Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Review

This factory comes off more like a real industrial complex than the fantastic playground of a fop who makes candy with magical midgets.

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 the 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.

Wait a second--why are we even bothering to save Augustus Gloop? He's an obnoxious slob!
Wait a second--why are we even bothering to save Augustus Gloop? He's an obnoxious slob!

The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory game has none of these delights. There's no Depp to alternately creep us out and enchant us, there are no Oompa-Loompa odes to obnoxious children getting their just desserts, and there are no interesting visual elements. It does feature an interesting new angle on the original story that's sure to be of interest to the three or four people who dream of commanding an army of Oompa-Loompa repairmen. But other than that, this is a short, disappointing misuse of a great movie that clearly had the potential to inspire an outstanding kid's game.

Unlike the movie and the almost completely different PC edition of the game, by developer ImaginEngine (only some cutscenes and voice-overs are shared), the console versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by High Voltage, don't really follow the plot of Roald Dahl's classic children's novel. While you do play Charlie Bucket, that impoverished young lad with the grandparents who all sleep in the same bed, you don't really guide him on a tour of the reclusive Willy Wonka's psychedelic factory. Instead, you follow fellow golden-ticket winners Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee, enlisting the aid of a crew of Oompa-Loompas to clean up the mess that the obnoxious kiddies leave behind.

So when Augustus Gloop is punished for his gluttony by getting sucked into the pipe that drains the chocolate river, you help clear the machinery by grabbing a couple of Wonka's miniature indentured servants and putting them to work. After Veruca Salt goes down the garbage chute, the only thing standing between her and the incinerator is you and your tiny workmen. And so on. The little guys come in different varieties, so you need to recruit specific Oompa-Loompas for specific jobs. Welders, for example, are needed to repair leaky pipes, while gatherers are required to collect candy, and electricians are mandatory if you have to get power flowing again.

But while this is an interesting concept on paper--although, wouldn't the appeal of touring a chocolate factory be lessened by having to fix it along the way?--High Voltage doesn't do enough with it in pixels. Oompa-Loompa tasks are basic and repetitive. To get Gloop out of the chocolate pipe, for example, you order one worker to get power going by jumping up and down on a bellows, while another has to operate a machine that's creating Wonkabots. Then you turn the robots into vine balls with a magic candy power and throw the balls into a trio of vent shafts to increase the air pressure in the pipe needed to pop the fat kid free. Sound like pointless busywork? It is. And it's repeated four times before Gloop is finally out of the goop.

Unresponsive controls don't help matters any. You typically need to hit buttons three or four times for the simple work. Then you follow and wait for orders to be recognized, slowly growing more annoyed as the Oompa-Loompas shrug their shoulders over and over again. Even after your creepy mini-minions understand what they're supposed to be doing, their pathfinding is so terrible that they stumble over and get stuck on every magical mushroom and piece of candy-making machinery in sight. And since the controls are so simplistic, you can't even move these clods around via micromanagement; all you can do is sit back and wait while they stagger to their assignments.

Faulty controls also hinder the game's arcade sequences, which generally consist of standard platform-jumping. Just as with Oompa-Loompa management, one press generally isn't enough to register a command. You regularly need to hit buttons more than once to get Charlie to jump, use a candy power, throw an Everlasting Gobstopper, and more. Since this is essentially a kid's game, these control issues don't cause you to die or suffer anything really grievous. Still, you do wind up falling down and retracing your steps far more often than necessary, which cranks up the frustration factor in short order.

Added frustration is caused by sloppy design. As with the Gloop example above, most tasks are unnecessarily troublesome due to poor instructions and issues within the game that make it tough to complete objectives. Whether you're trying to gather candy ingredients, lifting Oompa-Loompas into the air with Wonka's fizzy drink, launching candies into bins with catapults, or simply trying to take out one of Wonka's robots with a Gobstopper, chances are good that you'll get stuck somewhere. And it's usually the worst kind of stuck, too, where you know exactly what you have to do and can even see the objective...but the controls aren't cooperating, and the terrain is so convoluted that you can't get there from here (arrows pointing to objectives would have been a huge help in spots). While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may be aimed at kids, it's hard to imagine many of the under-13 set actually finishing it.

The look and feel of the game is virtually identical across all three console platforms, although the Xbox version features slightly sharper graphics. It also has Dolby Digital and boasts 720p support for high-definition TVs. So that's the version to buy if you have a choice. Otherwise, though, there's little to separate the three editions, as all are equally bad. Visuals are afflicted with a case of the jaggies, the candy comes in either generic bar form or as glowing Pac-Man-style power dots, and the camera often veers drunkenly (motion sickness and chocolate probably aren't a good mix) and gets trapped behind walls. Colors are suitably gaudy, but most areas are so barren of detail that the factory comes off more like a real industrial complex than the fantastic playground of a fop who makes candy with magical midgets.

Veruca Salt, the little brute, has just gone down the garbage chute.
Veruca Salt, the little brute, has just gone down the garbage chute.

The music and audio effects, however, are outstanding. Virtually the entire cast--all of the principals are here, save Depp, who's voiced by a great imitator named James Taylor (presumably not the "Fire and Rain" folksinger)--reprises its roles admirably. All the kids do a great job of bringing their characters to life with a fair number of extra lines not heard in the movie, especially Julia Winter as the so-bratty-you've-gotta-love-her Veruca Salt. The one audio drawback is the bizarre absence of the Oompa-Loompa musical numbers that are the high points of the movie.

Still, great audio doesn't go very far when coupled with such poor gameplay. Games based on hot movie properties are rarely good, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory doesn't break this trend. The console releases are better than the truly execrable PC game of the same name, but there's still no reason for it to exist, beyond an attempt to line pockets at the expense of movie fans.

The Good

  • Voice acting comes courtesy of the kids in the movie, and they're very good in their roles (especially Julia Winter as Veruca Salt)

The Bad

  • Awkward controls
  • Dull, repetitive level objectives; we want to tour the chocolate factory, not repair it
  • Very short. Although, all things considered, this should probably be a pro

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