The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom impresses with its stylish 2D visuals and deliberately cacophonous score. Within moments, you are inexorably drawn into a monochromatic world of tailored suits and sentient pastries. As the moustachioed star of this offbeat puzzle platformer, your only goal is to feed your insatiable appetite. It sounds simple enough, but you should know ahead of time that a gargantuan pie has made it its business to block you at every turn.
The object of each level is to obtain a certain number of pies. This generally involves recording yourself undertaking one or more tasks. As soon as you cease recording, a clone is created, which then carries out the recorded action in an endless loop, freeing you up to concentrate on other priorities. Clones stand on pressure plates, activate switches, leap up and down on seesaws and serve as a human step ladders. They’ll do anything to help you secure those delicious baked goods.
On some levels, the pies can only be touched by clones. On others, the pies must be snatched in particular order. Some of the more challenging levels requires you to avoid physical contact with your clones lest you disappear in a puff of smoke. You’ll encounter about half a dozen key variations on the core concept with most levels being imaginative and well structured.
As you venture deeper into the game, you’ll be challenged to execute more actions and coordinate more clones simultaneously. The difficulty oscillates considerably throughout the 50 stages of the story mode and some reviews have criticised the game for being too hard one moment and too easy the next. Personally, I enjoyed being able to coast a little after struggling to overcome a particularly diabolical challenge.
The controls are straightforward and reliable, leaving you to concentrate on the more cerebral aspects of the game. If a level appears to require a frustrating degree of timing and precision, there’s a good chance that a more elegant solution will present itself in the fullness of time. Unless you’re trying to complete a level in a more creative or obscure manner, your platforming skills won’t be overly taxed, at least during the story missions.
The story itself is conveyed on a series of title cards, with each containing a rather tedious rhyming couplet. Here’s a sample. “As he bobbed through the tunnel, his powers went dim. Where once he’d made time, now it seemed time made him.” Unfortunately, the title cards fail to establish an adequate basis for the incongruous plot twist sprung in the dying moments of the game.
As you progress, you’ll gain access to a series of ‘short films’. Though mechanically similar to the story missions, these challenges are, almost without exception, smaller in scope and considerably less taxing. Here the emphasis is on solving puzzles as swiftly as possible while minimising the number of clones that you use. Your result is then uploaded to the worldwide leaderboards. So even after you’ve completed a level, you always have that incentive to go back and improve on your time or clone count. This mode isn’t just there for the sake of it. It’s a compelling variation on the core concept and a meaningful addition to the game.
The cloning and time manipulation mechanic employed throughout the game may be viewed as derivative by some. The core gameplay is very similar to Braid, so if you’re expecting breathtaking originality, you may need to lower your expectations. What you will receive, is a visually appealing puzzle platformer with rock solid code, simple controls and well structured challenges. The achievement is all the more remarkable considering that The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom began life as a student project.