Once upon a time, licensed family games were as common as battle passes, and it was glorious. Your favorite cartoon or movie was almost sure to have a tie-in game, and even when they weren’t so great, they were still worth checking out as extensions of that Thing you love.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Biking Bottom Rehydrated is a pleasant, if clearly dated, reminder of those Things we all used to love. In 2020, it definitely feels like opening up a time capsule, but there are still treasures worth remembering inside this one.

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SpongeBob SquarePants Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated (from here on BFBB or simply SpongeBob) is a 3D platformer with all the tropes a game now 17 years old could muster. It’s got boss battles with villains that attack in waves. It’s got hundreds of collectibles and abundant pick-ups, even shamelessly called Shiny Objects in the game. It’s got a mix of the actual voice cast and some missing talent. Most memorably from that era, it’s got a familiar mix of fun mechanics kids and adults can enjoy together, alongside some mechanics that don’t always work reliably.

This is to say that even if you missed BFBB the first time around, as I did despite playing many licensed games like it, you know what this is if you played this sort of game back then. It’s a formula we’ve seen countlessly, but not in ages. 3D platformers have had a minor renaissance, but these have mostly come by way of newly created characters like Yooka-Laylee. For certain kids or nostalgic adults, there’s an extra layer of magic when the player hoping across platforms and spin-attacking abundant enemies is a beloved cartoon mascot such as Nickelodeon’s late-stage millennial hero, SpongeBob SquarePants.

Across a surprisingly lengthy campaign, players will complete missions for characters such as Ms. Puff, Mr. Krabs, and Squidward, while playing as several characters too, each with their own special abilities, such as SpongeBob, his dimwitted starfish best buddy Patrick, and Sandy, their squirrel friend who is a cowgirl by choice and a scuba diver by biological necessity.

Each area in the game forks off in several directions, and to fully complete each region you’ll do some Lego-like backtracking with other characters after your first time through. Along the way, plenty of pretty simple enemies and Shiny Objects keep you moving along to ground-pound the next baddie or collect the next item you need to progress the story.

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Levels never really divert from the early formula laid out, but within those repetitive levels there’s fun variety, like slide sections, mini-games, and side quests that completionists can’t say no to. Bosses too are pretty rote, but I don’t believe anyone playing BFBB is expecting something more than what’s here. There’s a good deal of freedom in how players approach each region, giving younger players the spark to experiment in their own way. Guideposts lead you along when you need them, making BFBB an accessible game for young or inexperienced players. It’s consistently fun, though some moments do frustrate, like auto-aiming enemies which can spoil a long bit of platforming at times, sending you back to start.

Thankfully, camera controls rarely prove annoying, as evidenced by my lack of awareness of its goings-on. A good camera is one that sinks into the background and doesn’t obstruct the player, but that’s historically been a tough bar for this genre to clear. SpongeBob clears it with his typical flair.

It’s totally absurd that none of the characters can swim, despite the fact that they’re already underwater. That’s a bit of logic the show deliberately toys with at times, but in BFBB, it just feels like the original studio wasn’t planning on doing any “underwater” levels and thus water is a strange hazard in BFBB. Still, most of the time, level design is laid out openly but easy to follow, which is a key attribute for a game which intend on luring the new tablet-obsessed gaming kids of today back to consoles for a game like this, the kind of game that just isn’t made anymore.

SpongeBob seems to toe the line between remake and remaster because it’s quite pretty and seems like more than a fresh coat of paint. Some textures, like walls of areas, feel underdeveloped, but characters are stunning to see. They’re vibrant and joyful and the way they emote when they jump or perform other actions is awesome. As a makeover to one of the early aughts’ most beloved licensed games, BFBB is no cheap cash-in. As fun as it is to play, it’s just as great to look at.

Where BFBB falters is in its new content. While just the remaster was probably enough to excite lots of fans, the team at Purple Lamp revealed plans to go above and beyond by introducing local and online multiplayer in the form of a horde mode. While it’s a nice idea, the execution leaves this new mode lacking and totally skippable. I played it all in one sitting with my wife, and it was a repetitive and brief – less than one hour total – mode that didn’t even offer so much as an achievement at the end for our troubles.

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The multiplayer offering in BFBB is one of those strange cases where the game would be better off without it. It truly would’ve been an addition by subtraction. Instead, it’s here and it soured my impressions a bit by never looking like proper SpongeBob content, with the horde arena being a bland mix of metal sheets to fight on. It feels tacked on and forgettable. Luckily the main campaign is the opposite.

Final Score: 7

You don’t need to be a fan of SpongeBob (I’m not) to enjoy BFBB, nor do you need to have played the original from 2003 (I didn’t) to enjoy this 2020 makeover. Mainly, you need to have an appreciation for this kind of game – a licensed family game that sought to give fans more of what they love. We don’t get them much these days, and admitting they once greatly contributed to the total disappearance of the original THQ, I’m hopeful the reborn THQ Nordic has plans to revive more cult classics like this.

There’s a lot of IP from my cartoon years I’d love to see remade in the style of Battle for Bikini Bottom, and thankfully, signs point to THQ Nordic making plans for more projects like this one. In the words of the renowned tie-clad sponge, “I’m ready.”

 

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