Do videogames based on movies really need to hit shelves the day their films open? "Of course!" answer marketing teams everywhere. What better time for games like Van Helsing or Fantastic 4 to shake their moneymakers than when their companion films are still big news, burning brightly in people's minds? While this practice makes good money for game companies, it doesn't make good games. High Voltage's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't meant for old fogeys like me; it's designed for children, which makes its technical flaws all the more disgusting.
Those who've seen Tim Burton's film or read Roald Dahl's 1964 novel already know what Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about. Little Charlie Bucket has won an all-day tour of the most famous chocolate factory in the world, led by Mr. Willy Wonka himself. But his four co-winners are all obnoxious brats who don't listen and get themselves into trouble. It's up to Charlie to save them before they die or, worse, cause damage to Wonka's factory.
But Charlie doesn't have to do it alone. He enlists the help of Wonka's Oompa-Loompas, tiny people who can work machines, carry items, and fix broken equipment. Like Captain Olimar's Pikmin, they follow Charlie everywhere and do whatever he says. ("Can you do it?" Charlie asks. "Can you make it work?") Different Oompa-Loompas have different talents. Some can knock candy out of tall trees; some weld pipes and some fix electrical wires.
Does that mean that this game is as complex—or as fun—as Pikmin? No…heavens, no. Players command only two or four or eight creatures, not dozens. And besides, Oompa-Loompas don't make very good fighters. In fact, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory doesn't involve much violence at all. Aside from fighting off the occasional Wonkabot swarm, players spend their time making ramps, plugging holes, forcing air into pipes and squeezing blueberry juice out of little girls. The focus here is on brains, not brawn.
Charlie's "candy powers"—acquired by finding their necessary ingredients for Mr. Wonka—are adorable victims of lousy design. Most are custom-made for a certain stage or puzzle, after which they become almost vestigial. In the Chocolate River Room, there were several open pipes; I needed some way to clog them all and force Augustus Gloop upwards. With some jellybeans and a mob of angry Wonkabots, I could make tangled vine-balls to shoot into the pipes. But afterwards, I never needed my jellybean powers for anything again.
There's just one of Wonka's candies that's worth its Veruca Salt: the Fizzy Lifting Drink. With just a sip, Charlie can float up and up until he hits the ceiling, which comes in handy for reaching high ledges and collecting candy ingredients. The stuff even gives him a god's-eye view of his environment: nice for spotting out-of-the way steam leaks and wire shortages.
Yet, even this modicum of innovation is ruined by the Chocolate Factory's technical glitches, which could've all been fixed with a few more months in development. Character models are clunky and unattractive—Charlie's oversized hands and bean-pole form make him look like he's been stretched in Wonka's taffy puller—and I think the game's cameraman is a bumblebee on a sugar rush. The perspective swings up, down and over like Wonka's glass elevator as players try to figure out just where in the hell they are. When Charlie bounces on his candy balloon, he either overshoots his destination and falls, or conks his head on the ledge he's trying to reach. Sometimes (when the bee comes off his high and crashes, I guess), the camera sticks like a turnstile at the bus station. All I can do then is move forward, and hope the camera snaps back before I fall or get run over by robots. Although this game is designed for younger players, its crazy camera and stuttering graphics make it far more "challenging" than it should be.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would never have been a great game. Its best ideas are all better implemented somewhere else. But with a little more time and patience, it could've been a decent one. There's no excuse for such poor and frustrating camera work. When a game is as derivative and uninspired as this one, a rotten camera is just another nail in its coffin. Unfortunately, the film franchise graveyard won't let these monsters die.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.