It’s funny to think about inexplicable memories that refuse to fade away. I’ve forgotten plenty of important dates and faces, but I can remember absurdly unimportant things. For example, I distinctly recall the time I rented SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom in my youth. It was from Hollywood Video (RIP), and it was in the middle of a snowstorm. I remember thinking it was a perfectly fine game, but that’s pretty much about it. Then, for quite some time, I didn’t think about it again.
It turns out, though, a lot of gamers have fond memories of the platformer. Whether it stems from being a fan of the show, or the right age when it was originally released, the title has accrued something of a cult following. So when THQ Nordic announced that they were developing a remake, fans were obviously excited. And to be honest, I was kind of excited too. There had to be a reason the title has lodged itself in my brain other than nostalgia for a less insane time, right? The only way to get to the bottom of this was to jump headfirst into SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated.
It should come as no surprise — Battle for Bikini Bottom kicks off with Plankton, who is rolling out his latest evil scheme. The proprietor of the Chum Bucket has created a machine known as the Duplicatotron 3000 to assist with his plan to steal the Krabby Patty Formula. The device is designed to pump out an infinite number of robots to cause mayhem all over town. Unfortunately for him, when he turned the machine on, he forgot to configure it so that the league of robots obeyed him. With no one in control, the mechanized troops have taken over Bikini Bottom. Even though there are certainly better solutions to solve this problem, it falls to the SpongeBob, along with best friends Patrick and Sandy, to save the city from imminent destruction.
As a Cartoon Network kid, I missed the boat on SpongeBob when it first debuted on Nickelodeon. However, over the years, I’ve caught my fair share of episodes, and it’s definitely a cartoon whose humor appeals to both children and adults. That same sensibility is successfully translated here. The dialogue between the key players in Bikini Bottom is laced with silly moments and deadpan deliveries. This style of joke-telling makes each cutscene worth watching, which is a rarity for the genre. Considering we know who is behind the trouble to begin with, it’s good that the game never tries to do too much with the plotting. Original developer Heavy Iron Studios knew what fans were looking for, and they delivered on it.
Battle for Bikini Bottom was released in an era where you couldn’t swing a stick without hitting a 3D platformer, and as a remake, Rehydrated wasn’t going to deviate too far from the original. As a licensed platformer, it wasn’t exactly pushing the boundaries of the genre upon release and it followed the same basic formula that most of its contemporaries stuck with. Specifically, this means that you will be collecting a ton of useless McGuffins. The most important item to be on the lookout for are Golden Spatulas — each level contains around six or seven of them, and in order to gain access to later stages, you’ll need to track them down as you progress through the game. Some of them can be located by just looking around the stage, while others can only be acquired by completing a task for an NPC.
Second on the list of important items are Shiny Things. These multicolored doodads essentially serve as the game’s currency. They are given to the player for doing just about anything, so you never will really run out of them. Like the Golden Spatulas, they can be used to unlock new areas — specifically, new sections of a level you already explored. These new areas typically lead to additional Spatulas, so they are important to collect. Shiny Things can also be given to Mr. Krabs in return for Golden Spatulas. Krabs may want things to go back to normal, but, as always, he wants to make a quick buck first.
Finally, Patrick has misplaced several of his socks in each level. These collectibles are entirely optional, but delivering them back to him unlocks — you guessed it — even more Golden Spatulas. In order to track down the missing articles of clothing, you’ll often need to take a deep dive into each level, as they can be surprisingly well hidden. If anything was going to give Battle for Bikini Bottom replay value, it will be trying to discover every misplaced sock. I don’t think I have the patience for doing so, but I do appreciate the fact that there is a good amount of bonus content here to keep dedicated players invested.
On the whole, I’ve typically stayed away from 3D platformers in recent years, specifically because I was inundated with them in past console generations. It was interesting to go back to one, though, and remember all of the good and bad that comes with them. The tedious collecting, the simplistic enemies, and needless backtracking are all spotlighted here, and while the Marios of the world can get away with it by either perfecting the basics or branching off in a new direction, SpongeBob doesn’t have that same advantage.
Perhaps the reason I forgot about Battle for Bikini Bottom is that the core platforming is simply put, not that good. Jumping feels floaty and uncoordinated, and collision detection when it comes to hitting enemies isn’t quite right. It feels very slapdash and cheap, which was par for the course when it came to licensed efforts. The level design also leaves a lot to be desired, particularly in later levels. They are poorly designed, with tedious backtracking that forces players to repeatedly play through the same sections more than once.
New to the Rehydrated version of Battle for Bikini Bottom is a multiplayer mode. Two players can team up in order to take on wave after wave of enemy robots spawned by a giant mechanical version of Squidward. It’s essentially a child-friendly, simplistic version of a horde mode. Online servers don’t appear to be up yet, so I was only able to play some of it with my partner, and neither of us walked away from it particularly impressed. The game’s core combat isn’t great to begin with, so basing a whole mode around it isn’t exactly a solid idea. Its one redeeming quality? It features most of the main cast from the show — in addition to the three campaign heroes, you can also play as Mr. Krabs, Squidward, and even Gary, SpongeBob’s pet snail.
Rehydrated does try to inject some much-needed variety to the entire affair, but these segments feel even sloppier than the core platforming. Since the original version came out in the early 2000s, there, of course, has to be random snowboarding segments. They are painful to play, and I couldn’t wait until I got off the sand slopes every time I had to step onto one. SpongeBob also occasionally gets to go bungee jumping for specific items. These segments aren’t difficult in any way, shape, or form, but they are too simplistic to be enjoyable. I understand that these sections were likely added in order to give the gameplay some variety, but considering how unenjoyable they are, I kind of wish they were nixed altogether.
Although the gameplay hasn’t aged that well, I do think that developer Purple Lamp Studios did a solid job of giving Battle for Bikini Bottom a fresh look. The visuals have been drastically overhauled, with each section now bursting with eye-catching colors. The character models look much closer to their TV counterparts, and the draw distance of the undersea world has been significantly increased. Each level is now filled with details that weren’t possible on older hardware — it’s not perfect, as there is some wonkiness to be found when it comes to certain textures, but it’s a massive improvement compared to the original release.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is exactly what I figured it would be: a better-looking version of a dated platformer. The gameplay is not broken in any way, but between the sloppy mechanics and poor level design, it’s still a lesser entry in the genre. I fully understand that this was greenlit specifically to appeal to those with nostalgia for the original, but there’s a reason that licensed platformers have faded over time. The quality just couldn’t keep up, and that’s certainly the case here. I can’t say for certain, but I have a feeling that the only reason I remember the original game is because of the circumstances surrounding where I got it from and when I played it. Memory is fickle like that, and I expect others may have similar reactions when they get their hands on this.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by THQ Nordic.
A fresh coat of paint can't disguise the fact that SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated is just a remake of an unremarkable platformer that hasn't exactly aged well.