an Xbox LIVE Arcade release. And one hell of a breath of fresh air.

The Basics

Echoed by the game’s monochrome veneer, a macabre yet daring existence does the game’s protagonist, P.B. Winterbottom, live. He’s a sharp-nosed pie thief in a world of shadows. But after he eats a miraculous time-bending pie, it’s transformed into a world rife with puzzles, platforms, magic, wit, and mystery.

Time is the cornerstone. In the five black-and-white worlds, you’ll steer P.B. through an assortment of environmental puzzles, using a record function to set a “clone” of himself loose that can interact with the level simultaneously. Each new place builds on the previous, pleasantly distorting the game’s fundamentals: jumping, slamming buttons, flipping gears, and acting as a stepping stool or even a football — all in the name of pie-thievery, of course.

The Highs

Keeping it Simple
You’ll be doing a lot of clone recording, using your “ghost” to finish tasks while you take on another. At the severe end of the spectrum, you’ll be using multiple clones and having them interact with each other and the environment — and that’s only after you’ve recorded each one’s individual action.

It sounds like a mess. But cloning and recording is a painless process that requires a bit of thought and a button tap. Interacting with the clones is just as breezy thanks to the polished and familiar controls, which serve as something of an anchor for those familiar with the traditional platformer.

A 75-Trick Pony
You’ll always be doing more with the clones, experiencing new ways to gather pies as the game builds on its time-based mechanics with various little twists: blue pies that only a clone can gather, pies that must be grabbed sequentially, aggressive clones, or even being restricted to recording from a single spot. There’s a refreshing progression that keeps you thinking.

Some twists, though, are subtler. For example, in one level you’ll have your clone ricochet you off a wall in order to hit a high switch. In this manner, the game forces you to think outside what you’ve learned about the game — to explore the physics and solve puzzles in non-formulaic ways. It can be a bit frustrating at times, but all the more redeeming when you have that “A-ha!” moment.

Fair Puzzles
The puzzle design is as clean and fair as it is thoughtful. Solutions don’t come from rioting with the clones or manic button-presses. Each head-scratcher requires honest thought and a grasp of the mechanics and physics. And your victories on the puzzle-field won’t be cheapened by hand-holding or generous hints.

Looking Different
Beneath the black-and-white veneer is a fun art direction that features stilted and diverse characters, as well as mischievously wobbly architecture. Playing off this is a delightful text-driven narrative written with wit in verse that kept me entertained as I tackled each new task.

The Lows

A Little Clutter
You won’t lose your character amongst a horde of clones, but you may lose your well-earned progress. The AI gets “confused” when you interact with it, stopping its looping action after the fact. In the levels that require you to cross paths, but not touch your clone, things can fall apart fast.

Playing the Waiting Game
Some levels require precision from you and your clones, like a time-based dance. As a result, you’ll find yourself waiting for objects in the level to align in the perfect position for longer-than-desired stretches of time.

The Verdict

In any time-based game, precision and simplicity is paramount to success. “P.B. Winterbottom” doesn’t disappoint: it’s a solid, sharp, witty, and unique game that builds on its components in meaningful ways, leaving you wanting more than what is offered. Do check it out in you’re in the market for something different, or even better, something entertaining.