It’s not often that a game opts for whimsy, and the reasons for this could be based on a large number of things relating to sales, marketing, and a general thirst for blood present in most gamers today. But more likely is the fact that it’s hard to be whimsical without being pretentious. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, the modestly priced Braid-like puzzle platformer from independent developer The Odd Gentlemen definitely gets the balance right - and without any pretension. And although it definitely can be labelled ‘whimsical’, the presentation of its premise, through the filter of a silent film era slapstick comedy works remarkably well in instilling its unmistakable charm in the player.
So you see, P.B. Winterbottom, is essentially a big nosed, portly, pie-loving silent film era caricature. Each level in the game pits you controlling P.B. and his magical time bending clones in an attempt to collect all the pies and eat them, in puzzle-centric scenarios. It’s a pretty simple setup, and interspersed between the numerous (and often clever) pie puns are little poetic interludes that slowly uncover a devious, and yes, pie-centric plot.
Presented in black and white, with added film grain and music straight from the turn of the last century (that being the 20th), the story has players follow P.B. in the hopes of reaching and then no doubt devouring every pie they come across. As well as chasing some sort of large mystical pie god. Although ridiculous, the story is both serviceable and a great counterpart to the art design and presentation of the game, sporting cardboard cut-out like objects and environments all with a dash of classic silent-film era art design.
Controlling P.B. in search of pies follows a recent trend in time control mechanics as players can record a select number of clones in an attempt to solve each level. This can be as simple as recording a clone to use the extra height to reach a higher ledge to the more intricate example of recording a clone sequence that has you flipping switches and using the extra weight to create makeshift catapults to collect all the pies.
The game eases players into the numerous options for solving each level with the difficulty ramping up gradually as opposed to throwing people in the deep end. But much like many games that are puzzle centric, expect to hit a few brick walls, both figuratively and literally as the game does feature numerous confusing and intricate puzzle scenarios. Less taxing on the old grey matter than Braid, the level structure presented here helps in keeping the puzzle-fatigue at bay, for the most part.
But perhaps the biggest complaint one may have with the complicated nature of time-based puzzles is having to constantly be in two frames of mind - both logically, and in the fourth dimension. Credit goes to the developer for allowing more than one solution to each scenario, which paves the way to both experimentation and great moments of realisation when obstacles are overcome. The feeling is reminiscent of the classic Incredible Machine series from the 90’s, as is the feeling of frustration when a chain of events triggered by the player falls just short of success. But there’s something to be said about a puzzle game that allows room for player experimentation, and one in which the experimentation in a lot of cases leads to a mastering of the game mechanics.
Featuring over 50 levels, some of which can take quite a long time to figure out, this is a game that works best when played in small doses. The puzzles themselves do get quite difficult in later stages, which draw on skills rarely called upon by most games being released today. If you’re a fan of puzzle games and the presentation style appeals to you, then this should be a definite purchase.