Here’s a fun fact for ya, in October of this year Spongebob Squarepants Battle for Bikini Bottom will be seventeen years old. Seventeen. Bikini Bottom is now old enough to drive and pilot a plane, become a blood donor, be interviewed by the police without an adult present and agree to leave its body for medical science upon passing away. Now, a lot of this is hard to believe purely because well, Bikini Bottom has aged really, really well. In a Steve Carrell kind of way. I think back to the original – of which I played on the Gamecube though also available on Xbox, PC and the PlayStation 2 – and the visuals were really quite terrible. Not ‘looking-back-wow-visuals-have-improved-so-much’ kind of way but in a more ‘yes, even then it was pretty bad’ kind of way.
For a game based on a hugely popular license it was surprising to see the games presentation take a backseat to the actual gameplay, something you didn’t often see in licensed games of the time, it was always more important for the game to ‘look’ like that of which it’s wanting to be rather than how it played. If people see something they recognise, they’re more likely to buy it. Fortunately for Spongebob Squarepants Battle for Bikini Bottom, this has worked in its favour to a degree that I can’t quite explain. Now the visuals have caught up with the gameplay, it’s hard to argue that this remake is anything less than a truly great platformer.
Now I’m just gonna get this out there at the top; I was never really a huge fan of Spongebob Squarepants. I get its appeal and that damn theme song is surely one of the most memorable of all time, but seventeen years ago I was eighteen and I think I may have just been outside of its key demographic. Sure, looking back on it now there are episodes with jokes so alarmingly aimed at parents you have to wonder how the show ever got away with it, and to its credit Bikini Bottom doesn’t shy away from this aspect of the show either, but I just couldn’t get into it. I picked the game up to rent from ye olde Blockbuster Video one quiet weekend and had a good time with it, but it didn’t make me rush out to buy cushions with Spongebob’s great big yellow face on it. But that’s the jist I why I loved my time with Rehydrated – if you’re a fan of well constructed and often hilarious platformers, you’re going to find yourself having an absolute blast with this shiny remake, regardless if you’re a fan of the source material. If you know nothing at all about Spongebob, Rehydrated is a crash course in everything you could ever wish to know.
From the outset, it’s all familiar territory for a seasoned platformer. Bikini Bottom is full of colour and vibrant, stuffed with activities to partake in and a great many shiny objects you can use to trade and open doors in later levels. You’re tasked with saving Bikini Bottom from the evil schemes of that little nightmare Plankton, who has created a legion of robots but quickly learned to think for themselves, turning against his evil plan and instead terrorising Bikini Bottom and its adjourning world, the kingdom that Plankton so craves to rule. In an effort to bring an end to their destruction Plankton recruits Spongebob, his adorable but rather clueless best friend, pink starfish Patrick and a squirrel in a spacesuit known as Sandy to save Bikini Bottom and rid the world of these pesky robot ne’er-do-wells from their underwater paradise.
To proceed through the game you’ll need to collect the almighty Golden Spatulas, the prize Spongebob, Patrick or Sandy will receive after either finishing a level or a task. Collecting a certain amount will allow you to proceed to future areas, so you’re going to want to collect as many as you can whilst tearing through each level. Some are hidden away whilst some are behind tough battles with various robot fiends that you can’t escape without winning the round and securing yourself that trusty spatula. You can also trade shiny objects – of which you’ll collect thousands upon thousands without even noticing – for Spatulas, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for any opportunity to snag them, whether they’re out in the open in helpful lines or hidden inside Tiki’s that your chosen character can smash to bits, though if you miss some they have a rather handy habit of flowing towards you like a magnet. Thanks, shiny objects.
Another collectible you’ll be on the hunt for is Patrick’s socks, another form of currency you can trade for Golden Spatulas. These can be in plain sight or hidden rather well across the levels, and much like discovering spatulas you can see but can’t reach, you’ll need certain characters to collect certain socks, allowing you to have fun experimenting with who can do what.
