The recently adapted Charlie and the Chocolate factory, based on Roald Dahl's classic tale, sounds like the perfect thing to whip into a videogame. It's an insanely popular license, for one, and the story's blend of oddball contraptions and quirky characters can potentially lead to groovy game design. But the reason videogame adaptations of popular movies tend to fail is because they don't recreate the allure of the movies. Seriously, how can
they without years of development time and a multi-million dollar budget?
To be fair, certain games based on blockbusters don't totally suck. But these are few and far between. Unfortunately, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from Global Star Software isn't one of these rare cases where game design triumphs over hectic development time and the need to cash in on ticket sales. Not that it's for a lack of trying. Chocolate Factory has a few genuinely cool ideas, not to mention decent graphics and a really good soundtrack. But the entire experience is muddled by sloppy control, a horrendous camera and generally poor design.
Although at first it didn't seem like it would be all that bad. The game starts with reasonably snazzy CG intro telling the story of the mysterious Willy Wonka and his dazzling chocolate factory. The music accompanying the opening cinematic sounds great as does the narrator telling the story. As soon as the intro wraps you find yourself (as Charlie) alone on a snowy street. A ten-dollar bill wafts by and you decided to chase it. Being Charlie you're dirt poor and in dire need of candy money, anyway. The following chase teaches you basic controls such as jumping, lifting boxes and crates, and climbing.
Admittedly, it's a nice way to start the game. Imbedded tutorials always seem better than obnoxious, out-of-the-way tutorials. After you score the money, you then find yourself sliding down the street on a garbage can lid in a fast, fun, decidedly simple driving sequence. You can slam into obstructions and steer however you like without the game penalizing you too much. Just press forward on the thumbstick and dodge Willy Wonka's crimson transport trucks and you'll be ok.
Up until this point, everything seems to be going fine. Each character animates nicely, the music sounds very Danny Elfman-like and the simple gameplay elements play out smoothly. But then the real game starts and you head into the chocolate factory. What waits inside is a sad concoction of decent visuals, good ideas and piss-poor execution. It's a damn shame, really, because this could have been a cool kid's game if only the developers had more time to refine the game. All the pieces are here, but they've been glued together so poorly that even kids will have a hard time squeezing enjoyment out of this one.
A bulk of Chocolate factory centers on you, as Charlie, finding Oompa-Loompas and putting them to work in the factory. The game offers several different types of Loompas, each of which specializes in a different task. You can use Harvester Loompas to gather candy, Welder Loompas to fix leaky pipes and Electrician Loompas to power machines. After you find a Loompa (they're scattered about the various parts of the factory) you command them by issuing three basic commands, including: Work, Follow and Wait. Each command is mapped to a directional button on the controller, so commanding your platoon of Loompas feels intuitive for the most part.
The HUD in Chocolate Factory deserves notice because it helps simplify the game. You can lead a hefty pack of Loompas, depending the level, and the HUD displays the number of Loompas in your party, their expertise and current task of each. You can also see how much candy (and what type) you've found in the game. Finding candy in Chocolate Factory is very similar to finding collectibles in any other platform; find a lot and you're rewarded with extra energy, etc. But that's enough about the HUD. Back to Oomp-Loompas and why this game isn't so hot.
After you finish the tutorial you start Chapter 2, where you need to help Willy Wonka remove a gluttonous boy from a pipe before he soils the entire factory. Doing so requires you to first scour the environment for two Loompas and then lead them to a machine so they can operate it. This pushes the chubby kid further into the factory, making a mess of Wonka's jellybean machines. You need to repeat the procedure by finding more Loompas and putting them to work operating various machines. And here's where the game falls apart. Commanding Loompas is easy enough, but the little buggers need help getting around and they'll sometimes get stuck behind a giant piece of candy or plant.
Furthermore, trying to navigate the factory and use its various machines feels downright frustrating due to sloppy control. This wouldn't be much of a problem if all you did in the game was command Loompas, but much of the game requires you to platform jump and navigate a myriad of obstacles. Jumping feels awkward and it's therefore easy to miss a jump and plummet dozens of feet. You won't die, but you'll need to start the sequence over again. This ends up happening way too often to forgive.
In addition to being sloppy, the controls are simply unresponsive in some cases. Picking things up, especially giant balls of jelly weed that roll around the ground is very hit or miss. You'll press the appropriate button two or three times before Charlie decides to do anything. The only way to ensure he'll pick something up on the first try is to make sure both you and the object are perfectly still.
Furthermore, the camera is downright awful. It often gets stuck behind walls and other obstructions, making the aforementioned jump puzzles even worse. Plus, it seems as though the camera is dead set on making you puke because of its tendency to swoop in and around the action.
That's not all. Certain mission-sensitive tasks are never made clear or simply don't work well. At the start of the second chapter, for example, you need to destroy a group of zany robots by leading them to a large garbage chute. The game instructs you to use Wriggle -Sweets, a jittery candy, to lure the robots into the garbage chute so they can fall in once the chute opens. Two problems prohibit you from doing this. First, the Wriggle-Sweets are intrinsically mobile, so once you plop them down over the chute, they merely wiggle away, negating any benefit. Second, there's a lip surrounding the chute which the robots have a hard time crossing. So not only do the robots ignore the chute, but if they find themselves close to it for whatever reason, the lip stops most of them from actually falling in.
Combined, these elements will kill just about any game.
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