If nautical nonsense be something ye wish.
There was a time when I’d tell people half-jokingly that the best thing about having kids is the excuse they provided for watching SpongeBob SquarePants. I now realize this isn’t true; one doesn’t need an excuse to watch SpongeBob.
One also doesn’t need an excuse to play SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated for the Nintendo Switch. Sure, it’s based on a cartoon that uses the word “kids” within four words of its famous introduction, but the gameplay will appeal to anyone who’s ever enjoyed a Super Mario 3D platformer. And that’s pretty much all of us, right?
Nintendo fans may recall the original GameCube version of Battle for Bikini Bottom from back in 2003. This new version for the Nintendo Switch has been “rehydrated,” which I guess is the seafolk way of saying it’s been given a modern sheen and some multiplayer content. I’ll cover both in a bit, but will start with the story.
The game’s plot could very well be a 12-minute episode of the show. Plankton (I don’t need to introduce any of these characters, right?) has created a robot army to help him rule Bikini Bottom. He forgets to activate the “obey” switch, however, causing the robots to run amok. Ever the naive optimist, SpongeBob gets the help of Patrick and Sandy to eliminate the robots and shut down the machine that’s creating them back at the Chum Bucket.
So, the setup is fine, and it’s carried out effectively thanks to Battle for Bikini Bottom’s faithful approach to the source material and the genre in which everything’s placed. I’m a bigger fan of SpongeBob than I am of 3D platformers, so I was thrilled to find that the characters are as endearing in the game as they are in the show.
They’re likable throughout, and their skills are in line with what I’d expect. SpongeBob’s approach to combat and puzzle-solving, for instance, centers around his bubble-blowing skills. Sandy is an expert in kung-fu and lasso. Patrick is a little more generic, as he mostly utilizes strength. We’ve never really seen that in the show, but even the writers of the second movie were hard-pressed to come up with a superpower for him.
The only real character disappointments are Mr. Krabbs and Mermaid Man, solely because they’re not voiced by Clancy Brown and Ernest Borgnine, respectively. The other main characters all sound exactly as you expect, and they’re often as funny here as they are in the show.
The gameplay is a fun throwback to the GameCube era when it seemed that 75% of all games were 3D platformers. The levels mostly task you with running around to collect spatulas that are required to unlock the next level. Getting to them requires some light puzzle solving, some complex jumps, and a fair share of combat. It’s never terribly hard to get what you need to advance, and the Battle for Bikini Bottom is waged almost entirely in the trenches; the game pushes you down a very linear path. If you’re a completist, however, you can occasionally stray from your mission to collect extra items.
Combat is never that difficult, requiring no more than a couple of buttons. The variety of enemies you face sometimes throws off your approach, but learning how to beat them effectively is part of the fun. This is especially true of the game’s gloriously goofy bosses.
The Rehydrated version adds a new multiplayer component to the mix, and I was a bit disappointed to find that this is completely separate from the main game. Unlike in similar LEGO games, for example, you can’t team up with a friend to complete the story mode. Rather, the multiplayer simply gives you and a local or online friend the option to battle through a series of enemies to reach a new boss. You can play as different characters in this mode, but becoming Squidward, Mr. Krabbs, or Gary isn’t really a compelling incentive.
The update also looks better, taking advantage of the Switch’s HD capabilities. The colors are now as vibrant as the show itself, although the 3D modeling still feels dated. I imagine if the game was newly developed or completely overhauled that it’d retain the look of the cartoon, but it’s bright and clean enough to appeal to fans.
Unfortunately, the port comes with its share of problems. Frame rates drop at times, which is a bit surprising. Animations often feel disjointed. The audio occasionally pops in and out as if the dialogue was recorded with no awareness of how it’s being used.
Still, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated works today because the whole game feels more like a loving throwback than a quick cash-grab, effectively capturing the fun of both 3D platforming and SpongeBob himself. It helps that it’s also the right length, wrapping up before you’re able to get too tired of either. The new multiplayer option isn’t nearly enough to keep bringing you back, but the single-player story mode offers plenty to enjoy again or for the first time.
With or without kids.
Review: SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated (Nintendo Switch)
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is as joyful as its source material. It’ll appeal to fans of the cartoon more so than those seeking a challenging 3D platforming adventure, but it’s a fun, nostalgic romp either way. Just don’t expect much from the new multiplayer component.