Nostalgia is a powerful tool. Starting SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated had me grinning from ear to ear, and the memories kept flooding through as I played through such classic levels as Sand Mountain and Goo Lagoon, just much much prettier. Everything was as I remembered it to be, and I couldn’t believe that a SpongeBob game still held up in 2020.
The further I got into Bikini Bottom, the more I realised how powerful nostalgia really is. Yes, SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle For Bikini Bottom is still great fun, but nostalgia makes you forget the Kelp Forest and its infuriating level design. Nostalgia makes you forget the Mermalair and its awful physics puzzle. Nostalgia makes you forget Rock Bottom’s ball-rolling sections.
All of this is to say that Battle For Bikini Bottom is exactly as you remember it, although you probably don’t remember some of the bad bits. This isn’t, and probably never was, the best licensed game out there, but it’s still great fun and a real treat for SpongeBob fans.
The premise of Battle For Bikini Bottom is simple. Plankton’s robot army has gotten out of control and SpongeBob and friends have to stop him by collecting Golden Spatulas to get into the Chum Bucket. It’s nonsensical and never really explained, but it’s all done in a purposeful way.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much Battle For Bikini Bottom’s humour holds up in 2020. SpongeBob has changed a lot over the years, but this peek into what the early series was like is really cool. There’s a lot of fun dialogue and character interactions here, and I shamelessly laughed at Patrick’s “I don’t speak Italian” joke every time I heard it.
As you might expect, the big new thing here is the updated visuals and it’s a really big improvement over the original. Characters pop and animate well, but the real work is in the environments. Gone are the days of a near pitch-black Kelp Forest or a muddy looking Jellyfish Fields as everything looks fantastic here. It’s incredibly colourful, and a real joy to look at.
The same can’t be said for the audio though, which is my biggest complaint about the game. It seems to be taken from the original game and is mixed very weirdly, sometimes coming out far too loud. It was horrendously glitchy on my playthrough, with sound effects and music completely cutting out at times. After a certain point SpongeBob didn’t audibly react to either taking damage or getting a Golden Spatula, and the whole of the final boss was done in near silence.
Silence isn’t always a bad thing with Battle For Bikini Bottom though because, and I hate to say it, the game’s sound design can be really annoying. I can still hear SpongeBob’s “boing” sound in my head, and the wolf-whistle of collecting health isn’t funny by the 100th time. It’s funny because I distinctly remember it being very charming for the first hour, but it quickly wears off when it’s all you’re listening to.
I also found the framerate to be very patchy in the Switch release. The game is clearly trying to get 60 frames-per-second but it never really gets there, so the frame rate seems choppy in both handheld and docked mode. These issues aren’t enough to take away from the overall game, but they are annoying.
As an aside, a day one patch for Battle For Bikini Bottom was released that aimed to fix some rendering issues and improve the game overall. It’s a pretty big patch, and from my checks it has actually fixed some of the missing audio issues I had. The frame-rate is unchanged from the looks of it though.
Even with all the technical issues, I still had a blast playing through Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated and that’s thanks to how it plays.
Battle For Bikini Bottom’s gameplay is unchanged from the original release, which is a good thing. You explore levels and complete tasks to collect a doodad that’ll unlock more levels. Think Super Mario 64 but with SpongeBob characters and locations and you’re in the right frame of mind.
Battle For Bikini Bottom essentially gives you one or two main objectives in a level and then lets you discover new ones as you explore the levels. There are usually 10 Golden Spatulas to collect, and most of them come naturally from just exploring, but there are also ones for doing bungee jumps, getting to an objective fast enough and more. These objectives are usually pretty generic, but having them in the world of SpongeBob takes that away significantly.
Collect enough Golden Spatulas and you’ll gain access to a boss fight that’ll then let you access new levels. These boss fights are actually a highlight too, as they show the best of the character interactions, even if the fights themselves go on a bit much.
When it first released, one of the main draws was the fact that you could play as Sandy and Patrick alongside SpongeBob. This is still a really cool feature, although it’s still a bit of a shame that Sandy isn’t used all that much. She’s absolutely the best character to play as, so I would have loved to see more of her. As you’d expect, SpongeBob is the main focus here though, and he’s the only character that gets new abilities, although the bowling ball is the only one that’s actually fun to use.
The platforming feel is really what makes Battle For Bikini Bottom fun to play. Controlling SpongeBob and the others just feels really good after a while, thanks to how light they all feel. Even the one button combat feels crunchy and satisfying.
A lot of the fun also comes from being a SpongeBob fan. Seeing characters like Bubble Buddy and Barnacle Boy is really cool and even now the game feels like a loving tribute to the series. This remake was especially made for fans of the show, so I can’t imagine it being very appealing to anyone else. That being said, I hope the speedrunning community is just as strong with this remaster.
The further you get into the game, the more the difficulty rises and the more annoying things start coming out. The first half of the game has some mostly fantastic levels but, like I’ve alluded to, there are some real stinkers in there. Kelp Forest and the Mermalair weren’t fun in the slightest, although I think that’s a known fact with the community. By that point in the game, repetition starts to set in a little bit and the same-y objectives all start to blend together.
It’s a real shame too, because all of the earlier levels are really great fun and still hold up today. I especially loved the sliding levels (minus the Kelp Forest one) and Jellyfish Fields, but generally Battle For Bikini Bottom starts really strong.
This remaster also adds some new content based on scrapped stuff from the original release, which is a really cool touch. It comes in the form of a multiplayer horde mode, and lets you play as the rest of the cast like Squidward, Plankton, Gary and Mr. Krabs. I love the idea of playing as these characters, but it’s a shame that it comes in the form of a multiplayer only mode that focuses more on the combat side of things, arguably the weaker aspect to the gameplay.
The mode itself isn’t anything to write home about. It’s fun in the same way that everything played with a friend is fun, but I didn’t find it very compelling. Seeing the scrapped content used in this remaster is really cool, but only for those who actually know what it is. I doubt the average person is going to care for Robo-Squidward or Patrick’s Dream, even if the fans are going to find it really cool.
That’s SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated in a nutshell though – it’s completely for the fans. Speaking as one of those fans, I think that’s really admirable and despite some late-game annoyances and sound design flaws, I found Battle For Bikini Bottom absolutely worth going back for. Nostalgia may be a powerful tool, but this game is still worthy of your time regardless.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by THQ Nordic