Review: SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake

30 Jan 2023

Are ya ready, kids?

Met with mixed reception though it was, the 2020 remake of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom served as a much welcome return for fans of the cult classic platformer. It seems it was quite the lucrative one as well, given that we’re now staring down the barrel for the release of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake, an entirely new platformer from Purple Lamp Studios (the developer behind said remake) and published by THQ Nordic.

Launching on January 31st, 2023 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, The Cosmic Shake sees SpongeBob traveling through distinctly themed worlds on a quest to rescue his friends. Though this new title is built from the ground up, it’s ostensibly a spiritual sequel to Battle for Bikini Bottom, which brings with it questions of just how new this game will feel when compared to other modern day platformers.

The PC version was played for this review.

Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?

The Cosmic Shake begins in a manner similar to many episodes of the cartoon. SpongeBob wakes to the blaring of a foghorn, declares his ubiquitous readiness, and pays a visit to best friend Patrick. On this particular day, the pair have decided to take a trip to Glove World, where they encounter a mysterious saleswoman selling magic bubble soap with the supposed power of granting wishes.

After hastily purchasing the soap and returning home to blow bubbles with it, it’s revealed to be a much more powerful item than anticipated, and once the bubbles collide, Bikini Bottom’s citizens and structures are sucked into alternate-dimension versions of the town.

It’s a cute idea, in other words, and the theming of these areas is equally cute, if not a bit straightforward. The true benefit of this narrative framing is in the way it gives the development team carte blanche to present prominent elements from the cartoon with a new spin. It’s highly preferable to the game purely retreading old ground, as tie-in games are wont to do.

They aren’t wildly different takes on these classic characters, nor do they so much as border on unexpected, but they’re fun little twists regardless. Seeing Mr. Krabs as a pirate just makes sense, even if it won’t wow you. The same goes for the references the game makes to popular quotes and moments from the show itself, which can be a bit ham-fisted while still falling short of pure gratuitousness.

There are definitely some overused jokes (I’m looking at you, surprisingly-detailed-close-up) and the narrative is thoroughly lacking in surprise, but it’s all handled in a way that’s difficult to pick apart too much considering the source material. At the end of the day, The Cosmic Shake’s story is just as goofy and irreverent as any episode of the show proper, and it works that way.

Drop on the Deck and Flop Like a Fish

“It works” is also an apt description for the gameplay itself. For the most part, the mechanics on offer in The Cosmic Shake are exactly what you’d expect from an old-style platformer revamped for the modern day. To start with, SpongeBob has access to a double jump, a glide, a stomp, and inexplicably, a dodge roll.

When it comes to these core elements, there’s very little to pick apart. It all functions exactly as it should, and more importantly everything feels as it should. Each move comes out exactly when you expect it to, and there’s a tightness to the controls themselves that’s deftly belied by the charming bounciness of the character animations.

Naturally, decent platforming controls don’t amount to much without solid level design to back them up, and The Cosmic Shake does a passable enough job providing levels that sport a decent aesthetic and mechanical variety. Certain levels are more linear, straightforward affairs with clear offshoots leading to optional collectibles, while others will offer the player more freedom to roam and the verticality to discover them on their own.

Paired with this variety is the introduction of new ways of platforming as you work your way through the game, with each world granting SpongeBob an additional way to get around. They keep things from getting overly stale, but also open up previously inaccessible locations in prior levels, encouraging replayability and completionism. Minigames also show up from time to time to bring something new to the table, but they’re typically over before they really get a chance to start.

Combat is also a part of the proceedings, but it’s far from the star of the show. Every enemy has one or two attacks that they loop infinitely until you decide to thwack them with your jellyfish net or stomp on them, but once you deal with a new enemy type once, they quickly fall into the same category as all the others: nowhere near dangerous and easy to deal with. Even if you end up taking a hit from one of them, you’ll be surrounded by healing items no matter what point of the game you’re at.

