There are two kinds of people: Those that like SpongeBob, and those that do not. Or, for many, that divide is even simpler: Children and Adults, respectively. Cliche opening aside, I often find SpongeBob to be one of the more divisive entertainment products out there. There’s no denying the impact it’s had throughout 21-odd years invading our retinas and, worse, eardrums. The laugh alone has the ability to dissuade potential consumers from sticking with the porous titular character but, as mentioned, 21 years is a long time for a cartoon to run. It’s only a mere 10 years younger than The Simpsons, to put it in perspective. My stand on SpongeBob SquarePants is a very strong “eh”. I enjoy the odd moment in passing but, much like Family Guy and South Park, the vast majority of the content at hand does little to entertain.
With this all being said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I never played the original SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom in 2003 because, quite frankly, why would I? Vastly better, more everlasting games were released; Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Final Fantasy X-2 and Mario Kart: Double Dash, to name but a few. Whilst developers mattered very little to the 12-year-old Nick, I was certainly aware that THQ excelled at licensed games of middling quality.
17 years later, THQ have certainly been on a bit of a journey since their earlier, arguably more successful years – at least in terms of market prominence. From liquidation in 2012 to the eventual reemergence in 2014 under Nordic Games (soon to be known as THQ Nordic in 2016) all the way to the present day with the acquisition of at least 18,427 studios and brands, it only seems inevitable that the back catalogues be combed through for anything that could possibly warrant a remake. We’ve had awfully named Darksiders remakes, with Warmastered Edition and Deathinitive Edition being released for the first and second game respectively. We’ve had the even more awfully named Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered. And now… Now we have SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated. Yay.
As much as I loathe the occasional rhetoric in reviews, I think it’s important to answer the question everyone’s thinking: “Why are you reviewing a SpongeBob game, then, if you detest it so?” A valid question, sure, but it’s largely due to being yet another remake of an aged platformer, something that we’re all too aware has seen quite a resurgence in the past few years. With the noteworthy Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy collections gracing both our retinas and digits, it’s easy to be optimistic about the concept of Battle for Bikini Bottom returning, but it’s equally easy to question, quite frankly, why it’s coming back in the first place at all. Little to no demand for a resurgence in SpongeBob platformers has resulted in THQ Nordic reviving a platformer of a bygone era and, outside of the game’s resurgence in speedrunning communities, it seems that they’re simply trying to capitalise on the latest trend.
Worries aside, however, there’s certainly something for letting the game instead justify its existence. Mere moments in, however, it’s clear to see that SpongeBob feels like I had imagined, being that of an older platform with little-to-no modernisations outside of the souped-up visuals. A wildly awkward camera plagued my first few hours and made the mere act of playing the game a chore, and when the humour fails to deliver more often than not, it further muddies an already questionable existence. Granted, the humour issue would have been an issue in the original release too, yet the flat voice recordings remain the same; an arguably easy amendment to have been made for Rehydrated. The lack of emotion from some voice actors (some of which are those used in the show whilst others are not) diminish the essence of SpongeBob Squarepants for many and again, leave the game feeling flat in the delivery.
It’s clear to see my disappointment in the general execution of this remaster but it’s easy to imagine that this will be something of an awkward delight for those who are re-experiencing this. General movement and combat feels simplistic-yet-serviceable throughout the various restrained environments found throughout the course of this dozen-or-so hour journey, depending on your level of commitment to finding the various collectibles the adventure has to offer. The plot is as “SpongeBob” as one would expect: Plankton, the series’ disputable “villain”, is once again trying to steal the Krabby Patty Secret Formula. His latest scheme involved the creation of the Duplicatotron 3000 machines, but managed to set the switch to “Don’t Obey”, thus causing havoc throughout Bikini Bottom. Through controlling SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy, you’re tasked with collecting Golden Spatulas (think Mario’s Stars in ‘64) as you make your way through various locales. It’s par for the course in 3D platformers, but instead of having the character that the Dragons had in Spyro the Dragon, or the environment had in the sublime Jak & Daxter, SpongeBob feels as by-the-books as they come.
And, really, that’s a shame. For a title such as this to be given another lease of life 17 years later and not have the opportunity truly seized by developers Purple Lamp Studios (worth noting that Heavy Iron Studios developed the 2003 game, and also showed interest in developing a remake prior to the announcement) bar the addition of a wholly inconsequential multiplayer mode is astounding. If the combing through back catalogues is going to seem nefarious to the vast majority of potential consumers, the least they could do is warrant it’s existence instead of re-releasing it alongside a £259.99 Collectors Edition. Yeah. Really.
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