The fact that a game like SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom was able to receive a remake feels truly unprecedented. Sure, game series that started in the PS1 era like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon received remakes of their respective first three games, but those series were originally first party Sony IP, as opposed to being one licensed game in an era when every property under the sun was getting a licensed video game, often of mediocre to bad quality.
However, fans reminiscing on SpongeBob’s 20+ year legacy, and runners like SHiFT proving Battle for Bikini Bottom’s speedrunning potential through movement tricks, brought the game back into discourse, spawning this remake developed by Purple Lamp Studios and published by THQ Nordic.
As someone who was a fan of SpongeBob for the first 15 years of its life, I had played some of the original BfBB game and have retained pretty extensive knowledge on characters, locations, and jokes. So, I wondered how this remake would hold the game up for two generations later.
The good news is that casually, the fun gameplay and creativity is retained with a more vibrant palette, higher quality animations, and some quality of life changes. The bad news is that anyone hoping for major additions to the core game will be disappointed.
At its heart, SpongeBob Battle for Bikini Bottom is a 3D collectathon platformer, though closer to Banjo-Kazooie than Mario 64. You go from a hub world to 9 unique levels, based on locations from the show, collecting Golden Spatulas (equivalent to Stars in Mario) by either exploring the level or doing specific tasks for NPCs, and once you collect one, you’re allowed to stay in the world to collect as much as you can rather than being kicked out. These Golden Spatulas can then unlock other levels all the way up to the final boss as the player collects more. Other common collectibles include Shiny Objects which are more or less coins, and Socks, which can be traded to Patrick in batches of 10 for more Golden Spatulas. Bosses exist either in levels or as mandatory gap points to separate sections of levels in the hub. It’s a standard formula, but one not seen often in modern games, and heightened by its SpongeBob flair.
Worlds such as Jellyfish Fields, Rock Bottom, Goo Lagoon, Kelp Forest and the dreamscape all feel inspired from locations featured in some of the show’s most memorable episodes, and even levels that are more of stretch than a direct reference like Dutchman’s Graveyard still have their own atmosphere to them. You can go in Sandy’s Treedome, the Krusty Krab, and even access the Mermalair through Shady Shoals Retirement Home. Even a few of the boss arenas come from locations present in older episodes. It’s clear a lot of love went into the world design of the original game, and SpongeBob fans going into the game for the first time will likely be impressed by all the little nods.
You play as SpongeBob, Patrick Star and Sandy Cheeks throughout the game to destroy the many robots in your path. Each of them has a different use for certain puzzles and slightly altered movement mechanics. SpongeBob can do a quick jump upwards and later gets power-ups vital to completing certain puzzles, Patrick can carry objects to freeze water or hit faraway switches while Sandy gets a lasso glide through the air to make platforming easier and exploring areas from above a lot of fun. Not much stands in your way beyond a few puzzles, but as easy as it can be, it’s funfair, not unfair.
Any small gameplay tweaks that were made were mostly for the better, at least on a casual run. SpongeBob’s ball powerup that was previously slippery to control can now properly stop and jump, Patrick and Sandy can now attack midair and the camera is more adjustable. Despite this, most of the gameplay was kept the same, including troublesome points, such as the insanely high knockback upon taking a hit, or the slight tiptoe made when using certain ability. The game does underestimate the problem solving skills of younger players by adding direct dialogue on how to beat all the bosses (except the final boss) before their battles, which was a bit patronizing for me, but given SpongeBob’s all-age appeal, I don’t mind if it means younger kids have nostalgia for this game the same way my generation did for the original. The music and voice acting are retained from the original, which is nice, but unfortunate Clancy Brown could not record lines for Mr. Krabs due to a contract dispute.
Rehydrated enhances its levels with its colorful graphics and vibrant animations that really highlight the individual features of the characters. However, this comes at the cost of the game’s technical performance. Load times are noticeably longer than the original, often taking over five seconds to come back from a death when it would be nearly instantaneous in the original. The most noticeable technical grip for me was easily the pop-in. When loading into the levels, I noticed that for the first two seconds or so, textures failed to load, making levels look unfinished and blurry for a short bit. It usually isn’t as noticeable when exploring, except in areas like Jellyfish Fields, but it’s a stain on the presentation that hasn’t been scrubbed off. The framerate is mostly consistent but can take dips when explosions happen on screen. Some hitboxes haven’t been properly programmed in, like the teleport boxes, where you’ll often find yourself standing on pockets of air before putting yourself in them, and the animation of the box popping you out is missing.
Supposedly the Switch version is even worse in these regards, with less draw distance, more pop-in, longer load times and awkward button mapping, so I’d advise playing the game on PS4, PC or Xbox One.
One part of the game that was newly added is the multiplayer. It is here where cut concepts such as Robo Squidward and Patrick’s ice cream dream level were reintegrated, but sadly it’s a wash. It comes down to the lack of options. There are multiple playable characters, but each has an extremely simple moveset, and it’s only used to take down the same robot enemies from the main story in waves. No real reward exists for even getting through it, so it’s best left ignored. Real shame, since variety could’ve really made it feel like a lost part of the original package.
For its $30 price, SpongeBob Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated does a good job bringing a well-rounded collectathon full of reverence to its source material to modern platforms. Sure, it’s on the easy side, doesn’t add much worthwhile new, and has numerous technical issues that will hopefully be sorted out, but it retains the strengths of the original in a less oversaturated platformer landscape in being a fun game with a lot of heart poured in. It’s no Super Mario, but it is a good instance of a smaller scale cult classic I’m glad was allowed to be revived.