the misadventures of p.b. winterbottom

Can you believe it’s been nearly a month since the last post I made that didn’t have an MP3 attached? I blame the convenience of Twitter, which lets me dispense with random thoughts and witticisms without all that harrowing long-form writing business. Nevertheless, I’m back, and with a perfect topic — a delicious little Xbox Live Arcade game called The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom.

Winterbottom, as it will hereon be known, is a time-travelling puzzle platformer, so comparisons to Braid spring to mind immediately. Really, though, it’s more like The Incredible Machine games, or Bill’s Tomato Game, an old Amiga game that I’m sure no-one’s played. In Winterbottom, you record yourself performing actions, and then watch as clones of your character are brought to life to play through your recordings.

The aim is to collect pies — a very worthy goal — and there’s often a limited time that they must all be collected within, so completing a level often involves setting up complex, choreographed sequences, where clones run around flipping switches, jumping on levers, or even kicking the player or each other, so that you can get to every last pie in time.

Winterbottom started life as a student project at the University of Southern California, and it’s a perfect example of the kind of game that there’s now a place for in the market thanks to the likes of XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare. It’s 2D through-and-through, though like World of Goo and Braid it has a highly developed art-style, taking its black-and-white cues from early silent movies. The sound design is similarly silent-era, with honky-tonk piano tunes and few sound effects.

It’s definitely not as cerebral as Braid, and I don’t think it’s quite as fun as World of Goo, but it’s unique, it’s beautifully presented, and it’s refreshingly challenging — some of its levels are really quite taxing. Unless you’re easily frustrated by precision platforming, I’d highly recommend it.

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