The Spongebob Squarepants Movie – Retro Review
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is a 3D platformer game based on the Spongebob Squarepants Movie. It was developed by Heavy Iron Studios and published by THQ, it was released in 2004 in North America and then in early 2005 in other regions.
The story of the game closely follows the plot of the movie, where Spongebob and Patrick go on a journey to Shell City in order to retrieve Neptune’s Crown (which had been stolen by Plankton). Obviously with the need to make the game longer than a couple of hours, several areas seen in the movie have been expanded upon and padded out. An example of this are the extended period of time they spend in Gooberland, as well as the unexplained lava caverns underneath the Thug Tug.
The gameplay for most of the levels is that of a standard 3d platformer. You use double jumps, spin attacks and a variety of unlock-able abilities to traverse each area and make your way through the main story. You will avoid spike traps, moats of lava and various types of melee and ranged enemies. Every few levels you will be able to drive the Patty Wagon or slide down a track in a bathtub or minecart. There is nothing out of the ordinary happening when it comes to the gameplay mechanics and the characters control fairly well, although the camera controls can be annoying at times.
One of the main problems of this game is the progression through the main story, unless you spend a lot of time completing everything on each level, you will be constantly having to backtrack to get more Goober Tokens. The idea of locking off story content until you have completed enough side missions is not a new concept by any means, but I do wish that the game encouraged exploring and completing other challenges throughout each level. You are never prompted to try and complete a challenge throughout a level, and in fact I found that doing challenges in the first playthrough of an area is actively discouraged by the game design.
Here is an example of what I am talking about:
After 15-20 minutes of making my way through a level and defeating the boss monster at the end, a bridge appears which leads out of the trench (clearly the end of the level). But to get to the bridge I have to run past a challenge teleporter, I decided to quickly jump in and complete this challenge in order to get another Goober Token. But upon completing the challenge, the game dumps me right back at the start of the start with no way to get back apart from playing through the whole level again. A case of astonishingly poor game design there.
There was one particular inaccuracy in the story of the game which I found. At the start of the game you come across a combat challenge in Gooberland, which pits you against waves of enemies who are being controlled by Chum Bucket bucket helmets. Now those of you who are well versed in Spongebob lore will know that it wasn’t until much later on in the movie that Plankton unveils these mind control devices, at this point in the story he didn’t even have the Krabby Patty formula, so how are we supposed to think that people would be wearing his helmets? I really hope someone got fired over that one.
The game isn’t hard by any stretch of the imagination, but the challenges do have the occasional difficulty spikes which were frustrating. In particular the ring challenges which gave me a lot of grief (caused mainly by the checkpoint system which takes you right back to the start of the 5 minute long level if you miss a ring)
Apart from annoyingly difficult ones, I did enjoy the challenges and the driving levels spread throughout the game. They provided a nice break from the normal gameplay and were actually handled pretty well for the most part. Controlling the patty wagon can be a bit hard to get used to, but it’s pretty basic and easy once you’ve spent a few minutes doing it. I do love the way that the wagon is animated as you jump, the buns and toppings in the patty drift apart before slapping back together as you land. It’s cool details like that which give this game the unique Spongebob feel.
As you defeat enemies and destroy crates you collect dumbbells with different weights, these are you experience points which you can use to upgrade Spongebob and Patrick. The purchasable upgrades are pretty standard, a couple of health upgrades as well upgrading the power and usefulness of abilities you have unlocked (such as making the spin attack reflect projectiles back at enemies).
These upgrades do give you a sense of progression through the game, and make dealing with some of the frustrating later levels easier. As per any platformer like this, several areas and challenges are locked off when you first find them. Unlocking new abilities should encourage you to go back through previous levels to explore more, but unfortunately the game doesn’t make it easy to see what challenges require what abilities. Instead, it forces you to go back to the challenge teleporter in the level to find out whether or not you can now try it.
From a graphical perspective, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is about what you would expect from a movie tie-in video game from 2004. Some of the levels and enemies have interesting designs, but overall it’s pretty ordinary. However, it is cool seeing the 2d cartoon being transformed into a 3d world, even if the designs are simple. As I mentioned earlier, there are several little details which make the design feel much more like the animated series, the Patty Wagon jumping or the idle animations of the Spongebob and Patrick are good examples of this.
The cut-scenes between levels are static images pulled straight from the movie. Which provide some familiarity for anyone who has seen it (I can’t imagine many people would be playing this game who haven’t seen the movie). They are simple, but a cool little addition in place of having simple 3d character models try to tell the story. Each image has either audio from the movie, or other recordings from the original voice actors playing while it shows, which helps to immerse the player in the story and the world.
This game was put out to coincide with the release of the Spongebob Squarepants movie, and it probably accomplished what it set out to do. As a movie tie-in the game succeeds, it follows the story and characters of the film while expanding on several locations. It probably sold pretty well and would have increased the visibility of the movie while it was in theatres.
As a game it falls over at several points, although there were some fun sequences of driving and downhill levels. But overall, a frustrating checkpoint system and poor game design choices on a fundamental level lets this game down.