When it comes to licensed games, few are remembered as fondly as SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom. It is tea definition of a cult classic game, overlooked by most but dearly loved by those who grew up with the avalanche of licensed platformers that crowded the PlayStation 2 and GameCube’s libraries. Following the success of developer Purple Lamp’s remake of Battle for Bikini Bottom, the studio has been given the opportunity to create an entirely original follow-up to one of the most beloved licensed games of all time. There are some big shoes (and square pants) to fill here, so how does SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake compare?
If the excellent remake of Battle for Bikini Bottom wasn’t enough proof that Purple Lamp is the perfect home for everyone’s favorite undersea sponge, then Cosmic Shake will sway any nonbelievers. This is the definitive SpongeBob game. SpongeBob is a cultural touchstone that continues to unite old and young even today, and Cosmic Shake embraces that. As ridiculous as it may sound, SpongeBob SquarePants is an important show and Purple Lamp treats it with the respect it deserves.
Purple Lamp’s love for the source material flows throughout all aspects of Cosmic Shake. It’s an infectious adoration that transforms the game into a lightning round of references that force a smile onto the faces of new and old SpongeBob alike. You may wonder why the pirates of Goo Lagoon are launching explosive homemade pies at you when you first start the level, but then you’ll realize that they’re not actually homemade. They were made in a factory. AT bomb factory. They’re bombs. Some of the references can feel a bit forced at times, like SpongeBob singing the Krusty Krab pizza jingle nearly every time he uses his glider, but it’s hard not to smile whenever you see a classic SpongeBob moment pop up when you least expect it.
The Cosmic Shake is able to shove all these references into its short 8-hour runtime because of its unique premise. The totally not evil mermaid Kassandra gives SpongeBob and Patrick a vial of mermaid tears that have the power to grant wishes, and in true SpongeBob fashion, their well-intentioned wishes bring disaster to Bikini Bottom. The undersea town is covered in strange cosmic jelly and their friends are sucked into mysterious portals that lead to distinctly different worlds.
Jellyfish Fields now has a wild-west makeover with Mr. Krabs playing the role of a dastardly bandit, for example, and Squidward has taken up a position as a film director in Karate Downtown Bikini Bottom. Patrick has also been transformed into a balloon, allowing him to follow SpongeBob around like a fairy from The Legend of Zelda, which is a brilliant idea that lets the two best friends banter throughout the entire game.
This premise not only gives Purple Lamp the liberty to explore some of SpongeBob’s often overlooked specials like the medieval Dunces and Dragons and the prehistoric Ugh, but it also gives SpongeBob the opportunity to acquire a wide range of abilities for both traversal and combat. SpongeBob’s moveset starts out disappointingly limited, but as you explore each of the game’s levels, you unlock new tricks like the Karate Kick and the ability to swing from hooks. Once you’ve acquired new abilities, you can return to previous levels and explore new routes to collect golden spatulas and doubloons.
The Cosmic Shake rewards this exploration with new costumes that reference over a decade of SpongeBob history. It’s a shame that some of these, like the fan-favorite Band Geeks outfit, are locked behind a DLC paywall, but there are still dozens of outfits to unlock in the base game. Some of them are deep cuts, like SpongeBob’s maid costume or his ghost costume from the Halloween special, so it’s always a nice surprise when the next tier of costumes is revealed after collecting enough doubloons.
While you won’t unlock each and every costume until well after the credits roll, the initial journey through each of the game’s worlds is a treat. The game’s short runtime is actually to its benefit, with none of the worlds overstaying their welcome. Just as one of them begins to feel played out, you’re onto the next distinct zone with new abilities to master and new characters to meet. They play out like miniature episodes of the show, complete with the full cast of voice actors and licensed music. Yes, they even got Sweet Victory. Nothing was held from Purple Lamp and it shows.
That’s likely because of the success the studio had with remaking Battle for Bikini Bottom, and the lessons learned from that game are clearly represented in Cosmic Shake. The game builds on everything Battle for Bikini Bottom established in 2003. It removes the emphasis on pixel perfect platforming and spreads its focus evenly on platforming, combat, and fun abilities. This stops the moment to moment gameplay from feeling stale and makes some of the more elaborate platforming sections a joy to traverse, balancing swinging, fighting, bubble board surfing, and more.
Of course, none of Cosmic Shake’s mechanics are truly excellent, but the gameplay loop is more than the sum of its parts. It’s at its best when you’re juggling each of the game’s mechanics as you run and jump through a path set in a vibrant reimagined section of Bikini Bottom that leads to a reference to your favorite SpongeBob episode. Things can slow down quite a bit at times, especially when the game forces you into a combat arena with enemies that take way too many hits to bring down, but those don’t entirely ruin the pacing. Plus, you’ll have enough abilities after a few hours to make quick work of these sections anyway.
All in all, your enjoyment of The Cosmic Shake is going to depend on your history with SpongeBob. Fans of the show will appreciate the love and care that has been poured into every nook and cranny of this acquatic adventure, but the references and jokes may be lost on those who have never seen an episode. Still, even those will have a slight interest in SpongeBob love The Cosmic Shake for its unique worlds, great pacing, and infectious charm. If nautical nonsense be something you wish, there’s a ton of fun to be had under the sea in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game’s publisher, public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.