While licensed video games have been around for as long as the industry itself, it still feels like only recently that the stigma around “licensed video games” began to change. Many used to write that tie-in video games based off TV shows, films, comic books and even toy lines as cheap trash, and while a lot of the titles put out each year are, admittedly, made to gain a quick buck, there have always been diamonds in the rough. For every ten or fifteen cheap, rushed video games made to capitalise on a popular brand, there is at least one game where the developer genuinely tried to do the property justice. One of these titles was Heavy Iron Studios’ SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, first released for the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2003. It is one of the most beloved cartoon tie-ins of its generation, thanks to a dedicated cult following and speed-running community that is still present even to this day.
So present, in fact, that THQ Nordic, with all of its mysterious money and power, has decided to follow in the footsteps of other beloved 3D platformers from the past 20 years, such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, and teamed up with Austrian developer Purple Lamp Studios to fully remake SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, preserving an experience that is just as fresh and dedicated to the Nickelodeon show as it was 12 years ago.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a 3D collect-a-thon-style platformer in which the player takes control of SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy as they traverse different areas in Bikini Bottom, ridding it of evil robots that Plankton has accidentally unleashed upon it in hopes to steal the Krabby Patty’s secret formula. It’s pretty standard setup for a SpongeBob SquarePants game; however, the story does leave the game open for some humorous dialogue between the returning characters, such as Squidward, Larry, Mr. Krabs, Mrs. Puff, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. Since the original game was released while the show was in its third season, it lacks some of the characters introduced in later seasons and the films (for example, the game uses the more buff, season 1 version of King Neptune as opposed to the first film’s version).
Each level is designed in a similar fashion to those of other collect-a-thons, such as Spyro the Dragon or Banjo-Kazooie’s, with open, non-linear areas with a set amount of Golden Spatulas to find. The Golden Spatulas are used as a means of progression, each level (minus the opening level, Jellyfish Fields) requiring a certain number to be accessed. Other items collected throughout the game include Patrick’s dirty socks (yes, really) and the game’s form of currency, “Shiny Objects”. These are generally used to access areas within the levels that are gated off or to pay characters like Mr. Krabs in exchange for a Golden Spatula. The Shiny Objects are plentiful and are collected by destroying tikis scattered around the worlds, defeating enemies and just generally exploring.
The levels themselves are fun and imaginatively designed, with areas later in the game offering up a surprising challenge to hardcore 3D platformer veterans who may feel that the main game is a bit of a cakewalk. As should be done in any great 3D platformer though, the collectibles guide the player naturally through each of the worlds, and making use of bus stops allow the player to switch from SpongeBob to either Patrick or Sandy, given the level. Switching to Patrick allows the player to use his unique throwing ability, which is often used to solve puzzles in exchange for a Golden Spatula. Playing as Sandy allows the player to use her lasso to swing to platforms that only she can access, while also being able to use her lasso as a ranged weapon to attack enemies from a distance. All this is to say that, overall, the game is approachable to players of all ages with fun and rewarding level designs, as well as some optional challenges, if you’re up for them.
New to Battle for Bikini Bottom this time around, exclusively to Rehydrated, is a newly introduced multiplayer mode. This acts as a horde mode in which players go up against legions of robots cooperatively. In this mode it’s even possible to play as the likes of Squidward, Mr. Krabs and Plankton. While the game’s combat is nothing spectacular to begin with, Rehydrated’s feels distinct from the original’s in that it is faster, and attacks leave the characters more vulnerable, so a hoard mode multiplayer option isn’t necessarily the worst idea. The execution is nothing but lazy though, and the online implementation is utterly pathetic. Even on a strong connection, any match I got into saw me and my cooperative partner glitching all over the screen, and the game’s hit detection took a hike off a cliff. In its current state, I’d go so far as to say this is borderline unplayable on launch day due to bad netcode implementation, not that there’s much to recommend here anyways.
Visually, Battle for Bikini Bottom is an enhancement over the 2003 original, and while the title is a noticeable upgrade from its sixth-generation counterparts, the game does lack a visual polish that feels indicative of its budget. Characters animate well in gameplay but look somewhat unnatural during cutscenes, with the art style of the show not translating as well to a video game, a criticism this version shares with the original. Levels burst with colour immediately though, with side-by-side comparisons to the original game showing a dedication to giving the game’s colour pallet a more saturated look that actually works in its favour this time around. The game does fall victim to Unreal Engine 4’s texture streaming issues on PlayStation 4, a subject of controversy earlier this year with Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake. While textures only take a second or two to pop in, while playing in the mulitiplayer mode, the game is a visual nightmare with constant texture loading on top of the awful hit detection and lag. Despite all this, the main game manages to hold a somewhat competent 60 frames-per-second on PlayStation 4, with the game mainly stuttering when there are a lot of Shiny Objects on-screen and especially during downhill slope sections.
The game’s music seems to be lifted entirely from the original game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing given that the tracks still hold up excellently, and I found myself humming them hours after putting the game down each day. In some ways, fans will be happy to know they’ve not touched such memorable tunes from our childhoods, but at the same time, it is disappointing that there was no attempt to rearrange them in any way whatsoever. It also seems that voice dialogue has not been touched either, which is generally fine since the original casts’ performances still hold up perfectly. That said, characters such as Mr. Krabs and Mermaid Man, whose original actors from the show couldn’t/didn’t return for this title, suffer entirely from performances that don’t even come close to resembling their voices from the show, which really sticks out amongst all the familiar voices.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a wonderful reminder of just how great Heavy Iron Studios’ original title really was, and the dedication to the original from Purple Lamp Studios is something many would argue it doesn’t even deserve. Fans of the original Battle for Bikini Bottom will be pleased to hear that Rehydrated is exactly the same game you remember it being, and newcomers are in for an experience that, while certainly lacking in polish in some areas, is an underrated gem that’s full of personality.
Developer: Purple Lamp Studios
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 23rd June 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated was supplied by the publisher.