Despite, or more likely because of, being one of the weirdest characters to come out of children’s TV, SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the most enduring. From never-ending reruns to merchandise and memes, the rectangular idiot is still seemingly everywhere and video games are no exception. He’s been front and centre of all the Nickelodeon titles, whether karting or fighting, and has some fondly remembered PS2 era games, and now we have a brand new game in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake.
Something of a spiritual successor to SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, which Purple Lamp Studios recently
remastered rehydrated, The Cosmic Shake takes many of the design and game features of earlier games and marries them to a new story.
The backstory to Cosmic Shake is as gritty and realistic as you might expect. SpongeBob and Patrick come across a magic bubble blower that can visualise your dreams and wishes, and then proceed to use it irresponsibly. It turns out that the blower is one of Neptune’s most powerful devices and using it plunges the whole of Bikini Bottom into chaos. It then falls upon our rectangular friend to jump, bounce, and bubble blow his way to fixing the mess he caused – all the time following the advice of the mysterious Kassandra, a sorceress with a suspicious amount of insight into what is happening. All of this is the pretext for a platforming adventure that takes SpongeBob across a variety of themed levels whilst he collects an assortment of items and rescues his friends.
Aesthetically, Cosmic Shake is very reminiscent of Battle for Bikini Bottom: Rehydrated. Characters are recognisable, as are the settings, and the whole game world benefits from a bright and colourful tone. This is all exactly how it should be for a game based on a cartoon, of course, but the influences also extend to frequent ultra-realistic shots of the characters – a disturbing stylistic choice that is again taken straight from the source material. There is something about realistic SpongeBob that will haunt me far longer than the Necromorphs from Dead Space. Alongside this, the voice acting is fine, and music is mostly suitable, though very little of it really sticks in the memory.
As a PS2 platformer, Bikini Bottom’s key gameplay mechanics were influenced by Mario 64, with each area containing multiple objectives that rewarded different approaches. Cosmic Shake, on the other hand, is a far more linear experience with replaying levels purely being a matter of finding hidden optional collectibles. This is a backward step, in my opinion, and really stood out after I recently replaying Bikini Bottom. The level design in Cosmic Shake is solid enough, but it all feels far more disposable and straight forward without the multiple paths and complexity of its predecessor. Every level here is based on a specific character’s dreams and wishes but in effect this is mainly the justification for a series of stereotypically game-y settings. You also only play as SpongeBob as well – another retrograde decision.
In order to unlock each new world, SpongeBob is given a different costume by Kassandra, beginning with a cowboy one to access Mr Krab’s Wild West themed level. This sounds like a novel approach on paper and I was interested to see what kind of special abilities each costume provided and excited for the potential for puzzles that involved changing costumes, but the costumes are entirely aesthetic and have zero effect on gameplay. This is massively disappointing and further contributes to the feeling that this is a pretty old fashioned and simplistic game.
Rather than the robot enemies of Bikini Bottom, Cosmic Shake has a range of creatures made from the jelly-like substance of the titles. There is a decent range of enemies, but they quickly become over-familiar and most of the memorable fights in the game come from the boss encounters. These are a highlight, as is often the case, with characters like Sandy the Texan Squirrel and Pearl Krabs the Sperm Whale taking centre stage. Even Gary, SpongeBob’s pet snail, features in a memorably spooky Halloween level. There is nothing terrible about the general combat, and SpongeBob does have several attack options, but again, I was expecting costume specific attacks and approaches so was left somewhat disappointed.