It's been more than a year since we've seen the mischievous gentleman with an insatiable desire for pie, so we were pleased to find out that 2K Games will be publishing this clever puzzle platformer by developer, the Odd Gentlemen. We originally saw this PC flash game at the 2008 Electronic Entertainment Expo, and it managed to make its way onto our top 10 best of E3 list. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom was lead designer Matt Korba's thesis while studying at the University of Southern California. The game reflects Korba's admiration of Edward Gorey's macabre works, and it's obvious that his film background also comes into play when you see the distinctive, silent-movie art style of P.B. Winterbottom. Representatives from the Odd Gentlemen came by our office to show us a demo and gave us a chance to see the many different levels in the game, as well as play through the first few puzzles on our own.
P.B. Winterbottom's desire for the elusive chronoberry pie is understandable. Even with the game's dark and monochromatic color palette, the baked pastry looked absolutely delicious, with all your favorite toppings piled on to make you crave a pie of your very own. The main focus of the demo was to see the various puzzles, so we're not really sure how or why this gentleman suddenly began to travel through time to snatch the sweet desserts. We were given a brief rundown of the story, which basically boiled down to this: Winterbottom is a bit of a troublemaker and must journey through time and space to devour as much pie as possible. That was good enough for us.
For such a stocky, gluttonous gentleman, Winterbottom is actually quite nimble and can jump and float around with his black umbrella. On top of the basic platforming functions, you can use the right trigger to record your movements and then have them play back in a loop. This creates a replica of yourself, which you can interact with, by either jumping on your clone's head to get to higher ground or giving it a good whap with your umbrella. The number of clones that you can record depends on the stage, but you can create as many as you need to snag all the pies in a particular level. When you smack your recorded image with your umbrella (or it smacks you), it's amusing to see your other self launched halfway across the screen--or off a cliff--to help get those hard to reach baked goods. It's all about collaboration and teamwork--with yourself. There are levels in which you must hit a switch before the deliciously decorated pastries will appear, with a limited time to eat them all before they vanish. Sometimes you'll have to eat numbered cobblers in order. But the goal is always the same--eat all the tasty treats.
There are 80 levels spread across five different stages. The mechanics change throughout the game, so you'll have to think of creative ways to collect the cleverly situated desserts. In one gloomy underground stage, our shady-looking hero had somehow flooded the city, which meant that the record button didn't work. Thus, we had to enter a portal, which allowed us to record our movements for up to 30 seconds. By doing this, we could build one clone on top of another. For example, if your clone falls into the murky waves, it turns into an ice cube. Knowing this, you can watch as a shadow of yourself walks to its doom and then use the frozen versions of yourself to make your way to safety.
In another area, you create evil clones that are red and must be avoided unless you want to go up in smoke. This changes what you want to record because you have to come up with an elaborate dance to get around your other selves while nabbing all the sweets. There are also bonus levels to unlock, which are like short trials in which you can compete for the quickest time, as well as use the least number of clones. There will be leaderboards and achievements to add a competitive element to the game. The developer emphasized that every puzzle has several ways to complete it, so the goal is to find not only the solution, but also other possibilities that work even better. Matt told us that the game was designed like chess, in which you need to think one step ahead. The puzzles are not meant to be that difficult because you don't have to see that far ahead. However, some of the more complicated and devious solutions might require you to come up with an elaborate Rube Goldberg-like setup. But, at least, you only have one machine to work with--you.
The quirky story and whipped-cream toppings weren't the only reasons we were impressed with the game. Visually, P.B. Winterbottom is striking because of its grim, Victorian landscape, and its overall look is reminiscent of silent films from the 1920s. The black-and-white visuals and the extremely catchy, ragtime piano music easily conjure up images of the great silent films of the past, with such actors as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Details, such as the rattling of the film projector and the switch in music when you record and then playback your movements, add to the experience as well. As much fun as it is to play and solve the puzzles, it's almost just as fun to sit back and watch Winterbottom hop around the 2D stages.
We really liked what we saw of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom and hope that we'll have another opportunity to check it out before it hits Xbox Live Arcade early 2010.