SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake review: "More of the same"
When the remake of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom launched back in 2020, fans were overjoyed and nostalgic to be returning to the much-beloved platformer of the PS2 era. Its reception, from general audiences at least, was extremely positive, promoting THQ Nordic to commission the successor launching in 2023.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake takes the DNA of the remake and aims to build upon its foundations for fans and a whole new audience. With an opportunity to create a brand-new adventure and continue the momentum Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated delivered, developer Purple Lamp has a daunting task ahead of them.
It’s a careful balancing act that needs to be played, ensuring newcomers are gifted a platformer that lives up to the series’ legacy, whilst also keeping nostalgic fans onboard with memorable gameplay. The result is a safe, yet somewhat bumpy successor, that does very little to invigorate the series but manages to retain its identity.
Despite its source material, the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise has played host to some truly great platformers. From the aforementioned Battle of Bikini Bottom to the surprising exceptional tie-in for The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie - fans young and old have enjoyed exploring the corners of Bikini Bottom over the years.
In the case of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake, players will find themselves in Bikini Bottom once again. This time, venturing into various worlds based on iconic locations after SpongeBob and Patrick accidentally tear the fabric of space and time with some magical Mermaid Tears.
The adventures through time allow Purple Lamb the opportunity to mix up the locales SpongeBob aficionados explore. Sure, you get to explore classic areas of Bikini Bottom, but your main goal is to restore it to its former glory. After almost breaking reality itself, SpongeBob and Patrick - the latter of which turns into a balloon and accompanies you over the course of the game - must venture into these unknown worlds and overcome their challenges.
Graphically, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake feels reminiscent of Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated. It’s colourful, vibrant, and if you have a 4K TV with HDR enabled, you may need sunglasses for the sheer assault on the senses. Yet, despite the wide range of colours, it doesn't feel as much of an evolution from previous games in the series as we would have wished for.
Environments are fairly linear, and while that’s the case for pretty much everyone single game featuring the cartoon hero, it’s disappointing no steps were taken to evolve the level design. You’ll encounter the odd area where certain collectibles and trinkets may reside off the beaten path, but there’s always one way through each world.
Gameplay in Battle for Bikini Bottom revolved around you tracking down Golden Spatulas, and while you could get them in any order, levels funneled you through the correct path of obtaining them. It was dated at the time, with games such as Banjo-Kazooie and Jak & Daxter offering more freedom to the player, but in 2023, it would have been nice to see environments expanded a bit more.
Thankfully, the paths the game sets you off on are an enjoyable romp. The worlds are used to great effect, interjecting objectives and locales that take familiar areas of the series and add a new spin. Whether it be a prehistoric trip back in time or fighting your way through a Japanese dojo, it's the most diverse the franchise has ever been, crammed with little Easter Eggs for long-time fans.
F is for fun
Despite any reservations we have about the level design, the core platforming still feels great. You’ll be running, jumping, gliding, and battling your way through waves of foes. In defense of the linearity, it manages to create some truly enjoyable sequences, such as a pursuit across a moving train.
As you progress, you’ll earn a variety of upgrades to expand your abilities such as the Fishhook Swing to reach previously unobtainable areas. Your first foray through levels will tease you with collectibles unapproachable until you have the right move to advance forward. It’s always a constant carrot at the end of a stick to keep the momentum moving forward.
The gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it’s surprising how many games can get it wrong. Take Balan Wonderworld for example - a game that should have absolutely resonated with the platforming crowd. Instead, it failed to capture the core concept of how a platformer should feel.
More modern platformers such as Psychonauts 2 and New Super Lucky’s Tale have nailed the feeling, and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake fits right into that category. For every platformer that gets it right, there is always one or two who stumble at making it a success, making this already a cut above the rest.
However, there are times when things hit a bit of turbulence, but this usually comes in the form of short set pieces. An early example sees you riding a Seahorse through an on-rails segment, but the controls feel stilted and slow, meaning it’s just not very fun to play. There’s even a stealth section later in the game that feels completely out of place from everything else.
It’s not exactly a challenging game, and won’t rival something such as Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, but it’s not always about how hard a platformer is. Sometimes after a long day at school, or even work, you just want to unwind and go through the satisfying loop of jumping into a collect-a-thon. If that’s what you want, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake absolutely delivers.
While the platforming is top-notch, combat feels uninspired. For the most part, it’s incredibly basic, but the problem is there are times when the game throws too many foes at you. Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated encountered a similar problem, and it’s one that hasn’t been rectified here.
This time around, you have bubbles you can use to stun enemies and lock them inside. It helps with crowd control, but often never reacts the way you expect it to. It’s cumbersome to aim, and enemies also have the tendency to not even flinch when it hits them. When you’re locked into your fifth, sixth, or even seventh combat arena of a level, it starts to grate on you.
Some enemies also come equipped with mini health bars, such as one that spews out more enemies. Every time you hit them, you’re pushed back by a sonic wave and have to fight your way back again. These encounters are easy enough that they don't drastically ruin the pacing, allowing you to get back to the platforming goodness, but there are the odd moments when you'll hit your limit.
Boss fights are more enjoyable, and for achievement and trophy hunters out there, offer more of a challenge with awards for defeating certain ones without being hit. They usually cap off levels in an epic fashion, having you utilise all your skills at your disposal, whilst also leaving a memorable impression on your adventure in that world.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is also prone to a fair few glitches and crashes at the time of review. It’s been mentioned these will be fixed in an upcoming patch, however, we encountered multiple hard crashes, random death encounters where we fell through the floor, and companions being stuck in a certain location.
None of these glitches, bugs, or even crashes are a dealbreaker, but it is disappointing to see considering Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated launched in a much more polished state. Whether the game’s release will rectify these problems is something we’ll just have to wait and see.
More of the same
For better or for worse, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is more of what fans of the series have embraced over the years. It will undoubtedly appeal to most of the fan base, but for anyone on the outside, it doesn't quite reach the heights of more iconic modern platformers.
However, despite reservations about the levels and combat in particular, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. The platforming feels great and every frame of the game is gorgeous to look at. We just hope the next adventure takes a bigger leap in the gameplay department.
Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.