Having clones of yourself seems like it would be the perfect remedy for solving your problems. You would always have a helping hand when you needed it, you could show up for and skip work simultaneously and, if your clones are anything like P.B. Winterbottom's, you’ll never be without a sturdy umbrella. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom explores the unique relationship between a dapper gentleman, his many clones, and the tasty pies he so desperately craves. Surprisingly enough, being able to churn out identical manifestations of yourself at the drop of a hat does not make life significantly easier, so you will need to use a fair amount of your puzzle-solving might to corral the many pies that float tauntingly beyond your grasp. Reaching the top of dessert mountain requires an awful lot of brain power, but the satisfying thrill you feel when you finally collect that last pie will make all the head-knocking frustration worth your while.
P.B. Winterbottom is far from your typical video game hero. The elderly star of this puzzle-solving adventure uses the wisdom only age can bring to steal pies from the mouths of youths, thereby satisfying his own greedy needs. This ridiculous premise is given an old-timey, Victorian-era style, painting the world in black and white. The occasional film grain flicker completes the effect, and because Winterbottom is a man of few words, everything about the game's presentation is reminiscent of old silent movies. This unusual aesthetic is used remarkably well, giving the devious fellow you control an air of quaint mischievousness that makes all your actions feel extra silly. The story is told between stages in a building series of rhyming couplets, and the classic art direction combined with the comical wordplay makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The action takes place on a series of single-screen levels in which pie--and pie alone--is your measure of success. Every stage has pies floating all over the place, and you must create clones of yourself to grab them all. By holding down a key, you record the actions of Mr. Winterbottom, and the created clone will continue mimicking your movements on a loop until you halt his progress in some way. Your clone can trigger a switch, knock you to higher ground with his umbrella, or stand obligingly still while you use his head as a jumping platform. You can only have a finite number of clones onscreen simultaneously, and working in tandem with your other selves serves as the foundation for the majority of levels.
But just having multiple copies of yourself to work with does not mean this is an easy adventure. The few abilities you have in Winterbottom are pushed pretty far, making you think beyond basic clone relations to solve the more complex puzzles. Timing becomes paramount, forcing you to record your actions down to the second so your various clones can work in perfect harmony to solve a particularly nasty puzzle. Although challenge in a puzzle game is welcome, Winterbottom never strikes the perfect balance between too easy and too hard. Many times, you will be able to blow through levels with little thought and use the same techniques that you learned in the beginning stages. But there are a few monstrously hard puzzles tossed in, and these can stymie your progress in crushing fashion. Getting past the harder levels is extremely satisfying, though. Finally figuring out how to pass a stage that seems impossible at first is well worth the effort, and earlier frustrations are easily forgotten.
The 51 levels in P.B. Winterbottom not only vary wildly in difficulty but also in the rules set in place. Early on, you need only make clones of yourself to nab every pie onscreen. But later worlds introduce new rules, such as needing to collect the pies in a certain order or limiting pie collection to just your clones, and this adds a layer of unpredictability that continually keeps you on your toes. Unfortunately, some of the cooler ideas are not pushed quite far enough. For instance, during a few stages, your clones become deadly adversaries and will kill you instantly with a single touch. You must sprint around the level with focused determination, nimbly dodging your clones while nabbing the tasty pies. These are some of the most fun levels in the game, but they are also some of the easiest and run their course before any wrinkles are tossed in to up the challenge a bit. Every new set of rules introduced in Winterbottom is unique and engaging, but some of the concepts end too abruptly, never realizing their full potential.
Aside from the story-based levels, there are unlockable bonus levels that add even more variety. In the normal stages, you need only collect every pie to reach the end. There is no score being kept, so it's just a matter of figuring out how to grab every dessert and moving on to the next challenge. But in the bonus worlds, your time is being tracked, as well as how many clones you use, and this adds some depth that makes these worlds worth playing repeatedly until you finally master them. These levels are also the only place in the game in which leaderboard scores are kept. It's a lot of fun to see what the best players have been able to accomplish and try to somehow match their best efforts.
There is no mistaking P.B. Winterbottom for a young man, and it's a shame that the controls seem to reflect that he is getting on in years. There is a sluggishness to your movement that makes some of the more action-packed moments a bit difficult to pull off. The slight control problems coupled with the uneven difficulty keep this whimsical puzzle game from being something truly special, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable game. The vintage aesthetic gives this a charm all its own, and the clever puzzles are exceedingly rewarding to overcome. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom may not be as tasty as pie, but at least you won't feel the glutton's remorse when you finish this goofy adventure.