SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake - Enjoyable Nautical Nonsense
ARE YOU READY KIDS?
After playing the demo of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake at a showcase event late last year, I was so ready to enthusiastically yell ‘AYE AYE CAPTAIN’ and play through the latest reality-bending adventure from the lovable sponge himself. As it turns out, I wasn’t disappointed. The Cosmic Shake is reminiscent of the action-platformers I loved as a kid, and that charming nostalgia coupled with the SpongeBob humour we all know and love makes for an experience that brought me joy even though I’m probably not the target audience. Or maybe I am? It’s hard to say. It’s ostensibly a kids game, and I have no doubt that it’ll be a favourite for younger audiences, but there’s a lot for older audiences to enjoy here too. This game isn’t going to change your life, but it will provide a reminder of what it was like to feel childlike joy, and really, isn’t that a high we’re all chasing?
The premise of the game is quintessentially SpongeBob-y. The whimsical sponge and his best buddy Patrick are excited for their day trip to popular theme park Glove World, which I presume is Disneyland for the residents of Bikini Bottom (but appropriately hygiene-themed). But before they can get there, things go more than a little awry. What starts as harmless bubble-blowing using a vial of Mermaid’s Tears turns into a multidimensional problem that scatters the residents of Bikini Bottom across multiple worlds, destined to be rescued by SpongeBob and Patrick (now in balloon form). It all escalates pretty quickly, mostly because Mermaid’s Tears grant wishes to “those who are pure of heart” and SpongeBob has permanent ‘kid on Christmas morning’ energy, and should never have been given this very powerful magic vial in the first place.
From there, it becomes standard action-platforming fare. Each “Wishworld” containing one of SpongeBob’s friends is accessed via one of the portals located around Bikini Bottom. The portals can be opened by the mysterious Madame Kassandra – original seller of the Mermaid Tears – but only once you provide her with enough of the jelly you can find strewn around the world. Collecting jelly feels much like collecting wumpa fruit in Crash Bandicoot, only it’s far more abundant. It took me until halfway through the game to realise that Madame Kassandra must be asking me for a specific amount of jelly before she could unlock the next level, mostly because I kept accidentally collecting enough without really trying. Each level comes with its own theme, its own costume, and its own lost Bikini Bottom resident to save, as well as a unique collectible that can only be found in that world (and that you won’t really know about until after your first run through the level is over and you’ve returned to the hub world).
There are seven Wishworlds in total, and while I had favourites, I wouldn’t say that any of them was particularly weak. They’re all rooted in creative concepts, and each one gives SpongeBob a new ability that can be used in battle or traversal (or sometimes both). Once I was fully kitted out with these new skills, traversing the levels almost induced a kind of flow state that really required me to be focused and ready to deploy any move at any moment. Having to be prepared to go from grappling to kicking off walls or enemies to riding an almost-invisible surfboard really kept me on my toes, lightly increasing the difficulty as the story progressed. New levels also come with new enemies, some of which require these new skills in order to damage them, so there’s a need to strategise on the fly, often when being attacked by five enemies at once. Things can get chaotic, but it’s rare that any given fight is actually hard.
Presumably that’s because at its heart, this is a game to be enjoyed by kids – which in this context, means a couple of things about some of the criticisms I have. The first is that the dialogue, while funny in cutscenes and story moments, becomes super annoying when reduced into one-liners that SpongeBob repeats as he traverses the world. If I had to hear him exclaim “A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YA!” one more time, I may have committed an irredeemable crime, even though I had a lot of fun with the rest of the game. Kids however, have an incredibly high tolerance for cheesy, irritating dialogue, so do I think it will hinder their enjoyment of the game in the way it did mine? No, not really. I do think they may adopt these one-liners and use them to taunt their parents, and if that happens to you, I am sorry.
The other frustration I found with the game was the vague nature of the side quests, which are given to you after you complete a level and return the relevant character to the main hub world of Bikini Bottom. There’s no outright indication that these quest items can be found back in the world you’ve just been in unless you go back into the quest menu, and even then it will only tell you how many of that item you’ve found. Once you’re back in the level, SpongeBob will make a comment about this being the place you should look for [insert relevant item here], but looking for those items literally means scouring every inch of the level again looking for hidden objects. Sometimes it’s fairly obvious, and part of the level that was previously blocked off will not be accessible using a skill you have since learned, but other times you’re on your own to search for items. There’s no way of knowing where in the levels they’ll be, and they’re actually kind of hard to find. As a kid, I wouldn’t have cared. I would have been thrilled to spend hours in this bright, colourful world, peeking into all the nooks and crannies in pursuit of quest items. As an adult, I simply don’t have time or, honestly, inclination.
All in all, I had a good time with The Cosmic Shake. I can absolutely tell that there are kids who will fall in love with it, and adults who are going to enjoy the nostalgic trip back to the occasionally surrealist world of Bikini Bottom. Plus, any game that lets me create rainbows with my hands and ride unicorn seahorses is always going to be an instant winner.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code kindly provided by PLAION ANZ.