Who knew life underwater came with such a short draw distance?
Way back in the days of the PS2 and Gamecube (and the original Xbox, I guess), publishers were trying their absolute darndest to make 3D platformers happen, especially with movie and TV licenses. Almost every animated show and movie (and several non-animated ones) had a companion video game, and most of them were 3D platformers. Really, really bad 3D platformers. However, there was a standout among those games: SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom. While it was a tie-in to the world-famous SpongeBob Squarepants show, it was an original story built from the ground up. And it was good! Surprisingly good! Such a thing was unthinkable for licensed games, but they made it work. When the word came out that they were giving this underdog game the full remaster treatment, the internet’s nostalgic hype went through the roof. Was the hype warranted? Eh… somewhat.
The story of this game is pretty inconsequential. Plankton made a machine that makes robots, but forgot to make them obey him, so they start running amok. Meanwhile, SpongeBob and Patrick make an innocent wish for some robot buddies to play with, and when the robots start rampaging, they assume their wish went sour and it’s their responsibility to clean it up. Also, Sandy’s there. The overarching story isn’t the point, it’s the character interactions. All of the voice lines from the original game have been carried over, but are now accompanied by much more fluid and detailed character animations that give them a little extra charm and personality. SpongeBob himself has like, 20 unique idle animations, including a few pretty hilarious references. Though, as amusing as the voice lines are, they do wear a bit thin after SpongeBob repeats them a few dozen times.
As for the gameplay, it’s mostly unchanged. Jump around, smack some robots and buttons and whatnot, pick up lots of assorted stuff. If there’s a single problem with this simple formula, it’s that it’s not always super clear where you’re supposed to be able to go and what’s just set dressing, and jumping into said set dressing often results in an inadvertent death. Also, it might be my imagination, but the jumping physics seem a bit wonky. It’s not always entirely clear how far a jump will carry you or whether you’re close enough to a ledge for SpongeBob to pull himself up. Admittedly, it has been a while since I played the original game, so maybe it was always like that, but if that were the case, it really should’ve been fixed.
I’ll give the game this, it is gorgeous. All of the old graphics have been touched up and redesigned, and have much more pop and color as a result. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t seem especially well optimized to display these gorgeous graphics. Textures frequently blur and pop in, and the draw distance is strangely short. Enemies, items, and even just grass seem to pop in and out even when they’re not especially far from you, which becomes annoying if you need to hone in on something far away and can’t see it until it’s right in front of you. Dying becomes even more of a chore due to this, because every time you die, the game has to completely reload all of the items and textures. Every time I fell into a pit or something, I’d have to sit through a 20-second load time, which completely murders the pace of the platforming. In fairness, I played the Switch version of the game, which from what I’ve read online, isn’t as well optimized as the other versions. The PC version seems to run much more cleanly, though apparently still not perfectly.
There’s also the new multiplayer horde battle mode, which I played exactly once, and then swore to never do so again. It works well enough; enemies spawn in, and you and up to three buddies smash them all until the game says stop, it’s just… really, really boring. There’s a giant robot Squidward looming over you the whole time, and whenever you clear five islands or so, he loses a tentacle, which means you gotta do eight sets of five to “win.” No thanks.
Despite graphical problems and bad load times, the game is fun enough. The platforming’s fine, and dialogue does make me smile. Unless you played the game as a kid, are a die-hard SpongeBob fan, or are yourself a child, though, you probably wouldn’t get much out of Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated. It’s a serviceable platformer in a vacuum, but there are more interesting games to play.