What is a remake, and what is a remaster. A remake will take a pre-existing property, and then make changes to it completely from it’s core to allow for what was originally envisioned to fruition due to the absence of technological and financial constraints. The absence being only available through the passage of time. While simultaneously keeping what made the property distinguishable at first. A remaster, will par up visual content to current standards.
SpongeBob SquarePants Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a terrible example of a remake, especially in a world where RE2/RE3 as well as FF7 remakes exist. However, this game is an exemplar remaster. The game is as fans remember, but brought up to current generations while bringing 17 years of visual progress and expectancy to the title.
The fun, and accessible platformer was a gem back in the era of it’s original launch. It is also a gem now. However, can it find identity in a much more homogeneous environment of platformer existence, in a post Super Mario Odyssey world?
Yes, it can. This remaster stays true to it’s source material, while making the necessary changes to modernize it without changing the core experience.
SpongeBob presents some of the best platforming of it’s type, comparable to the works of Banjo Kazooie and Crash Bandicoot. However it is missing the flow of movement found in Mario’s 3D platformers. Instead of forcing momentum into every level (like how many 3D Sonic games failed to do) they have sections for more momentum based gameplay. More specifically the sliding sections. So that there rarely is any point where switching between momentum and precise platforming becomes a hinderance on the game. It is a cheap trick, but it set out to avoid many other issues that may have arisen such as failing to meet the movement flow and standards of Mario games. They just chose not to be like them.
Combat is easy, where enemies have obvious strengths, weaknesses and exploits. Players also do not have to use the same tactic to defeat enemies, their exploits can be used by whatever character move set is available for them. Speaking of characters, the three mainline playable do not feel so distinctly different in terms of movement speed and jump height. It is more their abilities and combat approach that make them different. SpongeBob has a strong width of abilities given that he is a required presence at every level. Patrick hits harder and can lift items, but is missing many of SpongeBob’s moves. Sandy can 1-hit nearly anything with her lasso and swing and hover for precise platforming. Each character’s abilities are used to solve puzzles and their presence seems justified.
Level design is one of the best parts of this game for many reasons. One being that levels vary with challenge, in terms of combat and platforming. As well as adding some surface level “puzzle” solving. The literal puzzles themselves may be just to pick up and throw items, or to hit switches in a certain sequence (such as the rolling ball puzzle in the Mermalair). But some of the best puzzles are as simple as reaching any of the game’s many Golden Spatulas or Patrick’s socks that may taunt you in at-a-glance unreachable places. The later form of puzzles is the game rewarding the player for curiosity, think of a primitive version of finding Koroks from Breath of the Wild.
To an older player, this game was not difficult. It is easy to 100% all missions and collectibles in every level as you go. There are only two levels in the first act (out of the three levels per act) that require the player to return with an ability gained from later acts. During that point, all other collectibles can be easily earned as the opportunity to gain them arises. Boss fights are guided and simple even throughout their stages, and still act as platforming levels themselves. The restored content is not something to “write home about” per-se, but at the best, the restored content is neat. The extended ending was a welcome surprise that felt like it naturally belonged in the game, but was likely taken out for two reasons: one being the difficulty inconsistency with the final boss fight, and the other being dragging out what is a natural end.
There were a few bugs in my playthrough, but there has been nothing that has prevented me from playing the game. The occasional drop through the platform or cutscene model glitch is disappointing to see in a remaster of a 17 year old game. But then again, developers expect players to pay full price for games that are not even finished to begin with, so the bugs are reluctantly looked past given that this game is nearly one quarter the price of other remasters consisting of the same amount of content. Its not okay, its just what we have come to expect nowadays.
The multiplayer addition is at best like Squidward is as a clarinet player: mediocre. Combat feels like the players barely do any damage if any at all at times. The music is boring (a constant loop of Rock Bottom’s eerie soundtrack) and the enemies spam all their attacks at once often leading to cheap deaths. Even then, there really is no difficulty as the multiplayer mode allows infinite respawns as you complete the 78 waves to defeat Robo-Squidward. (26 islands with 3 waves each). The other characters do not feel like they pack as large of a punch as the mainlines, though unique in their standard attack and “butt slam”-esque abilities. The best usage of this multiplayer mode is to keep really young gamers occupied, or just something on in the background as you chat.
