SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake | Header

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/XONE/XSX): Battle for Bikini Bargain Bin (Detailed Review)

If I had a nickel for every retro throwback 3D platformer that was based around time travel, that made my most anticipated games of 2023 list, and ended up mediocre and disappointing, I’d have two nickels. I don’t know why someone would give me two nickles for two games existing though, it’s not like I did anything to earn them. Are people just giving out free nickels these days? Well if so, then I want some please!

So I actually finished SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake a while back, and just didn’t get to write the review until recently because a lot of shit happened. And also I wrote two other reviews between now and when I posted my Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion review, so I assure you that I am not spending all my spare time on drugs… you know damn well I can’t afford them.

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake can basically be summed up as… well you saw the review tagline. Despite the fact that Battle for Bikini Bottom is two decades old, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is immensely inferior to it in every way. Keep in mind, Cosmic Shake is constantly reminding you of Battle for Bikini Bottom, given the frequent re-use of assets and call backs to it. This game is trying so hard to appeal to people who grew up with Battle for Bikini Bottom,yet it lacks the sense of polish that the original game had. This results in something that feels more in line with weaker SpongeBob titles, such as Revenge of the Flying Dutchman or Creature From the Krusty Crab; games that may evoke nostalgia from those who played them as kids, but who won’t impress any adults who play them.

Okay, maybe THIS will impress them!

Everything about SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake makes it feel like it tried to recreate what was good about Battle for Bikini Bottom, but they only recognized it on a surface level. For example, five of the seven worlds share names with locations in Battle for Bikini Bottom, but have a slightly different coat of paint. The levels are named Wild West Jellyfish Fields, Karate Downtown Bikini Bottom, Pirate Goo Lagoon, Halloween Rock Bottom, and Prehistoric Kelp Forest; literally just the stages from Battle for Bikini Bottom with a random descriptor tacked on to the front. The other two stages, Medieval Sulfur Field and Jelly Glove World, are more original.

The humor in The Cosmic Shake is also significantly weaker than Battle for Bikini Bottom, and the writing quality feels like something out of the mediocre newer seasons that fans collectively pretend don’t exist. While the humor was sharp and witty in Battle for Bikini Bottom, The Cosmic Shake only occasionally made me laugh, and often dragged out the most unfunny jokes for way too long. The worst example was in the Medieval level, where Patrick made a joke about fixing things by licking them. It was not only painfully unfunny, but the writers had so much confidence in this joke that they kept adding more examples of Patrick licking things to fix them, with him chiming in several times over the course of the next fifteen minute level. The only thing worse than an unfunny joke is an unfunny joke that is milked to death because the person who wrote it thinks it’s gold, and this makes the game feel so much more annoying.

Oh brother, this guy stinks!

The story also lacks any stakes, and it adds nothing to the overall experience. Before anyone hounds me about critiquing story in a SpongeBob game, I’m not asking for Final Fantasy here. Just look at the first SpongeBob movie for example. It was funny sure, but also the stakes were high, and don’t pretend you didn’t cry at the scene in Shell City. And yes, Battle for Bikini Bottom wasn’t on that level, but the dynamic of SpongeBob thinking he caused the robot invasion when it was Plankton’s fault was engaging. Instead we have… a bunch of goop, and SpongeBob being incredibly oblivious to the fact that Kassandra is evil… God I can never catch a break with people who have that name.

The only part where the story felt interesting was in the Glove World stage, which had this almost surreal tone to it. The level was about SpongeBob succumbing to grief and fear about Patrick being gone, and the chapter villain claiming that Patrick is his friend now, and the chapter villain was surprisingly unsettling. It also ended with a “you are now my friend” speech that sounds like it came straight from a JRPG. While the main plot feels forced, it was interesting to have a chapter where something seems to have genuine stakes. The music is strangely ominous despite it’s upbeat tone, and feels like something out of The Amazing Digital Circus. This stage was strangely out of place in terms of atmosphere, and served as one of the more interesting parts of the game, and the boss fight against Glovey Glove feels more like a final boss than the actual final boss, who was a total letdown.

At least there’s a Squidward boss fight this time… too bad it’s lame.

One other complaint about the setting is the strange inconsistency with accuracy to the original episodes that inspired them. The Prehistoric level is a fairly entertaining nod to the SpongeBob Squarepants BC episode, and they even went to the extent of having every character speak in the same fictional caveman language as the episode. Yet in the Medieval stage, there’s barely any references to the “Dunces and Dragons” episode (which is one of the more underrated episodes of the series), and they get basic shit wrong like character’s names. The Squidward expy in the original episode was called Squidly, yet in this one he’s called Squidnote.

It strikes me as if there was a lot more effort put into nods to pre-movie episodes and references to them than trying to make something that stands on its own merits. There are a lot of gags that are less jokes, and more so just “hey remember the Chocolate guy? We brought him back as an NPC!” NPCs that aren’t attempts to reference the original, will usually be completely lifeless shit like a little girl screaming “I wanna be a Princess!” over and over again.

My first impression of the game was initially positive in the Wild West stage, namely because the music is amazing. The music is an important part in setting the stage in a collectathon platformer. You want something that sounds adventurous and that captures the mood of the area. This track does that perfectly, and I imagine that kids who grow up with this game will have a lot of nostalgic feelings surrounding this music. Then the next stage has incredibly generic action movie music that I swear I’ve heard several times before. The following stage has some very good music that, once again, gave me hope for this game. The next two stages had alright music, the medieval stage had the most generic fantasy setting music possible, and then the Glove World stage had great music.

