The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom PC review
The true genius of a good indie game lies in the execution - a quality title should feel like something personal to the developer (in this case, newcomers The Odd Gentlemen), and use decent design and personality to overcome the shortcomings provided by a lower budget. Every now and again, a title comes along that showcases this perfectly - World of Goo or Machinarium, for example - and blend great art and character to create a truly entertaining experience. P.B.W. carries this in spades - successfully combining simple puzzling with engaging characters and story to create a game that genuinely stands up with everything else on the market.
Winterbottom himself - Pie thief, rascal, and the most lovable lead character in a long while
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom casts the player as the titular gentleman - a short, fat man with a tall top hat and umbrella, stealing pies from every corner of the land in what seems to be a simple platform-based puzzler. Winterbottom (as he is affectionately referred throughout much of the game) develops an ability to clone himself, and use the clones to solve simple puzzles in order to collect all pies within each small level. For example, you may need to access a high ledge - no problem, just clone yourself standing below it, and use the clone as a ladder. The game is presented in 2D, and the controls kept remarkably simple - move left and right, jump, float, activate stuff and record a clone are all you need to solve all 80 levels. However, the combination of clever design, charming storytelling and fiendish conundrums elevates this game to far more than just a basic indie game, and into a real contender for game of the year.
Visually, P.B.W. is fantastic. Everything is drawn with a cartoony charm, and although the colour palette is muted, it fits the world perfectly. The style is very reminiscent of classic Tim Burton animations - Corpse Bride, or A Nightmare Before Christmas - and straddles the border between cute and spooky very well. Every last detail has been dutifully planned - the crusts on the pies, for example, look like pursed lips, calling to Winterbottom and explaining his greed without the need for words. Levels play like old movies, with scratch marks, pops of white, and the subtle glow of an old projector. And the story is told between levels using old-fashioned movie boards, with a simple picture and rhyme telling the tale as you play.
The soundtrack is great, too, with a blend of organs, honky-tonk pianos, wind instruments and marching drums providing a great backdrop to the puzzling. The music never gets annoying, but adds to the atmosphere without being invasive. The game is devoid of speech, but this keeps with the "silent-movie" theme, and the smattering of sound effects are simple yet effective.
The meat of the game is in the puzzles, and this is where The Odd Gentlemen have really excelled themselves. Each puzzle is incredibly well balanced, providing challenge without too much frustration - you generally know what to do, but have to work out the correct sequence to achieve it. The game also slowly drips in new mechanics as you go - the first level, for example, is a simple run across some girders, but a short while later, you assist yourself (from the first level) by activating cranes to reach the pie. However, the simplicity of what you are doing never gets too far ahead - each set of levels will work around one or two simple ideas, and never seems impossible. The amount of gameplay available is great too- 80 puzzles split between the main story quest, and additional levels even more silly or taxing to play with after. Add to this an online leaderboard for each level, and additional challenges (such as completing levels within a certain amount of clones!), and P.B.W. offers an awful lot of game for its tiny price.
Pies, clones, timed puzzles and a lot of thinking - are you up for the challenge?
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom really is the best game I have played yet this year. Although this is a topic for heavy debate, the sheer amount of love, thought and charm ploughed into this game not only elevate it to the level of such indie luminaries as World of Goo or Braid, but expose the hollowness of many major AAA titles. It is nearly impossible not to fall for the charms of the titular pie thief, and his quest, or continually smile as you beat the next puzzle through trial, error and good old fashioned brain power. Unless you are the hardest of the hardcore shooter fans, there is no reason for anyone not to own this gem - quirky, loveable and yet undeniably simple, this well executed classic deserves to be the new benchmark for all future indie titles to be weighed against.