It’s the year 2020 and top ten lists of “games that need to be remade or remastered” are becoming less relevant by the second as cult classics and critical darlings are slowly, but surely, being awoken from their slumber and drenched in the Lazarus pits of modern gaming. While re-releasing popular titles has certainly become the norm, publishers occasionally like to go diving into unexpected waters, surfacing with titles you’d never expect to see on a modern-day platform. It seems that THQ Nordic dove deep enough into such waters that they managed to ascend with one of the most beloved licenced games of all time – SpongeBob SquarePants – Battle for Bikini Bottom.
Hailing from the murky waters of the sixth generation, the original Battle of Bikini Bottom was praised for being a faithful recreation of the Nickelodeon show – an admirable feat when you consider the sheer amount of video game adaptations that were lost in translation during this time. However, Battle for Bikini Bottom isn’t just renowned for its artistic prowess, as it’s quirky platforming mechanics and hectic gameplay are held in high regard with the speedrunning community; the game even featured on the likes of Awesome Games Done Quick back in 2017.
There’s no doubt that if it wasn’t for the speedrunning community, this SpongeBob classic would never have been revived. Yet, the very nature of this remake is what might be its Achilles heel, as Purple Lamp Studios have chosen to rebuild Bikini Bottom from the ground up. This might sound great to those who like to stroll through their games, yet serves as potential nightmare fuel for speedrunners, as it means their favourite mechanical exploits could be removed. This catch 22 scenario makes reviewing Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated difficult, as despite being a beautiful recreation, the game’s reason for existence might now be lost at sea.
Admittedly, I am completely unqualified to judge Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated on its speedrunning merits, thus this review focusses more on the qualities you’d normally wish to see in a remake of this calibre. One of the most prominent features of this re-release is its enhanced visuals, which have been beautifully recreated in Unreal Engine 4. Purple Lamp Studios have done a tremendous job scrubbing the barnacles off of the original art style, while still managing to retain the aesthetic of the SpongeBob cartoon – with it adhears more to modern styles than the show’s dirtier beginnings.
Character models have also been refined, meaning that unlike the original, they no longer tread down the uncanny valley – something that made the original video game SpongeBob and co look slightly dead inside.
Battle for Bikini Bottom’s soundtrack is just as infectious as the music from the show, with tracks from the original release also being present in Rehydrated. Each tune within the game has received the remaster treatment, matching the gorgeous cartoon visuals perfectly. After spending some time in this pixelated rendition of Bikini Bottom, you’ll likely find yourself involuntarily humming along to the tune of slide guitars and ukuleles, which is bound to get you some funny looks in the queue at the supermarket.
At its core, Battle for Bikini Bottom is a collectathon platformer, similar in nature to the likes of Banjo-Kazooie and even more modern titles like Super Lucky’s Tale or A Hat in Time. Just as you’d probably expect, the plot of the game is designed to give SpongeBob a reason to run around collecting things, with our porous friend being something of a magpie for golden spatulas. Players can gain Golden Spatulas by reaching specific areas of the map, defeating bosses and through bribing Patrick with the retrieval of his smelly socks. Whilst doing this, players will have to use the unique abilities of SpongeBob, silly starfish Patrick Star and Texan squirrel Sandy Cheeks to solve puzzles and ascend under the sea heights.
No matter what character you’re bestowed with, there’s heaps of fun to be had. Our favourite porous cleaning utensil can spin with his jelly-fishing net to destroy Tikki boxes, robots and anything else that gets in the way of his jaunty path. Patrick and Sandy control slightly differently, with Patrick being able to pick up enemies and fruit and Sandy possessing the ability to use a lasso to swing and glide. These variances in gameplay transform what could have been quite a bland platformer into something special, with levels consistently demanding the use of different abilities and quirks. There’s something special about causing chaos by smashing mechanical enemies with a fishing net, then proceeding to ‘tongue surf’ down a track, or bungee jump using your pants.
There are occasional instances where the mechanics feel slightly more dated than you’d expect from a modern platformer, which is mainly a result of retention of some level design aspects. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as retaining the feel of the original is required for authenticity, but might be slightly offputting if you’re not a fan of PS2 style platformers. There’s absolutely going to be players who are less resilient when it comes to things like trying to use the throwing objects when playing as Patrick or failing to swing with Sandy’s lasso, both of which can feel slightly irritating at times. Luckily, the original gameplay of Battle for Bikini Bottom was fairly refined in the first place, meaning it avoids committing a lot of the sins that early 3D games have been known to indulge in.
Even if you’ve played the original release to death, Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated has a bunch of new content to feast upon. In addition to the original single-player experience is a new multiplayer mode, which can be used in either couch co-op mode, or hosted online. Gameplay in this mode mainly consists of fighting off hoards of enemies but allows players to choose from 7 playable characters, all possessing unique abilities. While multiplayer isn’t completely necessary, it’s a welcome addition to the experience, especially since it provides access to more characters from the series and way to extend replayability
If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Battle for Bikini Bottom specifically caters to fans of the original series. Every level feels imbued with the essence of an episode of the show, with dialogue drawing on both original gags, running jokes and a vast array of familiar characters. The presentation of this interactive cartoon is further enhanced by the original voice actors and their colourful performances, which never feel flat or without heart. This is further cemented by the fact the game isn’t afraid to be self-aware, with sarcastic gags from Squidward about collecting “platinum whisks” to Hans the Hand, who features in the intro to the show, saving you if you fall off the edge of the map.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom was a masterclass in how to handle a licenced game, so it comes as no surprise that Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is a complete joy. In recreating this cartoon cult classic, THQ and Purple Lamp Studios have facilitated access to an important part of SpongeBob’s history to old fans and a new generation alike. It’s great to see interest in light-hearted platforming experiences make a comeback, especially when considering the market is overwhelmingly filled with adult experiences, much to the frustration of parents. Whether or not the game will resonate with its enthusiastic speedrunning community is yet to be seen, but in every other aspect, it certainly doesn’t drop the deck and flop like a fish.