Whilst each character shares the basic attacks – jumping attack, jump and um, attack – their individual abilities allow you to utilise their strengths in multiple ways. Spongebob has a vertical jumping attack allowing him to bring down enemies above him along with unlocking bowling ball bubbles and homing bubbles from the recurring Bubble Buddy, Patrick can throw things such as fruit and downed enemies towards switches and other enemies, along with temporarily freezing water to reach areas Spongebob can’t. Sandy is able to glide for a delightfully helpful amount of time along with grappling across Texas shaped floating hooks she connects to with her Lasso. As mentioned before certain areas will require certain characters and as you fall into minigames you may not be able to try them if you don’t have the correct hero selected. You can switch between two of the three in areas that require them, so you don’t need to worry about not being able to access their abilities as and when you need them.
All included locations will be instantly familiar to Spongebob fans, and if you’ve played the original you’re going to be more excited than finishing a shift at the Krusty Krab with just how good everything looks. From the Chumb Bucket, Rock Bottom, the Jelly Fish Fields and the Tree Dome (which a hilariously dehydrated Spongebob has to take on a parade of robot enemies before he can secure a Golden Spatula and escape), these levels are stacked with detail and loving touches by remake developer Purple Lamp Studios showcase just how much care and attention they’ve paid to world of Spongebob, in a similar way original developers Heavy Iron Studios did back in 2002.
Way back when Battle for Bikini Bottom was praised for how it felt more like an extension of the cartoon, such was the level of detail added to the game, and Rehydrated is no exception. As with most licensed games you’ll get the most out of the experience if you’re already a fan of the source material, but there’s plenty here to turn your head even if you don’t know why a sponge is best friends with a Starfish and battling robots in an underwater kingdom and works in a restaurant. Again, as a non-fan, I found myself laughing along at the dialogue on several occasions, such is how well written the dialogue is. I’d even go as far to say Bikini Bottom is one of the most accomplished uses of a non-game license in games I’ve seen for a while, such is the painstaking level of fan service around every corner, whether it’s taking on giant robot versions of Squidward or Patrick in the Poseidome, the various and funny one-liners when securing health – in the form of Spongebob’s underwear, though they can grate when heard multiple times – the majority of the shows actual voice cast – minus Mr.Krabs, who does an admirable here – on top form throughout, my personal highlight being just how damn expressive Gary the Snail’s voice actor Tom Kenny – who also voices Spongebob – can make a character who can only communicate by meowing. That the three main characters can understand every nuance and inflection as if it were a full sentence, in a similar way Rocket Raccoon understands Groot, was a small part of the game I found charming and delightful, and was always happy to see Gary appear to aid our heroes. Maybe I should catch up on the show?
What stands out to me the most though? The considered thought of the level design. For a game that’s seventeen years old, it almost feels ahead of its time. The hub world of Bikini Bottom you’re free to explore as you unlock more Golden Spatulas, the slow roll out of new mechanics, the enemy variations and how you’ll come across certain Spatula tasks that you can’t finish until you come back later in the game with a new skill, it almost feels untoward to call Bikini Bottom a mere licensed platformer, because it feels like the game itself is being lumped in with the endless shovelware we were subjected to back in the generation of its original release. That the game has amassed a cult following to such an extent that this remake even happened in the first place is testament to how it simply doesn’t feel like it belongs in that generation.
And while some hangovers remain in place – the collect-a-thon feel of it all, the areas that you can easily walk into or climb up to, even though the game clearly doesn’t want you to be there as the hand of the Admiral appears on screen to place you back where you’re supposed to be, some rather cheap deaths thanks to camera placement and certain teeth grindingly frustrating puzzle design that had me wanting to chew my own arm off – bloody Spongebob dream levels – the whole package is so neatly tied up in a bright yellow bow, you can’t stay mad it for too long. It’s just too much fun.
And well, these aren’t words I say lightly. Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is probably one my favourite 3D platformers of the generation, offering up an experience that’s more Ratchet & Clank than Yooka-Laylee.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more Golden Spatulas to collect. Sorry Joel and Ellie, you’re just going to have to wait.
Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is out June 23rd for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro) and PC.
Developer: Purple Lamp Studios
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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