Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie has a lot going for it. It's got Johnny Depp doing an eccentric yet endearing riff on Michael Jackson as crazy chocolatier Willy Wonka. It's got a bunch of nifty Oompa-Loompa musical numbers. And it's got surreal and colorful set designs that make you think somebody's been spiking the Everlasting Gobstoppers with LSD.
The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory PC game has none of these delights. There's no Depp to alternately creep us out and enchant us, no Oompa-Loompa odes to obnoxious children getting their just desserts, and no interesting visual elements. This game is terrible in every area, with unresponsive controls, choppy graphics, and uninteresting minigames that look and feel a lot like the free Java/Flash games available on the Web. It's a good thing that the chocolate factory's famed glass elevator doesn't really exist, because after playing this game you might be tempted to throw yourself down the shaft. Ostensibly, the plot of the game follows the movie, which in turn does a good job of tracing the events in Roald Dahl's classic children's novel. You play Charlie Bucket, the poor lad who wins a golden ticket entitling him to a tour of the chocolate factory of reclusive weirdo Willy Wonka. The only difference between movie and game is that whenever one of Charlie's golden-ticket-holding comrades--Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee--is punished for his or her sins (which, respectively, are gluttony, greed, arrogance, and anger) here, you play a minigame to rescue them...or at least make sure that they don't come to too much harm.
This concept actually seems pretty promising for a few minutes, and it's certainly a better idea than the Oompa-Loompa factory management in the completely different console editions of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory game franchise. But all the potential is wasted on boring minigames that are way too easy, even for little kids. They all center on simple tasks like collecting magical lollipops, clicking on mushrooms to save Augustus Gloop from the chocolate river, tilting a table to collect candies, bouncing the blueberry version of Violet Beauregarde around like a pinball, and clicking on Oompa-Loompas in the correct order to start them singing a rowing song (which they actually don't sing--you just get some musical tones indicating a song, like in the classic handheld game Simon).
Objectives are practically hidden with instructions so obtuse that you're often unsure of what you're supposed to be doing. Midlevel Oompa-Loompa challenges providing bonuses and keys begin with no instructions other than a title like Pinball! or Grab!, and end so fast that it's pure luck whether or not you can tell what's going on before you lose. And play time is stretched out with midlevel trips to Wonka's lickable wallpaper maze, where you wander corridors sampling candy flavors and doing Oompa-Loompa challenges to earn the keys needed to get out. This isn't a whole lot of fun. Although the descriptions of the oddball candy are entertainingly surreal ("Uncaramel! Wow, this isn't like caramel at all!"), generally you just pace back and forth for five minutes before matching the right door to the right key.
Poor controls make the minigames even harder to endure. You often have to click on a location two or three times before Charlie starts to move, and even when he does get going, the pathfinding is so atrocious that he gets stuck on every gumdrop and candy cane in sight. Mouse response in some levels is so faulty that it can be hard to accomplish even simple objectives, like throwing chocolate bars to free Mike Teavee in the television room. Adding to the movement difficulties is a camera that doesn't track Charlie's movement. It remains fixed until you actually walk offscreen, whereupon it typically moves to a completely different angle on the action that forces you to reassess your bearings.
Unlike the big-budget set design in the movie, presentation values here are decidedly low rent. Screen resolution is stuck at 800x600, leaving all of the characters with jagged edges reminiscent of old PlayStation games. Only a few of the levels feature the wacky and colorful locales in Tim Burton's film, and they lose their impact due to the shoddy graphics and odd camera angles. Sound, however, is first-rate. Although Depp doesn't voice Wonka here, stand-in James Taylor (presumably not the "Fire and Rain" folksinger) does a great job mimicking him. All the kids from the movie reprise their roles, though (along with veteran Irish actor David Kelly as Grandpa Joe), and do a great job of bringing the characters to life. Audio is easily the high point of the game.
Problem is, this lone high point is a mountain in the middle of a swamp. Games based on hot movie properties are rarely very good, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really plumbs the depths of awfulness. There's no reason for this game to exist, beyond an attempt to line pockets at the expense of movie fans.