The Next Indie Time Traveler
Winterbottom would be fairly weak as a platformer. Thankfully, jumping from ledge to ledge and falling into bottomless pits is not what Winterbottom is about. Instead, it’s a puzzle game that happens to be dressed up with a little jumping between point A and point B. You play as P. B. Winterbottom, a compulsive criminal whose greed knows no bounds, and he uses his time-manipulating abilities to puzzle his way through a world of darkness in order to steal pies.
These are not normal pies, of course. Each world is host to its own pies, and its own rules, and Winterbottom will have to “record” himself, and then interact with his recorded time-clones, in order to clear each stage. Strange, I know. If Mario is the Average Joe of video games, then Winterbottom is for the Mensa gamer who prefers characters like Professor Xavier over Wolverine. Winterbottom is a classy, thinking man’s game with a lot of macabre whimsy thrown in for good measure.
Each world is divided into small stages, which can be long or short depending on the length of time it takes the player to stumble onto an epiphany and overcome the seemingly impossible riddle that each stage presents. Each world has its own rules and conditions for victory, but each world is usually kind enough to give the player a few warm-up stages to get used to its peculiarities.
Like all good puzzle games, Winterbottom often subverts its own rules, challenging you to test what you thought was possible in the game. Each stage is an IQ test condensed into its purest form. There were plenty of times when I laid the controller aside and simply stared at the screen, desperate to throw together a plan that would accomplish the impossible. Thankfully, even though each stage has its own time limit of sorts, the time limit does not kick in until you make your first move. There are no limited number of lives, and Winterbottom can “die” as many times as you need him to do so. There is only THE WALL, and THE WALL is the limit of your ability to figure out the next puzzle.
And be warned, you will hit THE WALL many, many times.
The graphics have been described by some as reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s macabre inking style, which was a heavy influence on Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (or anything cartoonishly gothic for that matter). I think Winterbottom’s graphics are a little too clean to be Gorey, though the artistic direction definitely has a childish sense of emptiness and nihilism about it. Winterbottom looks like he lives in a world that has already ended. It’s a bleak place straight out of a Tool music video, but it’s mixed with a silent film version of Spongebob Squarepants.
Like a lot of fairytales that mean more than they appear on the surface, I guess Winterbottom’s greed and time-traveling antics represent mankind’s need to consume more and more resources, and our need to control history because, let’s face it, we don’t know where we came from and we don’t know where we’re going. We are trapped in a puzzle just like Winterbottom.
Fortunately for Winterbottom, he seems to be completely amoral and feels no guilt whatsoever when it comes to making clones of himself, and then abusing those clones in order to proceed. And that means the player doesn’t have to, either. Half the fun of solving each puzzle is creating a clone to help you along, and then knocking the clone senseless in order to finish.
Anyone who knows the solution to each puzzle could blast through Winterbottom very quickly, so unless you become fanatical about staying on the leaderboards in the timed bonus stages, Winterbottom has limited replay value. This is no great loss, as the initial playthrough will sorely test the limits of anyone’s mental endurance for at least three or four hours. But do yourself a favor and don’t try to finish Winterbottom in one or two sessions (unless you’re trading off with friends during an all-nighter). I ended up feeling like I was being tested in some kind of harsh death match arena for intellectuals, like Thunderdome meets chess, until I was slowly worn down and hollowed out. The latter stages in each world are not exactly relaxing.
Which isn’t to say that Winterbottom is not a fun game. It is fun, and challenging, but don’t expect an artsy, black and white version of Super Mario Bros. It’s not a fun-filled romp through a fantastic world – it’s a test to divide the clever from the slow. Have fun, but all the same, buyer beware!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Unique look reminiscent of silent film or the work of Edward Gorey, rare for a medium defined by blazing colors. Unfortunately, the dreary surroundings can make for a draining experience during extended gaming sessions. 3.8 Control
The controls are just tight enough to remind you that Winterbottom is more of a puzzle game than a platformer, and the gameplay is simple enough to facilitate the puzzle-solving process. 2.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Besides the supremely creepy introductory music, Winterbottom’s soundtrack is weak. Time spent planning your way through puzzles will be marred by a repetitive soundtrack. 3.5 Play Value
Gamers looking for a platformer will be disappointed, but gamers looking for a unique puzzle game should be pleased. Worth the 800 point price of admission. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.