The year 2003 gave us the mega-popular Finding Nemo and saw the theatrical release of both Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the finale to The Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Return of the King. Yet my memories of that year keep circling around one piece of media in particular: SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom that launched for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Now, a mere 17 years later, SpongeBob is coming back with a complete remake of the original for all current-gen systems. Published by THQ Nordic and developed by Purple Lamp Studios, this remake was announced at last year’s E3 event. But will it quench your thirst, or is this sponge all dried out? This is our review of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated for PlayStation 4.
Chock-full of New Bubbles!
This Rehydrated remake features updated graphics, improved gameplay, and even offers content that got cut from the original release. Despite being licensed after a kid’s TV show, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Island is often considered as one of the great 3D platformers of its time, alongside Banjo-Tooie and Super Mario Sunshine. The original level designs have been perfectly recreated and brought to modern consoles so players can relive those same 2003 days in all its splendor.
In SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, a title that I will never get tired of saying, there are 100 Golden Spatulas to find which are the primary driving force behind everything that you’ll do. Additionally, there are 50 of Patrick’s socks hidden throughout the levels that are required for obtaining 5 of those Golden Spatulas as well. It’s a collectathon style of game that was typical of 3D platformers from the early 2000s.
Gameplay That’s Stuck in the Sand
That, unfortunately, is one of the biggest problems with Rehydrated: it plays just like it did from back in 2003. The three playable story characters – SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy – all have the same movements and actions that they did in the original. You use their unique abilities to solve character-specific puzzles throughout any given level, but there’s no real creativity given to the puzzles. Every level has been perfectly recreated to a fault; why didn’t they improve upon them instead?
I would have enjoyed some fresh new abilities or new puzzles with some additional hidden secrets to collect, but it would appear that Rehydrated is just a remaster and not an actual remake despite featuring updates including new multiplayer content. There have been nearly two decades-worth of platformers that have come out since Battle for Bikini Bottom’s original release, but no new ideas or improved concepts have been brought over to Rehydrated.
There are even questionable gameplay elements still in effect that should have been downright thrown out. For example, in one of the first areas of the game – Jellyfish Fields – there were numerous times that I accidentally fell into a shallow pool of ‘goo’ or stumbled down a cliff that killed me and forced me to wait through a loading screen while it respawned me at the beginning of the level. I became frustrated and couldn’t comprehend why they retained this aspect of the original game. Couldn’t you just respawn me right next to where I fell? Couldn’t there have been more ‘checkpoints’ sprinkled liberally throughout the levels?
I look back on my memories in Bikini Bottom with rose-tinted glasses, but I don’t remember having to endure through so many loading screens at the time. What I do remember was the graphics, and how “life-like” the world and characters of Bikini Bottom felt to me. That same feeling persists, thanks to all of the graphical improvements made in Rehydrated. Sure, it doesn’t have the graphical fidelity as other remakes like Ratchet and Clank or Spyro the Dragon, but SpongeBob and Patrick have never looked so good before!
Character models are noticeably more complex, and everyone looks like their cartoon counterpart as if it was a perfect 3D recreation of the TV show. The world also appears more vibrant, with the obnoxious blurriness of the original game now removed and every background object being fully rendered in 3D. Although the designs of certain things, like buildings, can appear blocky or angular it only adds to the aesthetic of the original cartoon.
That said, during cutscene transitions or when loading into a new area, there are still a lot of graphical hiccups including delayed rendering and texture pop-ins. I was surprised at how long the load times took and, even then, the sheer volume of graphical hitches that were immediately apparent. This probably won’t matter to the average 6-year-old that might play this, but for fans of the nostalgia (like me) this detracts from the overall enjoyment of the game.
Robo-Squidward and the Multiplayer Mode
There is some new content added to Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated as well, in the form of a brand-new multiplayer mode. It’s a horde mode for two players that need to co-operate and fight groups of robotic enemies in order to defeat a gigantic robot Squidward. This multiplayer mode can be played either online with a random person that you can matchmake with, or via split-screen for a more traditional couch co-op way to play.
This is a nice new addition to the main game, but it gets nauseatingly repetitive even during a single playthrough. There are 27 levels, or islands, to complete and each island has three waves of enemies to destroy before moving on. The funny thing is that it’s pretty much impossible to fail this mode, and you can beat it through sheer persistence if you want to. There are no punishments for dying and no reward for not-dying. There’s a score that’s tracked in case you want to get competitive but even that doesn’t work.
During my time playing multiplayer, I encountered a bug where I would receive points from my teammate’s kills even if I never touched the enemy. By the time we finished all 27 islands, I had amassed over 5,000 more points than he did. The only cool things about this new multiplayer mode are the Robotic Squidward, which you don’t actually fight against at any point, and the additional playable characters. Squidward, Gary, Plankton, and Mr. Krabs can join the fray and each features their own unique attacks and animations. My favorite? Squidward, of course! But even he was bugged to where after getting hit, I could rapid-fire my clarinet attack at enemies which gave me an unfair advantage.
I was really looking forward to playing SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated during this period of time that doom and gloom appear to surround everything else. I was all too glad to put down the more serious and gorier The Last of Us Part II in order to unwind with some lighthearted Nickelodeon goodness. Unfortunately, Rehydrated doesn’t offer up more than a few hours of content to distract from the doldrums. It took me roughly 8 hours to beat the story, but it would probably take up to 12 to collect everything. If you’re looking for a new game to play in quarantine, this isn’t it.
Despite the nostalgia, I honestly can’t recommend this game to anyone except for families with small children. There’s no penalty for death, except for having to backtrack through areas, and the combat is simple enough that any kid will be able to pick it up easily. The good news is that SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for only $29.99. The bad news is that I still think that’s overpriced.
*Note: A copy was provided by PR on PlayStation 4 for review purposes.
COMPARE TO: Super Mario Odyssey, Banjo Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine