Review: SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Rehydrated Bikini Bottom

It looks like Squidward, in angry mob form.

It's an interesting choice for THQ Nordic to choose the remastered treatment for SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom over a full remake. A remake would give developers the ability to smooth out the experience.

Most licensed 3D platformers of the time were rough with poor puzzle concepts, boring levels, and other design issues that the genre more or less fixed over time. But with a remaster, or at least with this remaster, there's no opportunity to fix what went wrong or rethink the concept. With this remaster, it's simply the old game refreshed with a fresh coat of paint.

But oh, what a coat of paint that is.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Purple Lamp Studios
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Released: June 23, 2022
MSRP: $ 29,99

Spongebob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is an incredibly pretty game, which is able to capture the look and feel of the cartoon series while being tied to the layout and structure of the original title. The colors pop and the character models are a massive step up with animations that match the dialog exactly as delivered. Like the show's comedy itself, the script holds up and the jokes spin with outstanding delivery from most of the comic book actors.

Despite its decidedly modern look, it feels a lot like a 17-year-old game. While some styles of game design are timeless, I don't think many licensed products from the early ages would qualify as such. If anything, Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated plays like a relic of a bygone era. It's not necessarily a bad game, in fact, I know it's one of the most popular third-party titles of the console generation, but it's definitely a title that made me go, "Oh , that's how we used to design the levels, 'repeatedly. Something like the Mermailair's Rolling Ball Area probably wouldn't exist in a modern game, or it would at least be a less aggravating version. Throughout SpongeBob's quest to collect the golden spatulas and defeat Plankton's robot army, there are also an abundance of sliding levels, a design crutch favored by platform developers of the time.

Rehydrated will likely find a fan base within the speedrunning community just like the original. It can also become a fun game to play with friends in the new multiplayer mode. This two-player horde mode gives you access to seven different characters as you island hop, defeating an increasing number of robots sent to destroy you by Robo-Squidward, a boss cut from the original game. Although you cannot play this mode with a partner AI, you can team up with someone locally, online, or with a LAN connection. Definitely worth at least one trip through, at least to get a sense of the different playstyles for each character. Squidward's clarinet attack makes him ideal for long range opponents, and he ended up as my favorite of the bunch.

Even though it's just melee combat, going through the multiplayer mode provided a more hassle-free experience than the single-player campaign. Hit detection for SpongeBob's bubble wand is iffy, and his ledge grab is too sporadic to be reliable. Sandy's post-swing jump is anemic, and Patrick's erratic auto-aim system for rockheads and watermelons can lead to throws you didn't mean to make. I've also encountered several cases where a function would work once but not work the next time. Or the next three tries. Nothing crucial like the jump or attack button, those are solid, but Patrick could be terribly unreliable with his throws if for some reason the game didn't like it when I pressed the button.

That said, several parts of what Purple Lamp Studios has put together here are absolute bliss and a big smile on my face. As a SpongeBob fan, it's fun to venture through a detailed version of Goo Lagoon or the Kelp Forest, and the variety of activities on each level kept it fresh and inspired me to explore the entirety of each biome. It's a shame Pearl or Karen didn't make the cut, but that's a minor issue. I have much bigger complaints with the current build of this remaster.

Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated crashed within the first 15 minutes of playing. About an hour after that, the screen went almost completely black, although I could still hear everything going on through my speakers. Whenever I'm in an open area like the hub, the frame rate takes a dip. Pop-in is frequent throughout and combined with the frame rate issue makes some levels very awkward to play. Loading screens can be quite long and they're common, whether it's when entering a new area or when you have to restart after death. Audio is also an issue. There are sound effects, like when you take a bus to a specific level, that are loud and raspy. I also witnessed cut scenes with muted dialogue or with a delay in the vocal track.

The rules of the game are also very fluctuating. Goo, which is SpongeBob's equivalent of water, is a danger you need to avoid. Some puddles are placed carelessly in each level, and touching them will either bounce you off the ground you started on or kill you instantly. Goo doesn't take away from your health, so it's all or nothing.

And that's what I mean when I say Battle For Bikini Bottom is probably a better candidate for a remake than a remaster. Because it's a bad design choice, something that should have been ironed out for this build. There's no reason why touching the goo shouldn't produce the same result every time. Auto-aiming on Patrick's throws and Sandy's string attack shouldn't be a dice game. Characters should not fall back five feet when hit, which could send them off a cliff and into a loading screen.

With a remake, all of that, along with the often questionable level design, could have been fixed. But with SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated aiming to be as faithful to the original as possible, these issues only serve as a reminder of how much better the industry has become at making 3D platformers.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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