When I told friends that I was reviewing the Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom remake, I got a few confused looks. Why was developer Purple Lamp Studios and publisher THQ Nordic taking a chance on this nautical nonsense?
Turns out, the game was actually pretty successful. Its cult classic status is evidenced by its membership in PS2 Greatest Hits, Xbox Platinum Family Hits and Nintendo Gamecube Player’s Choice. Perhaps more importantly, the original Battle for Bikini Bottom has an extremely passionate speed-running community that’s going full speed seventeen years later.
Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is out now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch. This review is based off my time with the Switch version.
Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated (BBFB:R) is a 3D platformer that harks to the genre’s golden era of the late 1990s/early 2000s. It has been completely remade from the ground up.
The player switches between Spongebob, Sandy and Patrick, depending on what skills the level requires. Spongebob bubble bounces onto enemies, bubble bowls and uses first-person-controlled bubble missiles. Sandy kicks and karate chops, and glides over long distances using her lasso.
Patrick… well, Patrick can lift things. You do you, Patrick.
BBFB is also a collect-a-thon. 100 golden spatulas, 50 of Patrick’s socks, and infinite “shinies”. It’s open world, in the sense that technically you could go wherever you want whenever you want, but only when you’ve collected the requisite number of golden spatulas.
After an initial learning curve as I felt my way around the 3D space, I found the controls to be relatively tidy and responsive. There are a few exceptions to this, such as the bungee-jumping sections, but they aren’t a deal-breaker to the overall game. The levels are varied and well-designed, looping in and round in clever ways, with the one caveat that out-of-bounds areas are difficult to identify and prone to glitching.
I was five times golden spatula in the navy, so I’ll be runnin’ the grill
So, why golden spatulas? Why are we in the Mermalair? Why are we taking time out to find King Jelly’s jelly for Squidward’s bruises?
Shush now, BFBB:R’s plot doesn’t need to make sense. All you need to know is that Plankton has lost control of his robot army, and it’s up to Spongebob, Patrick and Sandy to get into the Chum Bucket to defeat them.
This overarching robot plot is purely a metal shell within which to contain 3D platforming and Spongebob references. Due to the inherently different comedic timing of cartoons and video games, the jokes don’t land as well as they might have, but they’re not a complete miss either.
If you’re a fan of the show, especially of the iconic first season, then BFBB:R is a delight for recycled quotes (“It’s a giraffe!”) and side character appearances like Larry the Lobster and Bubble Buddy.
And let’s be real – we all know that Season1 Spongebob is the best Spongebob.
The original subdued colours of the original BFBB have been replaced with gloriously bright hues, much closer to the look of the show. This, as well as being graphically superior, helps BFBB:R shed some of its early 2000s vibe, but not enough that it ever feels like a different game altogether.
The soundtrack has also been given the musical equivalent of a fresh coat of paint. The difference isn’t immediately apparent, but after listening to a side by side comparison, the new compositions have more instruments and result in a fuller sound.
The mostly original voice actors are a real highlight, particularly Tom Kenny as Spongebob. This sometimes had the perverse effect of making the new voice actors really stand out. I ground my teeth whenever Mr Krabs had a line; and it’s not that the voice actor did a poor job, but rather that they were so obviously not the voice actor that any immersion was immediately broken.
Aw, tartar sauce!
BBFB:R, being a remake, contains a few tweaks and improvements. Many models and animations have been redone, including updated tiki faces and enemy redesigns. Mr Krabs is far greedier in this version, requiring a higher number of shinies for golden spatulas. There are also some quality of life changes to how Patrick and Sandy play in combat.
I’m curious to see how BFBB:R performs on other consoles, as on Switch I suffered from varying framerate drops throughout the game. Load screens, including upon death, going out of bounds, or going into a new area, took about 15 seconds on average. That’s a long time when all you’ve got to look at is a blank screen with the small text “Loading” in the corner (or when speedrunning – a key section of the BFBB community).
The most trumpeted addition to BBFB:R is the new multiplayer “Horde Mode”, created out of cut content from the original game. This can be played online, and to it’s credit, via the all-too-rare couch-co-op.
“Horde Mode” is made up of fighting waves of enemies while platforming through different islands. You reach an island, fight a few waves, then move on. Do this for about 40 minutes and Robo-Squidward is defeated.
And… that’s it. While being able to play as other characters like Squidward and Plankton was a novelty, there’s no exciting new dialogue or scenes, or even a difficult challenge. I felt empty as Robo-Squidward disappeared into the waves, and I was back at the menu.
In the words of Plankton – Goodbye, Horde Mode, I’ll remember you in therapy.
Seventeen years later
Brand-based games are often an empty cash grab. In contrast, BFBB feels like it was written by developers who genuinely care about Spongebob as a franchise. The many Season 1 references are both comfortingly familiar and obscure enough that you feel special when you recognise them. It’s also a rock-solid 3D platformer, as long as you remember that it’s a product of its time.
As discussed, the Switch version has its share of rough edges from framerates to glitches. I can’t help but feel that the time spent on the new Horde Mode may have been better spent on ironing out these kinks.
But if this is a treasured game from your childhood, maybe you shouldn’t give a Flying Dutchman about review scores. BBFB:R is your chance to experience an old favourite on current generation consoles, which isn’t a chance all childhood favourites will get.