Review: ‘SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake’ is short and fun, just like the sponge himself
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is a fun collectathon that, thankfully, does not overstay its own welcome. Developed by Purple Lamp Studios, who also worked on The Cosmic Shake‘s predecessor, the yellow sponge we all know and love is back for another round of, let’s say, familiar, platforming.
The Cosmic Shake is an improvement over Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated in many ways, even if in some cases, just barely. The story begins with SpongeBob and Patrick in a fairly empty Bikini Bottom, as they head to check out the Glove World theme park. Before long, the two encounter a mermaid named Madame Kassandra who gives them Magic Bubble Soap, which she claims can grant the user’s wishes.
SpongeBob decides to grant the wishes of all his friends, but unfortunately, this tears apart the cosmic reality of Bikini Bottom. For starters, Patrick is turned into a balloon, and Spongebob’s friends are sent to twisted versions of well-known locations from the franchise. One by one, you’ll have to journey through seven different worlds to get each one of your friends back.
At first, the gameplay is quite simple — you walk around and swing your jellyfish net to attack, well, any Jelly enemies, which serve as Cosmic Shake‘s default baddie. But as you progress through the story, a few new additions are slowly layered on. While things never become too complicated, by the time you reach the third world, combat encounters will see you bouncing from enemy to enemy and dodging projectiles to boot.
There are a handful of different enemy types, with multiple ways to defeat each one. Most of them are fun to fight against — you can simply hit them and move on. But some, like the Jelly Maker, punish you for attacking them, which brings the pacing to a halt. There are also some enemies that won’t let you attack more than once, forcing you to focus on other enemies and split your attention. What is nice is that you can use the Jellies against each other, as the larger creatures can easily destroy the smaller ones while they’re attacking you.
In lieu of multiple playable characters, SpongeBob learns abilities that would otherwise be assigned to his friends. This streamlines the gameplay so you don’t have to switch between characters. And don’t worry — you won’t miss your friends too much, as you run into them, or, at least, a version of them, quite often as you travel from world to world.
For example, the first world sees Mr. Krabs transported to a wild west version of Jellyfish Fields. As you can imagine, the money-loving crustacean has been quick to find a way to make some moolah, and it doesn’t take long for him to adapt to his new surroundings. Other worlds run the gamut, with some themed around Halloween, pirates, and the medieval ages, and one is modeled on a movie set. While they are all distinct, with separate soundtracks, set pieces, and art design, it can at times feel like you are doing the same thing and exploring the same areas, albeit with a fresh coat of paint.
Every world is home to a few minigames that you’ll need to complete, ranging from memory puzzles to slides, to seahorse tracks and snail races. Most of these are entertaining, mostly because you’ll only have to spend a few minutes completing each one. There are a few occasions where the minigames require you to endlessly button mash, and those could (and should) have been switched up a bit — three levels in, and I was already praying that I wouldn’t encounter another one.
The platforming itself is quite simple to start with. That being said, you’ll eventually learn a few moves that expand your maneuverability, with some trickier sections popping up toward the end of the game. Speaking of trickier sections, there are also plenty of challenges scattered throughout the levels, most of which necessitate a decent amount of backtracking. Surprisingly, some of these timed challenges will only give you a few seconds of leeway to complete them, with one or two mistakes ruining your attempt. So, if you were hankering for a spike in difficulty, rest assured there are a few sections that might test your skills.
Successfully completing these challenges nets you some collectibles, and while there are plenty of different types to seek out, the ones you get for completing challenges are typically Gold Coins. These are used to unlock new tiers of costumes, of which there are many. It feels like a lot of thought was put into these outfits, with the developers picking the best of SpongeBob’s collection from across the franchise. I found myself surprised at some of the deep cuts, like the Goofy Goober and Wizard costumes from The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.
