Playing early 3D platformers like Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot at an impressionable age left an undeniable mark on my taste in games. Jumping around in a 3D space, exploring big environments, and hunting for secrets has always had a certain appeal. That interest carried through over the years to various 3D Marios, Banjo, Conker, and lesser known oddities. Over the last few years, my time with 3D platformers has often been about mining the past, with re-releases of platformers like Sly Cooper and Spyro, or the quasi-remake of Ratchet & Clank.
Needless to say, with 3D platformers less and less common these days, these remakes have been a great way to stick with the genre. It turns out there were a lot of great games among the mascot overload of the late 90s and early 00s. And it was with that knowledge, but no nostalgia for the 2003 game or cartoon, that I set out to review the new remaster of Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom.
I knew the game had a bit of a cult following, and surely many reviewers would approach the remaster with nostalgia in mind. So, I thought it would be a helpful angle to review the game as someone who likes 3D platformers and good games, but has little history with Spongebob Squarepants or the original version of this game. I’d hoped that, much like the re-releases mentioned above, this Spongebob game would capture my imagination and win me over.
But after a few hours and a handful of worlds explored, I’m afraid I had to tap out.
I’m not calling this an official review because, frankly, I think you should play a game to completion if you are going to review it. In some instances it may make sense to play most of the game or many, many hours of it without finishing, but I doubt I got through even a third of it. Therefore, this is not a review, but more of a first-but-also-final-impression of a game I think folks like me should steer clear of.
Here’s the thing: it isn’t 2003. I’m not a bored kid with too much time on my hands, and there isn’t a Blockbuster Video in sight for me to rent this game from for a weekend. In that context, Battle for Bikini Bottom would probably be an okay way to spend a few days.
But even then, I can think of off-the-beaten-path 3D platformers I was playing in 2003 that had more going on than this. Most people have probably never heard of Vexx, but that game came out 8 months before this one. It had massive worlds, a unique combat system, and vertigo inducing platforming. It left an impression on me despite some janky gameplay.
On the other hand, Battle for Bikini Bottom isn’t going for anything other than being a competent platformer that honors the source material. The style is fine, the voice acting and humor is similar to the cartoon, and it seems to have a decent amount to do. Outside of that, I found myself fighting back yawns, pausing to check my phone, and just generally losing interest.
Maybe it’s a big ask to want a game that looks like Spongebob’s world while also offering up some sense of wonder and discovery. Maybe it’s a big ask to want a licensed game from 2003 that also has a few unique ideas up its sleeve. Either way, there’s really nothing here beyond a colorful playground of competent-but-sluggish platforming.
What’s worse is that the level design seems purpose-built to waste your time, either by repeating the same path twice to get a secret item, or through cheap deaths and annoying checkpoints. I wouldn’t say Spongebob is a hard game by any stretch. It’s just a surprisingly frustrating one. I wanted to turn it off at many points, but fought that urge for a while.
To those who have nostalgia for the game and love this remake, that’s great! I’m happy for you. And I know I have many old games I love that if I were to force on someone today, they’d probably hate them. Nostalgia has that effect, and only a handful of games ever remain timeless classics for over 17 years.
That said, if you’re like me, and you just recently heard this platformer has a lot of excitement and a cult following? I would say you should just steer clear. There are plenty of superior alternatives.