Review: What a 19th century Clone Wars would've looked like.
If the French film pioneer Georges M?li?s had an Xbox Live Arcade game, it would be The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. Like his 1902 movie ?A Trip to the Moon,? this downloadable game illustrates the silent film era with black-and-white graphics riddled with film grain and an energetic theatre organ soundtrack to back them up. The gameplay is comparable to a handful of flash and downloadable titles of the same genre, so developer The Odd Gentlemen may not go down in history as being as groundbreaking as M?li?s. Nevertheless, the team's artfully crafted presentation makes for a puzzle platformer that's timeless in every sense.
P.B. Winterbottom is a pie-obsessed thief who wears a top hat that's as long as his nose and carries an umbrella that allows his short, stocky body to glide to normally out-of-reach treats. Each of the game's 75 levels is short, sometimes to the point of showing the entire stage in a single frame. Levers, switches, springs and seesaws assist Winterbottom in his quest to collect every pie in sight. Fire, water and heights get in his way.
However, it's Winterbottom himself whose the biggest aid and obstacle. The crux of the gameplay is recording his actions so that clones can help him climb and cross the levels, just as long as clones don't cross each other with a whack of the umbrella. Sometimes it's as simple as holding down the Right Trigger to record, then pressing A to leap, which results in a continually jumping clone who's top hat you can climb on to in order to acquire a pie in the sky.
Later, more intricate levels require multiplying this process by ten. One Winterbottom steps on a switch so that a flood of clones can go through a door that's located on the other side of a level. Beyond it are even more door-opening switches; they eventually widdle all of the Winterbottoms down until one is able to obtain a solitary, scrumptious indulgence. Perfectly choreographing clones on seesaws as well as meeting time and clone limits complicates the gameplay immensely. Easily frustrated gamers need not apply.
Bonus stages bring target times and a maximum number of clones that can be used. These extra levels also incorporate Xbox Live Leaderboards, which add competitive fun to this otherwise single-player affair. Although multiplayer for a game such as this may have taken away from its solo character's charm, a hot potato mode in which friends pass the controller would've gotten more people involved in P.B.'s addictive misadventures. Also, the gameplay includes the ability to record his actions, so it would've been appropriate to follow through and allow players to capture the chaotic process in which they go about solving levels.
The developer avoided adding in-game video recording most likely due to the fear that people would YouTube how to solve levels in a jiffy, though people will do this anyway. Plus, it would've been worthwhile just to replay the frenzied movements of nearly a dozen P.B. Winterbottom clones working together to careen through a level and comically reach the goal of cream-filled pies. Herein lies the real appeal of the game - its light-hearted, stereotypical turn of the century movie villain, old timey visual presentation, and piano music that can't decide whether it wants to be upbeat or frightening - resulting in a score that closely resembles the Tales from the Crypt theme. It's all done without color or dialogue, too. Problem-solving fans will find a lot to love about getting to the bottom or, often times, the top of P.B. Winterbottom's elaborate puzzle designs.