As I hinted at, Gold Coins are not the only collectible: Golden Underpants increase your health, and destroying tikis strewn throughout the game will net you Jellies. Thankfully, you don’t need to collect every Jelly; the sole purpose they serve is to unlock costumes, and you’ll collect more than enough from playing through the game without having to farm them. There is also a hidden Golden Spatula in each level, but it seems the only upside to collecting them is for an achievement/trophy, rather than the rest of the collectibles, which let you unlock some new goodie.
After you rescue one of your friends, they’ll give you a new quest that will inevitably lead to another Gold Coin. These quests improve the replayability of the levels, as you’re tasked to go back through previously-visited worlds and look for more collectibles. When you factor in newly-gained abilities, which can change the way you approach each level, there are enough good reasons to revisit old worlds.
You might be wondering if Cosmic Shake looks and feels like the cartoon we all know and love — after all, what’s the point of a SpongeBob game if it doesn’t feel like you’re watching an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants? It certainly does sound like the cartoon, with all of the main voice actors reprising their roles. Cutscenes also work pretty well, even with the weird close-up tableaus making a return. You’ll travel with Patrick for nearly the entire game, and the back-and-forth between the pair is a highlight.
There were even a few lines where I chuckled because of something Patrick said, or at a specific moment when SpongeBob starts to censor a character because they needed to be kid-friendly. The dialogue is hit-or-miss; I found myself glued to character interactions, but also wanting to mute the 300th time SpongeBob uttered the same line of dialogue while gliding. While most of the plot is predictable, there were a few moments that I found surprisingly touching. But, you won’t ever find yourself surprised by how the story plays out, or where it ends up going.
Unfortunately, the ever-present bugs and issues are what drag The Cosmic Shake down. When you are about to go through a new checkpoint, especially when visiting a new area, don’t be shocked if it takes a while to load, or if the game freezes you in place before suddenly warping you back to where you need to be. If you find yourself with only one hitpoint left, the balloon version of Patrick will sometimes bring you a pair of underwear to replenish your health. But, sadly, the game is full of edges and cliffs, so he often drops them out of bounds.
But the worst offender is the numerous audio issues. Sometimes the music would loop while playing, resulting in two versions of the same song playing, albeit at different timestamps. Other times, the music would completely cut out. Dialogue isn’t immune to these technical snafus; I noticed several instances of SpongeBob occasionally talking over himself (or other characters) in a cutscene. None of these bugs hindered the experience too much or for too long, but the sheer number of times these bugs reared their heads is a glaring issue.
However, what The Cosmic Shake does do right is that it might be the exact, perfect length. The whole affair is roughly eight hours long, with each level taking less than an hour to complete. You can then break it down even further, with minigames and combat encounters taking up a few minutes at a time. Once you take into account the sheer amount of collectibles, the game flies by rather quickly.
It’s also surprisingly well-suited for shorter play sessions. You can pick it up and put it down in small bursts. You can even fast-travel between checkpoints, making backtracking simple and speedy. Even though some of the collectibles feel redundant, the constant itch to keep going is what makes it fun. And if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, there’s a good chance that in less than five minutes, you’ll be tasked with something else entirely.
For those who like to check everything off a list, the achievements/trophies are laid out plainly in the game’s menu, with a few hidden until you’ve beaten specific bosses. None of the bosses are too complex or difficult; if anything, they are a little boring and repetitive. But each one has a secret award tied to it, requiring you to beat the boss without taking damage or within a certain amount of time. You could cruise through the game as quickly and easily as you’d like. At the same time, if you are looking for that extra little challenge, that’s there too.
Ultimately, The Cosmic Shake is one of the better SpongeBob SquarePants games, successfully capturing the fun, humor, and look of the source material. And while technical issues, repetitive sections, and predictability knock it down a few pegs, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is absorbent enough to take those punches in stride, while still being a fun well-paced romp for platformer and franchise fans alike.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by THQ Nordic.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is a short and fun collectathon that feels like the original cartoon in all the best ways. Frequent bugs and a tad too much repetition weigh the game down, but it's not enough to make it anything less than a good time.