When gamers think of platforming legends, they look back on classics such as Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie and Rayman. Throughout the original Xbox era though, there was a series of games based on a beloved television series. Each game dared to pit itself against the platforming goliaths to show that it too was worthy of having its own pedestal. That franchise was Spongebob Squarepants and it released some of the best platformers to date.
If someone mentions a movie tie-in game, everyone’s immediate reaction is to wince. This genre has had a bad reputation and rightly so; the Xbox has certainly seen some stinkers over its life cycle. Superman Returns, Quantum of Solace, and Fantastic Four are just a few that fit that category. In 2004 though, developer Heavy Iron Studios created one of the minorities and one of the best platformers to grace the Xbox generation. That game was The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
Spanning across all Bikini Bottom, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie follows the events of the film, incorporating cutscenes and movie stills to relive the story. After King Neptune’s crown has been stolen by Plankton, Spongebob and Patrick venture across the seas in an attempt to return it and save the day.
If none of that makes sense, that’s fine. It ultimately doesn’t matter as the story is a greatly stretched out and representation of the 90 minute long movie. Did Super Mario 64 have an incredible, grand story? Nope. It was a story about saving a princess and it didn’t need to be anything anymore. Ignore the story of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and enjoy the ride.
What a rollercoaster the levels are, displaying a distinct love for the show and remaining faithful to the source material. Levels are filled with memorable locations and scenes from the franchise which makes exploring them a treat. From the Kristy Krab, to downtown Bikini Bottom, it’s a fans treat to explore these locales and immerse themselves in the world.
Mainly, you play through an assortment of platforming based levels. Playing as either Spongebob or Patrick, each character has a different move set which are vital for certain situations. Spongebob can uppercut to hit switches, defeat enemies or attain objects out of reach. Patrick on the other hand can slam down to hit buttons or enemies, somersaulting his way through the villains of Bikini Bottom.
Each character possesses some light-RPG mechanics. Yes, you heard that right – The Spongebob Squarepants Movie contains RPG elements. Both characters are able to receive experience by collecting weights (in an attempt to make them more manly) across each of the levels, which in reward, gives them XP. Their skill trees can be used to increase their overall health, but also to make their attacks stronger and more efficient. It makes replaying past levels to find hidden collectibles more incentivising as all pick-ups respawn on each playthrough.
Levels are punctuated with optional challenges, which in turn, gives you tokens used to advance the story and gain new abilities. They start off basic with a few combat challenges, but later become more inventive like Spongebob becoming a ball and having to complete a marble-style obstacle course. Each mini-game plays solidly, with the same level of polish given to each. They help to break up the platforming sections and provide a decent challenges to players who choose to tackle them.
Not every level is a platforming affair though, with a solid chunk of the game taking place in the film’s signature vehicle, the Pattywagon. These driving missions are probably the weakest part of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and lack the same level of finesse as the platforming.
The car handles poorly and sluggishly, with simple hazards causing a complete crash to the vehicle. Each level tasks you with moving from point A to point B, but afterwards the option to replay the level again for bonus objectives opens up. These can range from time trials, to driving through ring challenges. It’s a fun little distraction, but the heavy reliance, especially in later sections, is unwelcome and loses the pace of the stellar platforming.
There are other distractions such as bathtub sliding levels, which is as weird as it sounds and has Spongebob and Patrick sliding down cliffs in a bathtub to reach the end. There are also a few boss battles which don’t pose much threat, but build for some cinematic moments and a means for fans of the film to feel more engrossed in the world.
These days, movie tie-ins are a rare breed. After years of becoming a stream of shovelware content, simply to cash in on a popular product, they’ve lost their place. It’s a shame as amongst the wreckage a few gems stood out from the rest. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is one of those enjoyable treats. A fun, energising and varied platforming adventure that didn’t take itself too seriously. While it never reached the high praise of classic platforming adventures, it was the result of a team who knew how to craft an exceptional adventure and used a popular franchise to showcase that ability. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie will always have a place on myself – and in my heart.
But what about you? Did you adore the video game adaptation of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie? Let us know in the comments and if you didn’t play it, Amazon still have a copy.