Wednesday, March 10, 2010

That Glorious Buttwit

by Daniel Bullard-Bates

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a difficult game to sum up, but here it goes: In World 5 of Braid (“Time and Decision”), whenever the player rewinds time, it creates a copy of Tim (the avatar) which does whatever the player did before rewinding time. One strange night, “Time and Decision” met a beautiful silent film actress in a bar, one thing led to another, and they had a child. They then raised that child entirely on pie and unusual insults constructed out of made-up words. They named it The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom.

P.B. Winterbottom stops at nothing in his relentless pursuit of pie. Having caused all sorts of disasters in his face-stuffing greed, he finally takes things one step too far when he tears some sort of hole in the space-time continuum, all in the hope of getting a taste of the delicious-looking (and dangerously magical) Chronoberry Pie. This gives him the power to record temporal loops of himself doing various things, such as jumping on switches, floating through the air, and even smacking copies of himself around.

Each world (or movie, as they are called in Winterbottom) adds a new twist to this central mechanic, keeping the player on their toes, and the results quickly become mind-bending. The possibilities for interaction are spectacularly varied: You could create a loop in which Winterbottom is smacking the air near him, then a second loop in which Winterbottom gets smacked by the first Winterbottom into the air and slowly floats downward, and then a third loop which rides the second Winterbottom on its journey and jumps off to land on a high platform. You could do all that with only one recorded Winterbottom at a time, too. Imagine the possibilities in levels which allow four or more copies simultaneously.

The puzzles are devilishly clever, and the central mechanic allows for so many creative possibilities that there are often multiple solutions available. The game also strikes a stunning balance between challenge and accessibility. Though I became stuck several times throughout the game, there was always something else I wanted to try before I gave up, and I never felt the need to consult a guide.

On top of fantastic level design and a creatively explored game mechanic, the game oozes with style (and pastry fillings). Its black and white silent film aesthetic is punctuated by cleverly written title cards which explain the absurd, time-bending, hilarious plot. The tips at the bottom of the screen vary between helpful hints and ridiculous insults. And Winterbottom never fails to look incredibly shocked and confused when he is smacked around by one of his copies, or vice versa.

I can’t think of many complaints worth voicing about The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. The music can get a bit repetitive, but never distractingly so. My major complaint when I finished the game was that I wished there was more, but no level or challenge felt wasted, which is one of the highest compliments that I believe a puzzle-based game can receive. Unfortunately, the game is only available on Xbox Live Arcade; hopefully it will be coming to more gaming platforms in the near future. For the time being, if you have an Xbox and have not tried The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, you are a complete and utter buttwit.

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