I know, just as everyone else does, how bad film and TV tie-in games can be. It’s all-too easy to forget though, just how many of us played them as kids. Back then it didn’t matter so much that the games were slapped-together cash grabs with little creative merit – this was a chance to become our favourite characters and step into worlds we’d only glimpsed on screen. Sometimes though, you got lucky and a licensed game was actually half decent. Maybe derivative of a particular genre or still a little low-budget, but something that was genuinely fun to play. That’s SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom on PlayStation 2. It didn’t set the world on fire, but a shocking number of us actually played it. Is that enough cause for a full-scale remaster? Who knows. But I kinda like that it exists.
Having been offered, I jumped at the opportunity to get hands-on with the Rehydrated version of the game coming to modern consoles. After all, I’m a sucker for a collect-a-thon platformer and I enjoyed the original way back when. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t expecting much beyond a new coat of paint and that’s pretty much all this is. It’s a very shiny coat of paint though, with the Jellyfish Fields level that I played looking a lot more handsome than I’d anticipated. There’s nothing new about the overall designs of the levels or characters, it’s all loosely based on the show anyway, but everything looks far more lush and vibrant and full of life compared to the more simple, low-poly versions in the original. The cast of SpongeBob characters also come off a lot better in the update, they’re substantially more detailed and representative of the cartoon and their animations are nowhere near as robotic and awkward as they used to be.
Gameplay-wise everything seems pretty much identical, at least as much as I remember it from almost 20 years ago. Battle for Bikini Bottom was never a revolutionary platformer; you run, jump and butt-stomp your way through levels littered with enemies and collectibles, occasionally partaking in a boss battle along the way. That was always enough for me though, so a platforming concept as simple, tried and tested as this actually feels somewhat refreshing. Only SpongeBob is available in the level I had access to so I can’t comment on the other playable characters but he controls pretty much exactly how I remember. The whole thing definitely has a lot more polish than the PS2 version, which keeps it feeling modern, but overall it’s comfortably familiar.
There are some exciting new features promised for when the full game releases – things like an online/offline multiplayer horde mode (yep!) and the return of content that was cut from the original release, including new boss fights – so there’s a lot to look forward to for fans of the Sponge. I wish I’d had more time to spend with the game in my preview, but I guess that also says plenty about how much I was enjoying it. Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated isn’t out to topple the likes of Super Mario Odyssey, or even other recent platforming remakes like the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro trilogies, but it’s a fun, easygoing and eye-catching trip back in time.