Lump of coal
It’s July 9, and Christmas has arrived five months early with Santa Factory on the Wii U eShop. At first glance, Santa Factory appears to be a cute and simple indie title that offers some puzzle mechanics along the way. I figured I would give it a shot. The game’s steep price, however, made me feel a bit uneasy. Prior to making the purchase, I wondered if this game would give me an eight-dollar experience.
Immediately after launching the game, I could easily tell Santa Factory had a mobile look and feel to it — more on that later. The story itself is simple enough: While Santa was out delivering presents on Christmas Eve, his sack ripped open and all the presents scattered to different places around the world. Naturally, it’s your job to retrieve those presents and return them safely back to Santa Factory.
The game map consists of five stages: Wish Letter, Tiny Elf, Santa’s Mistake, Above the Clouds, and Rudolph’s Red Nose. All stages offer ten levels, each unlocked after completing the previous one. For the first two stages, Wish Letter and Tiny Elf, you play as an elf named Tonttu; you take on the role of Rudolph for the remaining three.
Here’s where things become interesting.
Each level attempts to challenge you with collecting five presents. Candy canes — each can be transformed into ice or rock — can also be collected along the way, and they are required to progress. Each candy cane allows you to draw a path on the Wii U GamePad. For example, you can reach a higher platform by drawing a set of stairs or a horizontal or curved line. Paths can’t be too short or long, however. Some gifts are positioned between bricks; transform the cane into its rock form, draw a circular path, and roll it down hill to bash it into the bricks to retrieve the present.
A red flag and a picture of Santa Factory marks the end of each level. After reaching the flag, you’re quizzed with matching each collected present with its respectively marked box. For instance, match the picture of a toy car to a box marked “car.” For every correct match, you earn 20 points. But you can just cruise through levels without even collecting presents and, ironically, during quiz time, you’re still able to earn points this way — just as if you’ve collected them all. It’s obvious the developer chose the lazy way out by assuming players would round up all the gifts, not realizing or even caring that the entire point of the game would be compromised during the process. Each level I played took only one or two minutes. Tops.
Things become worse here on out.
The game only has one musical theme. It plays for about 30 seconds then continuously loops. After a while, my mind became numb to the repetitive sounds and I just ended up blocking it out entirely. Whenever you collect a present, its name is announced by a generic, scratchy-sounding female robotic voice. It’s so bad that “sandals” sounds like “sand isles.” Fortunately, there’s an option to enable or disable background music and sound effects from the game’s menu. Now that I think about it, the voice reminds me of Texas Instruments’ Speak N’ Spell computer from the 1980s.
I found a game-breaking bug at the beginning of the fourth level in Santa’s Mistake. After I drew a path with one of my candy canes to activate a switch, a sliding platform appeared, which I could hop on to cross to the other side of a river. If the sliding platform touched the path I drew, a horrendous sound would screech and the game would completely lock up. I had to manually shutdown my Wii U by holding the power button on the console. I experienced another bug that broke the game during a few quizzes. It seemed to occur randomly when I was matching presents with their respective boxes.
Eventually, the game becomes unplayable during the fourth level in the Above the Clouds stage. I concluded that after spending more than an hour trying to figure out what to do. The level takes place high in the clouds, and you’re supposed to draw paths across clouds to get to the end of the stage. Unfortunately, all the paths fall right through the clouds and there’s no way to reach the red flag. I verified this by performing a bit of research online, where I soon discovered that this game was originally designed for mobile devices.
Of course, I downloaded the mobile version of Santa Factory and played up to part where the Wii U version become unplayable. Unsurprisingly, drawing paths across clouds in the mobile version actually worked. As a result, the Wii U version of this game makes it impossible to access the entire last stage — sixteen levels in all including those from Above the Clouds. Perhaps more upsetting is that the working mobile version is free.
Developed and published by Korean studio Xiness, Santa Factory attempts to deliver a cute and educational platform/puzzle experience, but quickly tumbles down the chimney. Its game-breaking bugs, unplayable levels, and cheap design do not justify its $7.99 price tag. What you’re left with instead is a dull pile of overpriced digital junk that offers no value. I would say it should be offered for free, but that still wouldn’t be doing this game — or any consumers — a favor. It should simply be taken down from the eShop until the developer can fix all the issues. Unfortunately, I paid the ultimate price. Even Meme Run received a better review than this.