It is said that love goes through the stomach. Sunny chicken drumsticks, fine sauces, barmy sweets, they all sacrifice themselves for the feeling of love to purely prevail. For P. B. Winterbottom, who is a sort of ironic Daniel Day-Lewis clone (just imagine him playing the butcher in Gangs of New York), the ode to food is even more important, because his whole life goes through the above-mentioned stomach.
Winter-B is of course an elitist gentleman, having an obsession ONLY for the pie which can bring him to ecstasy through a simple crust crunch. But Winter-B is also a limited man, an insensitive and foul thief, whose lover, the Supreme Pie (or the Pie Fairy, or whatever that flap-mouthed monstrosity is) decided to teach him a life lesson. Well, that’s the intended idea at least, because Winterbottom cannot see or think beyond the length of his huge pie-detecting nose. That’s why mother pie will have to gently drive Winterbottom through a temporal paradox to wash away the sins this greedy ignorant has committed in his individualist search for pie.
As you may have imagined, there can only be a cheeky pie for such a cheeky hero. Impeccably dressed, as if ready for the stroll in the park the May song keeps reminding us of (I was walking in the park one day…), Winterbottom is equipped with an umbrella which allows him to elegantly float between the surreal city blocks and to interact with the different buttons and switches conveniently scattered around the environment. Okay, we all have umbrellas, but I wouldn’t recommend you to try floating around the home-sweet-home buildings. Instead, Winterbottom can impress us with his desire-projecting skills, which allows him to materialize clones to help him with the pie hunting.
In other words, the hero can clone himself according to his willpower, which varies from one level to another, so the number of immaterial gentlemen is limited for every mini-happening. From here we have the whole series of time-related and alter-ego puzzles which, I have to admit, are more superficial than what Braid had to offer.
The original Winterbottom can order his clones to record his every move and loop-execute them. He can also kick their ass with his umbrella, which erases their memory and sends them flying towards an irresistible pie. Or simply put, P. B. can use their big head bones as comfy steps.
The developers were more imaginative when it comes to clone uses. As you go about the absurd universe, you will realize that some pies can only be collected by clones, while others only materialize themselves if they are under the spotlight (literally). At one point in the game there will be a riot: all those secondary Winterbottoms will chaotically run around the level, thirsty for umbrella revenge. The veritable hero will have to taste the side of their umbrella in order to reach his ultimate goal: to live on the fat of the land (on the custard of the pie is more suitable here).
And if you ever get tired of the imposed limits and the gossiping doubles you can take a break from saving the world and catching the ultimate pastry product and give the missions a try. Here, only time and the varied objectives matter. Actually, lots of smaller pies are just as good as a big one. Minus the stress.
You are what you eat
Of course, this whole theory upon desire and multiplication underlines not only a deep existential crisis (after all, which is the original in an ocean of clones?) but also a thick layer of irony. Winterbottom horses around with the rigid Victorian style, which he immortalizes through an artistic vision close to that of silent Charlie Chaplin films. Then, we also have the limericks that accompany each level, which remind us of kindergarten before actually demonstrating that no excess is too healthy. Could this be a tongue in cheek critique upon the traditional direction of contemporary videogame design? After all, The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom is all about simplicity when it comes to the level design.
Most puzzles aren’t even side-scrolling and offer the player few interaction elements. A bit too few, I could say, especially for the complex puzzle devourer, which injected World of Goo and the Braid metaphor in his veins.
Developers change rules like socks and this is not a bad thing for the rhythm of this “noir” title. Still, you might feel the need for less superficiality. I couldn’t feel my brain putting any effort into any of the levels, as if every zone was just the introductory sequence for the new mechanisms it introduced. When the puzzles do become challenging, it is not due to complexity, but due to the reaction-time of the keyboard. From this point of view, Winterbottom really shows his age, screeching and crumbling with every move and making any attempt to synchronize with your clones a real adventure.
Unfortunately, too much simplicity can become tiring because when he lacks other elements to keep him entertained, the player picks on the smallest, most insignificant and repetitive aspects of the game. For example, stricken with claustrophobia, I felt suffocated by the lack of color and by the movie grain which decorates the screen. The piano accords are perfect for the suspenseful moments, when the pie is showed as being chased by our grumpy gentleman, but is a bit too much when you are trying to figure out the key to a level. And architectural elements, altered by the temporal vortex, are sometimes simply mesmerizing.
Still, for a title which is worth less than five Euros, the Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom are recommended to any indie-loving player. If the symbols of Braid or the little Goo Corporation goo-balls were too much for you, Winterbottom will kindly accept you under its umbrella. Don’t forget though to tune down the sound from time to time and to look out the window, where the universe is much more colorful.