We should confess that, even before we sat down to play The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom for the first time, we had already decided it was going to be one of our favourite games of the year.
Before you start accusing us of taking bribes though, you should know that that’s purely because of the license agreement that fills the page when you start it up. There’s just something deeply funny about so much legalese protection being put around the word ‘Winterbottom’ in a dozen languages; it kind of makes you think the whole thing is steeped in irony and sarcasm. Winterbottom, Winterbottom, Winterbottom.
And while we’re never ones to judge a book by the cover, there’s no denying that the Winterbottom title tells you a lot about what type of game this is; something twee and lyrical and influenced by another era. Titles like Quake or Half-Life could mean anything at all and could feasibly be names of budget Tetris clones, but The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom? That moniker immediately hints as to the content. Puzzles! Platforms! Poetry!
The esteemed Mister Winterbottom
And when you delve into the game proper it doesn’t disappoint. The honky-tonk piano solo fades in, the curtain comes up to reveal a slickly emulated 1900s silent movie aesthetic and it starts telling you the story in rhyme. The opening moments of the game are a brutal charm offensive and it’s almost impossible to avoid being swept away in the tidal wave of whimsy.
Straight away we’re onto one of Winterbottom’s best features then – the story and the complete lack of seriousness that runs through the game. Anyone who was put off of the immediately comparable Braid by it’s difficult and obtuse tale of unrequited love and nuclear bombs will definitely appreciate Winterbottom’s story of pies and twirly moustaches. Also, there’s the added draw of playing as a man called Winterbottom too – which, we don’t mind confessing, always makes us smile.
The eponymous Winterbottom is no ordinary man though; he’s a legendary and dastardly pie thief whose obsession with sweet pastry has got him all tangled up in trouble. While chasing a particularly tasty morsel he somehow ends up travelling through time, gaining the ability to make clones of himself at will and unleashing utter pandemonium on the world around him. Naturally, he has to save the day…after he’s eaten all the pies he can lay his mitts on.
OK, so the story doesn’t really make much sense when you stop to think about it, but it’s more about the way that it’s told rather than the actual content itself. Short limericks and bursts of poetry punctuate every level, expanding slowly on what’s happening to Winterbottom and weaving a sense of whimsy and mystery into what would otherwise be a straight-up platform game. It’s utterly delightful.
Or, rather, it is when you first start playing – the further progress the more overdone the presentation starts to feel and the more you notice how poor some of the humour is. When it works it’s fantastic, but there are plenty of places where it falls a bit flat. There are times even with cerebral puzzle games like this when you just want to get stuck into the gameplay; so, while Winterbottom is definitely very charming, it does occasionally ram that fact down your throat and make you want to retch.