At this point in time, who even needs an introduction to SpongeBob SquarePants? Ever since making a splash on Nickelodeon in 1999, he’s become the unofficial mascot of the channel for more than 20 years as well as one of the most iconic cartoons in history. Throughout his years of fame, there’s been a plethora of merchandise ranging from toys, clothes, movies, and of course, video games. Out of all the video games produced, Battle For Bikini Bottom has garnered the most praise from fans of the show and general gamers. Pushing beyond the boundaries of mediocrity that has plagued licensed games since the 1980’s (keep that in mind), Battle for Bikini Bottom sold more than expected and has since been requested by many gamers to remake, especially after the original saw a resurgence in the speed running community. And with so many franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Resident Evil getting the remake treatment after years of public demands, THQ Nordic enlisted Purple Lamp Studios with the task of reintroducing this cult classic to those who grew up with it as well as new generations of SpongeBob and video game fans. But is there anything new to offer from this pineapple under the sea?
On a day of playing horses and robots, SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick wish that they could play with real robots instead of toys. Little do they know that their wish would be granted much sooner than expected thanks to the owner of The Chum Bucket, Plankton. Plankton builds a machine to summon an army of robots to do his bidding in his quest to steal the Krabby Patty formula. The only problem is he forgot to program them to obey their master, and thus the robots mutiny and run amuck all over Bikini Bottom. With the help of their Texas squirrel friend Sandy Cheeks, SpongeBob and Patrick set off to destroy all the robots and incapacitate Plankton before he can regain control of his maniacal metallic children.
The story keeps to the simplicity of the show’s charm and it doesn’t need a complicated narrative to get you invested. Sometimes a hoard of robots facing off against a sea sponge, a star fish, and a squirrel is the best way to spend a weekend with the family, which is still full of the hilarious writing and character banter: some of which can even lead to some surprisingly risque punchlines. It’s like playing an episode of the show.
The biggest addition to this remake is the graphical overhaul that presents a brighter and more colorful undersea world that isn’t stuck in the shadows of the original’s shaded approach. Most notably the kelp forest that’s no longer a dreary shot in the dark with even less lighting than Rock Bottom. But for something available on current gen consoles, there seems to be a lot of pop-in moments throughout the whole adventure (not on the PC editions). A character will start talking and it’ll take some time for all the detailed textures to load. This technical issue shouldn’t be happening on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or the Nintendo Switch with all the advancements in technology. But what it presented on screen is such a colorful marvel of an update. Character models are more expressive and varied, down to their idle animations, and the world itself is filled with so many different locations despite taking place in one town.
The audio recycles all the voice acting from the original as evident from the lack of enlisting Clancy Brown, the real voice of Mr. Krabs, for this remake as well as the archival recording of the late Tim Conway as Barnacle Boy. Youtuber UncleAl did offer to voice Mr. Krabs for free, but THQ Nordic apparently didn’t get the memo. Other than that, all the voice acting from the likes of Tom Kenny, Rodger Bumpass, Doug Lawrence, Bill Fagerbakke, and Carolyn Lawrence are still top notch in breathing life into these memorable characters. The music is probably the most noteworthy aspect in both the original and the rehydrated version in their catchiness and addictive melodies. Now that they’re in stereo, it even more pleasing to the ears. I’m pretty sure this whole game was remade solely to get that overworld theme stuck everyone’s head again. While there could’ve been more done to polish up the new graphics, it’s a pretty decent attempt to make an already colorful setting feel more like the cartoon.
Battle for Bikini Bottom comes from a time when collectathon platformers were going out of style in favor of more mature shooters like Halo. Bringing it to the modern age where platformers have since made a huge comeback in the likes of Yooka-Laylee, Shovel Knight, and A Hat in Time does show a lot of cracks in what hasn’t aged since the mid 2000’s. That’s not to say there aren’t fun moments to have in this outing, but it’s clear from the very beginning that the intention is to preserve everything to a fault. You take control of SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy who each have their own abilities. SpongeBob can perform attacks with his bubble wand and even acquire upgrades down the line, Patrick can carry heavy objects like watermelons or ice blocks, and Sandy can use her lasso as a gliding mechanic or for combat. Tasks vary in the different ways of obtaining golden spatulas a la Jiggys in Banjo-Kazooie. You collect them to access more areas and eventually square off against a giant robot boss that resembles once of the characters. The battles are very creative, especially the final two part showdown. With each task being very distinct from on another it never get repetitive. Currency comes in the form of shiny objects that can open new paths as well as convince Mr. Krabs to sell you more golden spatulas. The main side quest involving searching for Patrick’s missing socks encourages exploration which in turn earns you even more golden spatulas. And there are some improvements here. The controls for each character from their moves to the camera are tighter and everyone is now able to attack in the air (looking at you, Patrick). Auto-saving is a godsend when you’re busy fighting robots and hoarding enough shiny objects for future purchases. And the encounters with the robots can get very challenging down the line after going through tough challenges like sandboarding down slopes.
