Nostalgia sells. And in few places is that more true than the video game market. Whether it’s remakes, remasters, cheap ports or new ideas spun from old IP, nostalgia remains a potent force that’s often wielded with reckless abandon.
When THQ Nordic first teamed up with Purple Lamp Studio to capitalise on their hold of the rights to the beloved PS2 platformer, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, it resulted in a surprisingly good trip down memory lane – one that no doubt resulted in the kind of easy money that would make Mr. Krabs swell in his shell. Purple Lamp clearly proved itself too, because it wasn’t long before it was handed the reins to develop an original 3D platformer based on the franchise – albeit one still largely powered by nostalgia. Enter, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake.
If there’s one thing modern popular media, especially in things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s that the quickest and easiest way to tap into nostalgia and fandom is with a multiverse storyline. How better to squeeze a metric ton of references and cameos in than whisking our heroes through a bunch of mashed up and barely-connected realms? That’s where The Cosmic Shake comes in, sending SpongeBob and Patrick on a world-hopping journey through several “WishWorlds” based on iconic locales and events from the Hillenburg-led first couple of seasons of the show.
That’s this game’s biggest drawcard too – if you were a fan of the yellow sponge in his earliest outings, you’ll instantly recognise the vast majority of the gags and situations here, and no doubt appreciate that they’re all wrapped up in a fresh story about a deceptive mermaid witch named Cassandra tricking SpongeBob and Patrick into tearing apart the fabric of Bikini Bottom and all delivered by the entire original voice cast.
It’s important that you enjoy that stuff going into The Cosmic Shake, too, because everything around it is about as bog-standard as it comes. As a 3D platformer it feels less like an iteration on what was delivered in Battle for Bikini Bottom and more like a direct continuation of that 2003 release. That’s not necessarily a bad thing on all fronts, but it’s an expectation that begs setting because it’s definitely a far cry from what one would expect from most modern platformers.
As a licensed tie-in game based on a Nickelodeon property, it’s honestly still a cut above, though. For the budget price of entry, you’re getting an 8-10 hour adventure set across seven worlds and a sizable hub with tons of collectibles to find and easter eggs to do the Leo DiCaprio pointing gif at. Each world sees SpongeBob don a throwback costume and endeavour to rescue one of his friends from their own twisted wishes with Patrick in tow as a helpful, airborne balloon (there’s a reason for that) on hand to point him in the right direction or drop a fresh pair of health undies in a pinch.
Clocking in at anywhere up to an hour in length, each of these worlds represents a decent jaunt with a good amount of gameplay variety switching between precision platforming, light combat, minigames and the obligatory SpongeBob sliding sections. I can’t say I found the actual level design anything close to inspired, but if you enjoyed what BFBB had to offer, Purple Lamp has clearly set out to replicate the same simple, no-frills vibe that would definitely go down well with younger audiences who are less likely to baulk at its flaws. There are some interesting enough new wrinkles, like SpongeBob’s bubble attack that traps enemies in place or his karate kick, which is routinely combined with jumping and gliding to make for some pretty engaging platforming sections.
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There’s a lot that feels rehashed from the last game, for better or worse, but I feel it’s important to stress that I absolutely did have fun playing through this new adventure as a fan of collectathon 3D platformers. It’s not going to have an moustachioed Italians lining up to renew their plumber’s certification but it’s a far sight better than most of the licenced junk aimed at kids and parents out there.
It’s really the joy of the SpongeBob property and its cast of characters that carries The Cosmic Shake, a fact that I’m sure doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s here that Purple Lamp has really nailed the assignment, giving fans an enjoyable new story that’s positively stuffed with nostalgia for the earliest era of the cartoon. Only now it’s all presented through some genuinely attractive cutscenes backed up by brand-new voice work from the show’s cast. Despite being relatively simple, the in-game visuals build on what worked for Battle for Bikini Bottom and look perfectly pleasant, plus the 30+ unlockable costumes are a riot.
It’s tough to complain about a game like this with the context of its place in the landscape, but there are definitely some gripes I had that felt warranted. Enemy variety is just okay, with less than 10 different jelly-based bad guy types, but SpongeBob’s limited combat prowess makes them feel even more repetitive to fight. And you’ll do it a lot as you return to each world looking for collectibles with nearly no method of tracking beyond a number total, making constant backtracking a reality.