There was a time when video games serving as tie-ins for movies or TV shows were a black mark on the game’s record. These titles were typically cash-grabs in the form of 3D platformers or action games, half-hearted attempts to capitalize on the popularity of various franchises. I still recall the dismay I felt when first playing the Ed, Edd, n Eddy tie-in. Boy, what an awful experience. Back then, it was the rare title that actually turned out to be half-decent.
Fortunately, times have changed. Nowadays, you can genuinely find some decent titles based on popular series.
But where does SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated fit into all this? Is this a gem worth the repolishing, or is this yet another cash-grab, granted new life only to wring a little more money out of unsuspecting customers?
- What is SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated? It’s a 3D platformer with an emphasis on traversal, exploration, and the show’s signature silliness. Play as SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy as they attempt to rescue Bikini Bottom from a horde of Plankton’s robots run amok.
- Developer: Purple Lamp Studios
- Publisher: THQ Nordic
- Release Date: June 23, 2020
- Reviewed On: PC
- Website: www.purplelamp.com
Probably the most egregious problem with how Battle for Bikini Bottom feels to play stems from one of its cutest jokes. Whenever your character falls beyond the bounds of a level, Hans, a photorealistic human hand amid the cartoon fishes of Bikini Bottom, plucks you from danger and sets you back on solid ground again. However, there are some awkward boundaries, and the implementation of Hans in these cases often leads to frustration.
One situation found me continually dragged back to the same spot, where movement in any direction would prompt Hans to pick me up and unceremoniously strand me once more. Luckily, I was able to load a nearby location to escape. However, and especially for a remastered version of the game, it would have been nice to see buggy moments like these excised from the experience.
Other frustrations are more frequent but less severe. The physics for Sandy’s rope-swing ability are janky, and they disrupt the flow of movement in ways that other movement abilities do not. Combat is simplistic and often repetitive, and while boss fights vary in quality, even the most exciting isn’t exactly a revelation to play. In the end, Battle for Bikini Bottom’s main appeal doesn’t rest with its combat or boss fights (thank goodness). But the shortcomings of those systems make themselves clear the more they become emphasized throughout levels.
That said, the main emphasis of these levels is clearly upon traversal and exploration, two things the game tends to execute particularly well. With all of the jumps, bouncing, throw fruit catapulting, lasso-gliding, and ball-form rolling, movement in Battle for Bikini Bottom is easily one of the most consistently engaging, exciting mechanical structures within the game. Add onto that the slope mechanics, especially with the various time challenges available on Sand Mountain, and you’ve got a game that confidently and competently scratches the itch for classic 3D platforming.
Paired with movement mechanics, exploration formulates Battle for Bikini Bottom’s core gameplay. Your main goal throughout the game, mechanically, is to collect Golden Spatulas. This task can be carried out by platforming, completing missions assigned to you by various characters, and hunting for secrets in the game’s numerous nooks and crannies. It’s a time-honored structure made famous by Super Mario 64.
While Battle for Bikini Bottom could never hope to stand toe-to-toe with comparable modern titles like Super Mario Odyssey, it does not follow that this game is some cheap cash-in with no merits of its own. As you can tell with the cult following the game has accrued in the speedrunning community, there’s clearly something here (beyond the memes) that keeps people plumbing the depths of Bikini Bottom for gilded cookware.
Ah, the Sea…
On the fluffier front, the most jarring and distracting aspect of the story is when the original voice actor from the show could not reprise their role for the game. Mr. Krabs and Mermaid Man are characters with distinctive enough voices that even passable imitations stick out like a sore thumb. Continuing with some of the game’s audiovisual shortcomings, there are certainly moments where the breezy, carefree feel of hand-drawn cartoons gets lost in translation. The 3D graphics don’t always lend themselves well to the vivid, nonsensical mayhem that so often permeates episodes of SpongeBob. It’s a minor gripe, but it’s worth noting where the medium of games struggles to capture the magic of cartoons.
That said, the visual landscape of Battle for Bikini Bottom numbers among the game’s strengths. Levels are vibrant and packed with details and references to various episodes. It’s fun for someone who grew up with the show to comb through locations like Goo Lagoon or Downtown Bikini Bottom and seek out little easter eggs and secrets distributed throughout. Character animations are also expressive and fun, particularly SpongeBob’s sneaking animation (complete with cartoon plinking sound effects) and the animations where he’s trembling and screaming and flailing his arms about.
Overall, the game’s story is a mixed bag. It’s likely to be about as entertaining as trying to get a laugh out of any given SpongeBob episode. You’ll probably find parts amusing, and there will definitely be standout moments. But there will undoubtedly be plenty of groaners and moments of silliness that don’t quite stick the landing.
In Battle for Bikini bottom, I occasionally found myself chuckling at jokes clever and stupid alike. But more often than not, I was stone-faced and impassive, just hoping to get to the next bit of fun platforming.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Exploration - 8/10
Traversal - 7/10
Audiovisuals and Storytelling - 7/10
Combat and Boss Fights - 6/10
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is by no means a perfect game. Combat can become tiresome and repetitive, voice lines are jarring when not delivered by the actors from the show, and traversal sometimes suffers from wonky physics. However, the game’s platforming, puzzling, and boundless charm ensure that it’s an experience worth seeking out if you consider yourself a Goofy Goober.
- Lighthearted, silly tone
- Breezy, energetic platforming
- Detailed levels that are fun to explore
- Dull combat
- Bugs, some odd physics
- A few audiovisual hiccups