[Review] SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake
Posted on January 30, 2023 by Edan(@@Virtualboi92) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: January 31, 2023
Developer: Purple Lamp
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Of all the platforming juggernauts that come to mind when I recall the early 2000s, SpongeBob SquarePants is not among them. In 2020, THQ released a remake of Battle for Bikini Bottom – a 2003 game in every sense of the word. After selling over two million copies, it landed us with an all new spiritual sequel to that game in the form of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake. The main hurdle this sequel has to overcome is being unshackled from the weapons-grade nostalgia that propelled its predecessor to success. To be fair to The Cosmic Shake, this is a difficult act to follow. How exactly do you craft a follow-up to a remake of a twenty year old game? Developer Purple Lamp has two decades of platformers to draw inspiration from, and the one it chooses to wear on its sleeve is unfortunately the remake that preceded it.
Admittedly, the game’s setup is strong. Its opening cutscene sees SpongeBob and Patrick inadvertently tear a hole in the fabric of spacetime whilst on a visit to Glove World (a glove-themed amusement park). This rips Bikini Bottom to pieces, and fills it with enemies made of jelly. Patrick Star gets turned into a balloon who will accompany you on your adventure, and all of SpongeBob’s other co-stars are whisked away to multiversal dimensions where you’ll find and rescue them. Major kudos needs to be given to the work done on replicating the feel of the TV show during the game’s cutscenes. SpongeBob and crew’s snappy and emotive mannerisms have been carried across from 2D to 3D impeccably – and whilst the writing in these cinematics isn’t nearly as sharp as the classic series itself, they still routinely elicit a chuckle thanks to smart direction and lean pacing.
Regretfully that’s about every bit of praise I feel can be given to The Cosmic Shake. As lovely as those cutscenes are, their presence in the game feels erratic and often out of step with the experience as a whole – which is a criticism that can be leveled at just about every other aspect of the game, too. Fundamentally, at a mechanical level, The Cosmic Shake is a flawed and dated product. The simple act of moving SpongeBob through the seven worlds on offer feels laborious – jumping is floaty, and attacking enemies lacks any real feedback whatsoever. When a platformer can’t at least succeed in nailing the basics, everything else in the game invariably gets built on shaky foundations. The moment to moment gameplay in each level sees you spin attacking, karate kicking and butt stomping enemies in order to collect their jelly – which serves as a currency you can use to buy costumes.
Sadly, every set piece, boss battle and enemy encounter in the game feels drawn out beyond the point at which its novelty wears off. There’s no real challenge to the game’s combat, and the clunky controls ensure it’s never satisfying or responsive. At numerous points throughout your adventure, there is an attempt to spice things up by having you engage in some form of minigame – be it cooking Krabby Patties, sorting trash into the appropriate dumpster, or careening down a speeding highway on a unicycle. While one of those things definitely sounds exciting, I can assure you that the aforementioned lack of polish and feedback is even more apparent during these sequences – and despite their short length, you’ll be glad to see the back of them.
Whilst the topic of framerate and performance is somewhat contentious and subjective, I can confidently say that all of the issues I’ve mentioned so far are exacerbated by a very tumultuous transition to Nintendo’s hybrid. In short, the game performs incredibly poorly on Switch. THQ Nordic made us aware ahead of time that there were some performance issues in one of the game’s worlds that would be patched post-release. Having said that, I encountered lurching frame rates, improper frame pacing and frequent two second-long streaming stutters whilst traversing all of the game’s worlds. These technical shortcomings genuinely impacted my enjoyment, making a subpar experience notably more sour. Visually, the game ranges from being passable all the way down to looking quite ugly. The art direction in each of the worlds is varied, however it’s readily apparent that on Switch we’re playing a heavily compromised version of a game that’s best experienced on more powerful hardware.
It almost feels superfluous to mention level design at this point in the review, but in light of the game’s missteps in just about every other area – it’s worth mentioning that the game suffers something of an identity crisis in this regard, too. One of the worlds you visit early on is pirate-themed, and is the closest the game gets to offering a nice looking, open-ended world for you to explore at your own pace. Every other area in the game feels like it lacks cohesion – as though it was the end product of an argument between designers instead of a collaboration. Far too often I found myself leaping to an arbitrarily out of bounds area that would kill Mr. SquarePants, even though there was no clear indication that this area was a no-go. Tiny floating platforms awkwardly beckon you off of the beaten path at points, only to terminate in a single blob of jelly – a resource so plentiful Ingame that it was overflowing out of my pockets IRL by the time the credits rolled. There’s this constant nagging feeling throughout the game that nothing fits. Cutscenes awkwardly transition to gameplay, minigames poke their head out and disappear just as quick – frankly, it’s a mess.
Across the ten hours or so that I spent with SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake, I never really noticed myself having any fun. Some may pass the game off as being intended for children and not for intense critique – but even the game’s 2003 predecessor was handily beaten out by games like Jak and Daxter and Super Mario Sunshine. Those games were also aimed at kids, yet they had solved just about every design problem present in The Cosmic Shake twenty years prior to its release. SpongeBob fans deserve better, kids deserve better, and Mr. SquarePants himself certainly deserves better.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.