Pies are to P.B. Winterbottom what Duff is for Homer Simpson and spinach is for Popeye. In short, Mr Winterbottom likes pie. Pie is the good stuff. For this cultured gentleman, the pastries are so good that they lead to a career in crime and he grabs whatever pie he can reach. Not even when they dreamily float away, or when they are 30 feet up in the air, does Winterbottom give up the chase. You just have to respect such dedication to pie.
The first minutes of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom are spectacular. They include one of the coziest tutorials I've ever played actually, a lot thanks to the music that mixes modern beats with classic silent movie pianos. I tap the rythm until my feet start to hurt and laugh heartily at the animation of Winterbottom floating through the air with the help of his umbrella.
The silent movie theme is found not only in the music, but also in the graphical design; the entire game is more or less black & white or sepia with an old film filter applied for good measure. Between the chapters the story is told through children rhymes set to wonderful still pictures. Throughout the game, we delve even deeper into the strange history about how Winterbottom finds a time portal and suddenly is able to clone himself on the fly. Everything in the name of pie, of course.
The Brittish look asides, Braid is an obvious source of inspiration and you can see traces of the time puzzled from Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time. One press of the right trigger button and you start recording everything you do - jumps, attacks, activations of pressure plates - and when you release it a loop of a Winterbottom-clone that mimics what you just did starts to roll. You have a limited amount of clones for every level, but you can always delete the ones you aren't happy about or the ones you've managed to corrupt somehow.
It starts out simple. You create a clone on whose back you can stand to reach higher. You have your alter egos activate a trampoline that flings you up in the air. But the level of difficulty ramps up; towards the end you have to think long and hard in order to co-ordinate, time and adjust give different Winterbottoms and their movements. The puzzles are varied, clever and just the right difficulty for a puzzle lover.
Some pies just linger on the screens for a brief moment, others must be picked in the right order and some just look to be impossibly far out of reach. Sometimes I fall just before the finishing line, sometimes I just and stare in disbelief at the screen, but I'm always happy the give a level a new try in order to advance Winterbottom to the next level. The sound effect when you finally pick up all the pies is like a slap on the back for the brain, a true sense of triumph awaits the patient puzzler.
Just like in Braid there is a more competitive mode where you can compare your results with others over Xbox Live. These levels are measured by how long they you to finish and how many clones you use in the process. It gives a bit of an extra life to a relatively short game (around four hours), but the essence of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom lies in sitting down and enjoying the campaign, preferably together with a lot of patience and slices of blueberry pie.
It's very tempting to come up with a few sarcastic comments about clones when you feel the shadow of the phenomenal Braid all throughout the game. But Mr Winterbottom stands firmly on his own legs (no matter how small they might be) and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom has despite its lighter tone a lot of dignity and poetic framing. 800 Microsoft points equals a bargain for a game as good as this, so pick it up straight away and enjoy a Live Arcade-game that is so hot it should be put on a window sill to cool down.