Despite working with an excessively simple framework, though, I was a little impressed at certain ways I was able to optimize my gameplay. Dodge rolling through a knockback in order to increase my damage uptime on an enemy was not something I was expecting to be able to do in a SpongeBob SquarePants game, and the sheer absurdity of it was enjoyable, even if mashing the attack button would have seen me through most fights just as well as anything else did.

I wish I could say battling evolves beyond this, but it never truly does. There’s very little challenge to be had, and when you’re forced to defeat enemies before you’re able to press onward, they can feel like exceedingly unnecessary stopgaps that make you wish you were just doing more platforming. Thankfully the game doesn’t overuse this particular mechanic, but its inclusion at all is a bit of a detriment to the game’s flow.

As mentioned earlier, there are numerous side objectives to pursue, the most in-depth of which sees SpongeBob collecting gold doubloons hidden throughout the game. As you hit certain thresholds of these coins, you’re then able to purchase new costumes for SpongeBob to change into with jelly, the game’s primary currency that you obtain heaping gobs of.

If you can recall any given outfit SpongeBob has worn in the series, it’s probably present in The Cosmic Shake in some form, and that attention to detail (as well as the sheer number available) is easy to appreciate. That having been said, as far as rewards for optional content go, your mileage may vary on whether or not costumes in and of themselves are an enticing enough carrot-on-a-stick to go out of your way and see everything for.

The real thing holding The Cosmic Shake back on most fronts is its devotion to playing it safe. I kept hoping for a new mechanical addition that felt unique or didn’t have a direct analogue in another platformer, but that moment never came. The game delivers exactly what you’d expect from a competent 3D platformer, nothing more and nothing less. Still, the fun factor here is consistent, and that’s not always a guarantee when it comes to a new platformer of this type.

Absorbent and Yellow and Porous Is He

The visual style of The Cosmic Shake more or less aligns with what we saw in The Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, but the overall quality of the assets and lighting have received a major facelift. Where the game really shines, though, is in its animations. They’re particularly fluid and do a great job emulating the characteristics of the cartoon in their own style, even when movements and facial expressions feel a little at odds with the delivery of certain dialogue.

The full-scale cutscenes are where the presentation truly excels. They’re plentiful and typically play out at a breakneck pace, almost to a point where certain are actions are already over while you’re still processing what happened. It felt a little strange at first, but it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the zaniness of it all and just how much it feels like an overindulgent Saturday-morning cartoon.

The music is also what you’d expect from a SpongeBob game. Ukulele-laden ambiance and relaxed steel guitar abound atop upbeat chord progressions. Given the varying aesthetics of each world, the music will typically change to reflect them, but the individual level tunes have the tendency to run a bit short and recede into the background more often than not.

When it comes to the voiceover work, fans of the show won’t be left wanting. After all, these actors have been playing these characters over over twenty years in some cases, and it shows in the delivery of their lines. If there were any quibbles to eke out here, it’d be regarding the voice direction, as sometimes the characters will emphasize certain words that make sense in a line reading, but not as much in the actual in-game context. These instances are pretty few and far between, but they do stand out in contrast with most of the dialogue.

Aye, Aye, Captain

Ultimately, the core enjoyment of The Cosmic Shake is derived from the fact that it’s a SpongeBob game. If you’re already a fan of Bikini Bottom’s cast of characters, it’s difficult to see you being disappointed with the style of humor and the way each of them are presented. In fact, its adherence to the feel of the show is its most impressive attribute. Even as someone who hasn’t personally paid attention to this franchise in many a year, I still found myself recalling my experience watching the shows earlier seasons as a child and enjoying the small doses of nostalgia.

Its adherence to the cartoon is also its saving grace, as excising the IP from this title leaves you with little more than a simplistic, passable platformer. If nautical nonsense be something you wish, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake will absolutely deliver enjoyment on par with the cartoon itself—just don’t expect there to be much of anything you haven’t seen before.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review code provided by THQ Nordic for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of THQ Nordic.