The soundtrack has some stand out tracks, but was lackluster overall. Just compare the Bikini Bottom theme from Battle for Bikini Bottom to that of Cosmic Shake, and notice how much livelier the former is than the latter. Also I was quite disappointed to see that they didn’t use Sweet Victory for anything interesting, and just tacked it on as the end credits theme where it didn’t fit in the slightest. I know I said I was excited when I saw they did that in the trailer, but that’s because I was expecting it to be implemented in a remotely interesting way beyond playing over a blank black credits scene.”

But SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake doesn’t just forget what made Battle For Bikini Bottom special in terms of presentation, it also takes several step backs in gameplay. The Bubble Bash move from Battle for Bikini Bottom is arbitrarily removed, and the game instead opts to over complicate moves for the purpose of giving you a new move to gain each world ala Banjo-Kazooie. The irony in this is that The Cosmic Shake has the exact opposite problem that Clive ‘N’ Wrench did. Where Clive ‘N’ Wrench gave you every move right off the bat and hampered any sense of progression, The Cosmic Shake gives you a bunch of moves that are entirely circumstantial and that exist only for the sake of padding content.

The Bubble Button, for example, is used only to touch buttons you can’t walk up to and has no applicable use in battle, the Boo Scare can literally only be used in one world, and the grand slam is just a stronger ground pound. Moves like the Bubble Surf and Reef Blower can only be used if you find one of the designated item use spots and serve no utility outside of them. Compare this to Battle for Bikini Bottom, where the Bubble Bowl and Cruise Bubble had a ton of practical use in general gameplay, and did more than just “remove designated progress barrier.”

Slide stages are still cool, but they’re missing the awesome music.

I am aware that this is also an issue in some games I like such as Banjo-Tooie and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but those games are significantly less linear that Cosmic Shake is, and thus the lack of utility for some moves is balanced out by the rewarding feeling of discovering new secrets. Meanwhile, SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake won’t even let you collect certain items until you traverse the world they’re in once. And for clarity’s sake, I don’t mean that you come back with certain moves to unlock them (though they have those to, and tbh, replaying all the levels with all moves so I can collect those doubloons was the best part). I mean that they wall off items that one could easily obtain on the first run through if they were spawned there, but you can’t because you need someone in the hub world to tell you to collect them first.

Speaking of collectables, they are are also worse in this game. Despite how much The Cosmic Shake is based off of Battle for Bikini Bottom, the collectables are a lot less meaningful this time around. Hell you don’t even need to collect anything to make progress in the game, you just need to play through the levels one time. The collectables are all bonuses, but they are also the game’s best feature. This inherent contradiction in design effectively neuters the game’s chance at comparing to Battle for Bikini Bottom in fun factor, because collecting doubloons whose only purpose is unlocking alternate costumes feels nowhere near as rewarding as collecting golden spatulas did. Oh, but there is actually a golden spatula in each world… they don’t do anything though.

Also worth noting that every world also has a set of items you need to collect, for which your reward is a doubloon. You also need to find Plankton’s pet Spot in each world, and your reward for that is also a doubloon. So much of the gameplay loop is based around collecting shit that does not effect the core game, or provide anything noteworthy other than cosmetics. I genuinely don’t understand why this was changed, when the core gameplay worked so well in Battle for Bikini Bottom.

Oh, and the magic jelly that you collect in the game respawns infinitely, which is in contrast to Battle for Bikini’s shiny objects, which have some areas where they can be earned infinitely, but don’t respawn on the ground. In Battle For Bikini Bottom, they allowed the player to see which area of the level they explored already, and there’s a serotonin boost whenever you find a big purple one. This is all lost by making them all continuously respawn. Oh, and these don’t effect the gameplay either, and are also just for unlocking costumes.

That leaves the subject of level design, which is often hit or miss. The Wild West, Pirate, Prehistoric, and Glove World levels were the ones without any especially glaring moments, aside from the Prehistoric boss being harder than anything else in the game (Not hard enough that I had a difficult time mind you, but kids probably will). The Karate level had two scrolling segments where you have to stay on screen, and I had a difficult time until I realized you don’t have to kill all the enemies that appear. Otherwise, I can’t really say that level design was especially good or bad.

That being said, the combat was utter garbage. So much of it consists of waiting for large enemies to show their weak point and hitting them for one damage point, then waiting again, then hitting them again, then waiting again, and trying to hit them but missing the window, then waiting again, then finally hitting them and killing them. Most players will only fight enemies when they have to to progress. The boss fights were all right, with the exception of the final boss that was a lame rehash of the boss you fought right before it.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’m not going to say that SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake is a bad game by any means. It however, is not a good game. There is something especially depressing about THQ Nordic failing to live up to the standards set by a remake that in and of itself, was immensely inferior to the original title. Kids who play it and who don’t have any sort of standards developed for games will probably enjoy this game, but I cannot bring myself to recommend this to anyone else. The lackluster quality of SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake, alongside their shoddy remake of Battle for Bikini Bottom makes me significantly less likely to take any future SpongeBob titles from Purple Lamp seriously, or to get my hopes up.

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