Move over, Snidely Whiplash. Make room, Dick Dastardly. There’s a new mustachioed villain in town: P.B. Winterbottom. And he’s ready to eat pie and take names.

“The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom”

Xbox 360 Live Arcade
2K Play

Set in a black and white Victorian landscape and paying homage to the Chaplin-esque silent film era, “The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom” gives players control over the titular protagonist, the pastry thief of Bakersburg, as he sets out on his single-minded quest for pie. But not just any pie: a gigantic, mystical, floating pie that has somehow caused Winterbottom to become unstuck in time. In order to pass the various stages and take another step closer to his delicious antagonist, old P.B. has to create clones of himself and manipulate the flow of time to solve the puzzles standing in his way.

“The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom” is oozing style, from its film-reel, black and white setting and graphics to its rhyming narration (provided via placards, à la silent movies), to its twist on the side-scrolling platform genre. The humor is dark in an approachable, family-friendly kind of way (“The bakery is on fire!”) and the end result is an utterly unique, mind-bending romp that never loses its charm.

The central mechanism behind the gameplay is the clones. By holding down a button, players are able to record the actions of Winterbottom as he navigates the level, flipping switches, eating pie and generally getting into mischief. Let go of the button and a clone appears, performing the same tasks that were just recorded. Each level places a limit on how many clones you can have, and as the game progresses, more wrenches are thrown into the equation, requiring increasingly complex planning and a complete lack of respect for the laws of physics and time.

Even taken purely as a puzzle-solving game, without any consideration for the game’s personality or style, “Winterbottom” is a triumph. The puzzles are brilliantly conceived and executed, and while challenging, they remain solvable with a little bit of brainwork. Is that last pie sitting up there in the corner of the screen taunting you, seemingly ungettable in spite of your best efforts? Take a break, go do something else for a while, and when you come back with a fresh perspective the answer will arise like so much pie crust. The answers are never easy, and finding the perfect, most efficient solution will always create a feeling of real accomplishment: the sensation of “Man, did I just figure that out? Hell yes I did” that only the best puzzle games can provide.

The downsides? For one thing, it’s short. Real braniacs might blow through every one of P.B.’s misadventures in three or four hours, and the rest of us mere mortals won’t need much longer than that. There are some time trials to keep players occupied after the main storyline has been exhausted, but nothing more. But with a $10 price tag, it would be a steal at twice the price. The other caveat is that the game is only available (for now) on the Xbox Live Arcade, leaving PS3 owners and PC gamers in the lurch. But anyone with an Xbox 360 and an Internet connection shouldn’t hesitate to snatch this title up toot-sweet, like an unwatched pie sitting on a windowsill. Go ahead. No one’s looking.

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