This game has come a long way in 17 years. Colours are saturated and vibrant, arguably to the point where it may be too washed out. Nonetheless it is a treat on the eyes, emphasized by the soft oil-painting-esque aesthetic that more recent SpongeBob side content has adopted. Animations have been improved to add more character and emotional depth (especially during cutscenes) as well as feeling as “cartoony” as the series is. Foliage is lush, vibrant, and every texture seems to incorporate the art style of the game as a whole. The textures also feel “natural”, in terms of expected perceptions of all the models, characters and landscapes. Lighting is sharp and moody where and when it needs to be, with reliable shadows appearing on platforms to help aim jumps.
The largest surprise was that for most of the game, the frame rate remained consistently smooth (at least 55 frames) on an Xbox One S. There were hiccups in more lighting intensive areas or sequences (like large tiki explosions to calculate shadows for dozens of shiny objects, or the first area of Goo Lagoon). This could be mostly due to the rather disappointing draw distance that makes some slides perilous as the track can appear to be shrouded up until the last second.
Some personal notes: Dry SpongeBob looks amazing, and Handsome Squidward makes an appearance!
The soundtrack is identical to its predecessor. That is not a bad thing. The soundtrack is stellar and bound to get stuck in some ears. The music is fresh, but feels familiar in a SpongeBob setting, even for the more “videogamey” sequences, like boss fights. Sound mixing can be inconsistent at times, where some sound bites are either distorted from compression, or uncharacteristically too loud. This does not translate well over to the multiplayer mode, as the sound is focused for whatever is closer to the screen, so if a player dwells far enough from the screen, they will make little to no noise. Sound design itself is great. It is cartoony, over the top, silly and fits right in with the rest of the game. It’s also great to hear most of the standard voice actors, except for Mr.Krabs.
The story is straightforward with all the goofy plot points and progression one would expect from an episode form the series. The basic plot (for those interested): an army of robots take over Bikini Bottom and its various locales, and it’s up to SpongeBob, Sandy and Patrick to stop them by collecting Golden Spatulas. Sounds like classic SpongeBob. Meaning that the plot only takes itself as serious as it needs to be, and spoilers, it is not very serious. This is where this game rules. The plot resembles episodes from the show. Including its silliness, goofiness and extreme reluctance to be grounded. Each level seems completely disconnected and isolated. Where the same characters will give you different objectives to fulfill on those levels and segments of those levels. Where the only binding element are the robots that are uniformly present and persistent across those levels. Which naturally works with the game due to it’s silly nature. Essentially like different episodes with the same enemies keeping it serialized, creating a nice 4-6 hour episode.
Just a note that the game itself uses episodes and plotlines up until 2003 as inspiration for the game, level and characters. With reference to later episodes being in the form of Easter eggs or even still images.
This game is a horrible remake, but a prime example of a remaster. The core content and mechanics are changed little to none from what one may remember it to be. However, they are brought up to today’s visual expectations and console standards, providing the option to introduce the content to those who would otherwise be unable to access it in the first place. The game plays well for what it was at the time, and the expectation of that change is one that is unreasonable for what the game promises. The gameplay is simple and fun while providing challenge to those who may seek it. Every element’s presence feels justified in the context of the content. Visuals are excellent and vibrant, allowing for immersion in a different art style from the original. The soundtrack is bomb, as is the work of the returning voice actors. The story is a prime example on how to approach licensed content, keep it fresh, and in the style of the source content. Though buggy at times, none were game-breaking. The game ran at a smooth framerate for mostly throughout. On top of all this, this game is at a noticeably reduced price, where most publishers would price the same amount and lower quality content for double the value.
This is normally where the conclusion would end, but since this is my first review, I have a bit of a preface:
It is unfair that the game is being bombed in “official reviews” due to the fact that the reviewers did not understand the purpose or promises of the game. But more likely there are those who simply did not receive any “promotional income” from THQ (I’m looking at you IGN). Which leads me to another point.
Giving reviews by using numerical ratings is outrageous, unfair, and promotes bias. The simple fact is that not everyone is going to love or hate a videogame. If one person loves or hates this product, then it is a viable product that either failed or completed it’s purpose at least once. That is why there can never be a failing score or a perfect score for reviews. Objectivity is key, not how much money the product can rack in. So to put it simply and to finally add my bias to this review:
I recommend this game. It is a must play for fans of the 2003 original, it is a neat product for SpongeBob fans (particularly those who watched during the shows’ first peak, around the development of this game) , and an enjoyable experience for those who like platformers. It is a solid overall experience, and anyone listed above would have a good time.
I would not recommend this game to someone who hates/dislikes or is simply not a fan of either/or SpongeBob and platformers.
- Al’s Abstract- “This game is bold, but not brash, so it does not belong in the trash, 11.265 stinky health inspector murdering patties out of 19.48465”