But everything else in the gameplay is kept in tact for better and worse. Certain features that worked 17 years ago like switching characters at a bus stop are now a huge time waster. It’s the tag barrel from Donkey Kong 64 all over again, which can artificially lengthen the gameplay in how much time it takes to switch between characters at one location when certain puzzles requires more than one ability to find the solution. Patrick can’t jump while carrying objects, which should be a no brainer these days making the puzzles even more of a chore to solve. If you’ve played the original game, there’s no surprises this time around. No new challenges, now additional character upgrades, not even any new endgame content to justify going for the 100 percent completion. But okay, what about the cut content from the original that was a highlight in the marketing? Surely a remake would be the perfect opportunity to bring those ideas back from the cutting room floor, right?
Sadly, it some of the most disappointing integration of additional content, if it’s even put to use in the first place. The highlighted battle against a giant robot Squidward isn’t part of the single player campaign like the other three bosses, instead being relegated to a forgettable horde mode where you battle multiple groups of robots before pushing a button to hit the giant cephalopod. Not only do you not get to fight the mechanical menace, but horde mode itself goes on for far too long to the point where so many online partners quit the session after 30 minutes of slogging through the repetitive combat. Can’t blame them because in a setting where a giant octopus is overshadowed by the most basic of enemies, it’s insulting to the creative design. Patrick’s deleted dream is also dumped into horde mode with the various food islands that would’ve been a neat new addition to the single player campaign during the dream sequence. And the anchor arms that was supposed to be part of the robot SpongeBob battle is just left floating in Goo Lagoon along with all the other wasted potential that would set this version apart from the original. If ever there was an example on how NOT to bring back cut content, this takes the cake.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a paint by numbers remake: it fills in the blanks of what made it fun, but it doesn’t strive to fix the problems of the original. For every improvement this update tries to bring to the modern age, there’s a cost at every turn. The graphical overhaul is amazing with the saturated colors and expressive animations, but the console editions suffers way too often from never-ending pop-in textures, even after post launch patches. The voice acting is top notch, but barely any effort was made to improve where it could’ve have been more faithful with the original cast. The gameplay is varied, but some mechanics that worked 17 years ago aren’t tweaked for the sake of modern gaming. Worst of all, the promised cut content was completely wasted when it was practically handed on a silver platter for new generations. With so many remakes coming out these days, the best kinds are those that can put a new spin on the original, fix any outdated mechanics, and give previously cut content a chance to show off its once wasted potential. Rumor has it that this game might have suffered a rushed development in order to meet the now delayed release date of the new SpongeBob Movie Sponge on the Run (unless you’re in Canada). If that’s the case, then THQ Nordic could’ve delayed the game for a couple of month if only just to iron out the few glitches still present. But with all the said, it’s not even close to being a two out of ten like some “professional” websites proclaim it to be after failing to incorporate gameplay description when blindly praising The Last of Us Part 2. After all, there’s more to video games than mimicking the cinematic experience. And Rehydrated at least gets by because of the fun platforming and the witty writing and voice acting from the show. That being said, when people say this is a good licensed game, that might not stack up to recent milestones like Super Mario Odyssey or Ratchet and Clank. Your mileage on this game will depend on how many other platformers you’ve played and whether on not the SpongeBob aesthetic is enough to justify at least 30 dollars: not a bad price compared to inferior licensed games that demanded 60 dollars upon release.
Fans of the show should definitely give it a shot since, by default, this is the definitive way to experience this cult classic. The original game is priced from 40 to 80 dollars on the disc alone. With Rehydrated being available on current gen consoles, it single handedly won the battle by being more accessible. But whichever version you purchase, be it on PC or consoles, steer clear of the Nintendo Switch edition as it’s been diagnosed with bugs, glitches, and low quality sprites rather than high definition lighting. But for this SpongeBob gamer, there’s still enough fun to be had for a return trip under the sea.