In the world of gaming, time is rarely a healer. If you’re in your mid-30s like I am, chances are that more than a few games you grew up with and loved are now almost unplayable, to the point you can’t understand how you ever enjoyed them in the first place.
Luckily, it appears the reverse can be true as well. Back in 2003, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Battle for Bikini Bottom didn’t interest me at all. I was indifferent to the TV show, and while it was a perfectly serviceable game, the likes of Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper were doing something new and more innovative; I shrugged SpongeBob off after just a couple of hours.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated–the near-identical ground-up remake of the regularly hydrated PlayStation 2 release–proves its original release was as ahead of its time as its contemporaries. As far as faithful, ground-up remakes of older games go, this is the most clear-cut success I’ve seen in years–but for all its positives, it still shows its age.
Not in it for the plot
So, here’s the storyline: bad robots. That’s about it. These malicious machines have been released into Bikini Bottom by Plankton, who created them using the Duplicatotron 3000 in order to steal the Krabby Patty Secret Recipe. But being an idiot, he puts his metal minions on “Don’t Obey” mode, so they create havoc across Bikini Bottom and beyond. It’s up to playable characters SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy to sort it out.
This may be a paper-thin plot, but the game knows this, and it’s self-aware enough to pull it off; instead, it focuses on allowing SpongeBob fans to explore his world. Starting in SpongeBob’s house, you’re eased into the basics; great music, arresting colors and a surprisingly smooth, stable framerate enhances the experience, while tutorials are helpful but not nannying.
However, your purpose gets fuzzy quickly. Battle for Bikini Bottom’s lack of story also means you’re not fully aware of what you’re meant to do, save for smashing regularly respawning robots to pieces. Gates for different levels are found across Bikini Bottom, and have “golden spatula”-based entry fees; this currency is found in difficult-to-reach places, or won through missions set by various characters. Finding which people need your help isn’t always obvious; some offer dialogue, while others just stare blankly into your soul.
A huge, challenging blast from the past
The levels, once you access them, aren’t too hard to figure out; they’re also massive, but carefully planned in linear directions. The skills you need for each mission depend on your chosen character, but it’s pretty obvious who you need to be and when. SpongeBob can bungee; Patrick can throw things; and Sandy, who arguably has the best tricks up her sleeve, can glide, lasso enemies, and can swing on hanging pins in the air. You swap between characters using bus stops dotted around the levels, but these are nearly always in the last place you want them to be.
There’s a good variety of challenges to get your spatulas: sliding down tracks, bouncing your way from building to building, swinging from hook to hook, all while being attacked by the game’s variety of enemies. The range of robots is fun and challenging from the get-go; cutscenes, which use a derpy fish as an unwitting victim, show how each one works. You actively look forward to meeting new foes as a result.
Yet while it may look modern, SpongeBob SquarePants still feels and plays like a PlayStation 2 game. This isn’t necessarily bad, especially for seasoned platform gamers–the controls feel comfortable and there’s usually a generous margin of error. However, certain sections that rely on additional mechanics, such as seesaws with weird gravity, can be horrific. The simple act of jumping can sometimes catch you out–it’s often impossible to gauge whether you’ll clear a gap or not.
Luckily, these frustrations aren’t too constant, and there’s more than enough to distract you from frustrating missions or difficult encounters. For one, it’s a collector’s heaven, with a wealth of objects to find and a tick-list of challenges to cross off. Teleportation points let you fast travel around the level once you’re in clean-up mode, making it easier for perfectionists.
Even though SpongeBob SquarePants Rehydrated is a varied, fun and enjoyable platformer, it’s not without some real bugbears. The camera can be slow, and has a nasty habit of getting stuck on the terrain, giving you unshakeable and extreme close-ups of your character that you can’t escape.
Certain game modes are more luck than skill, too; the bungee sections are unbearable and seem to lack any accuracy, while challenges involving rising and falling hazards (such as navigating platforms in water) feel poorly timed.
As for the dialogue, conversations can go on a bit too long and are often dull, with only the occasional zinger to make them worthwhile. You’ll also hear incidental catchphrases, such as “fresh like a spring breeze!” every time you pick up health underpants, around 500 times an hour. Don’t go near SpongeBob’s fridge, either: his seven cries of “I’d make myself a snack but there’s NO TIME!” in about 15 seconds made me want to rip my ears off.
The biggest issue, however, is just how unstable the game can be; it crashed at least three times on Xbox One X, and characters had a habit of getting stuck on things–most notably, teleportation boxes–resulting in that horrible reverb noise you have no choice but to sit through and wince at until the game catches up and fixes it. At least you can reload to your nearest checkpoint.
Having played pretty much every single brightly-colored remaster, remake and rehash of a classic platform franchise, SpongeBob excels by striking a simple, fine balance of fun. It’s challenging and frustrating, but not outright punishing like Crash; it’s bright, fun and varied, but doesn’t bore you like Spyro can; plus it’s well-written and funny, unlike every Sonic game since he blue hedgehog turned 3D, got a SoCal accent and a posse of idiotic friends. For $30, you’ll get your money’s worth, and perhaps more.
The Rehydrated experience is the gaming equivalent of the time they restored the Sistine Chapel in the 1980s. Those with an intimate knowledge of The Battle for Bikini Bottom will feel vindicated by its refurbishment, and should only enjoy it more, while a few newcomers like me will find an appreciation for it. At the same time, some people just aren’t into older stuff, however pretty it now looks. A modern platformer this is not.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Battle for Bikini Bottom Remastered is now available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of Spongebob Squarepants: The Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated in exchange for a fair and honest review.