After having lived in our hearts and minds, as well as his spiffy pineapple under the sea, Spongebob Squarepants is back again in Purple Lamp’s loving recreation of Battle for Bikini Bottom, a heralded sandbox and cult-favourite from an aeon ago. Though the original code wasn’t used in this emulation’s creation, the developer has done a smashing job at rebuilding this game from scratch while adding a few modern bells and whistles, but ultimately the game is still a product of its time.
Though the game is, as it first was, aimed at kids, it’s probably expected that a number of those picking up Rehydrated will now be adults returning to trawl the seabed of Bikini Bottom and lap up the game’s sense of humour, lovely visuals and fun, albeit cookie-cutter story. Plankton, as he often does, succumbs to pomposity and hubris, letting his plans for world domination get out of hand as his robot printing machine is toggled to not obey, leaving him no choice but plead with nefarious intent for Spongebob to save the day. It’s simple, uncomplicated and fits snug into the series universe. Clearly a labour of love for Purple Lamp, Rehydrated’s story is peppered with references and small touches that nod to Spongebob’s extended history, not limited to the show’s first three seasons. Half of the fun is spotting them, like the throwaway joke about Spongebob mistaking a library card for a driver’s license featuring a license that featured in the tenth season only a few years ago.
Battle for Bikini Bottom is a pretty run of the mill platforming adventure game by today’s standards, even if the developer has endeavoured to round out the experience with some modern touches, such as free camera control. Spongebob, Patrick and Sandy Cheeks are all playable throughout the game’s story mode, each with their own tricks. Spongebob can use his undies to bungee jump, Sandy’s lasso helps her bridge huge divides, and Patrick can carry about, stack and throw large fruit for some reason. On occasion, the game will throw Spongebob onto the slopes as he tongue-surfs to a connecting area.
Often a minute or two long and without checkpoints, I expect these moments will be a challenge for the kids, though they’re also incredibly fun and not at all dissimilar to the rail-cart in Donkey Kong Country which required a bit of finesse to scrape through. The whole experience plays out in around eight hours with each of the game’s levels serving up a few separate sandbox areas to explore. Being a remake of a clearly outdated game, the level design has its issues in the later game where more intricate puzzles expect you to circuit loop repeatedly and backtrack to continually switch between characters. It isn’t a persistent issue, though when it does arise it only serves to exacerbates the other woes this remake has brought into the modern-day.
The game asks you to focus on collecting golden spatulas from every corner of Bikini Bottom and during the events of the game you’ll explore several locations made famous by the series itself. I did question the logistics of drowning frustratingly in ‘goo’ while already underwater, though being that Goo Lagoon is actually home to brine that pools because of its salinity comparable to water, amazingly the science checks out. Not all of the levels are made equal, though. Most will be a trio-serve of areas, though a few are simple boss battles with easy-to-learn attack patterns all commentated by a lifelike bluefin tuna anchorman named Johnny.
Even if you do fail time and again, there’s no consequence at all to death which is certainly fitting given the game’s target demographic. If anything, death becomes a bit of a spectacle as well as a belly laugh as Hans, the live-action human hand from the show, swoops in to pull the player out of danger when they fall into a perilous hole or stray too far beyond the game’s comically on-the-nose red dotted line boundaries. These are small touches that really lean into the show’s mythology and while the cheap, easy opt-out for a boundary might seem lazy otherwise, in Bikini Bottom it’s whimsical.
With the game’s story lasting no more than an afternoon of play, Purple Lamp has tacked on a rudimentary horde mode that doesn’t really serve a purpose beyond a momentary distraction. I didn’t get to test it online as either the servers weren’t up or nobody was playing, though it was a short-lived couch co-op experience and will be a likely afterthought for most.
Though most of Rehydrated feels out of date, its clear triumph is in its presentation. As far as remakes go, Purple Lamp has lovingly recreated this entire game from the first line of code and it’s really a tremendous effort to recapture the original game’s aesthetic without compromise. Battle for Bikini Bottom is an experience of the small details, from shrivelled Spongebob languishing in Sandy’s treedome to the Spongebob’s many meme faces. Rehydrated is a complete catalogue of Nickelodeon’s biggest icon and everything that he’s touched in the pop-culture spectrum. The game did offer up an issue for every wry grin it gifted me, it’s pretty rough around the edges at times. There are a lot of bugs and glitches that occur, some insignificant like stretched pixel lines pinging off of character models and others more so—I’d often get stuck in the geometry or get turned up parallel to the ground.
Through a lot of love and care from Purple Lamp, remains faithful to the game people loved two generations ago. Plus, it’s impossible to feel aggrieved when the stage theme “Downtown Bikini Bottom” slaps as hard as it does. It’s sentimentality alone that pilots the experience and, whether it’s hindsight bias or not, Battle for Bikini Bottom doesn’t feel like the groundbreaking cult hit it once did, though, for a budget price, Rehydrated is an ultimately low-risk investment.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS TESTED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Battle for Bikini Bottom, despite offering a fair bit of fun, is a testament of antiquated design and, for better or worse, feels entirely like the game you remember from your childhood. There’s certainly a fun afternoon to be had ruining Plankton’s plot to rule Bikini Bottom while spotting the show’s many references with a keen eye, though ultimately Rehydrated is D.O.A.—dry on arrival.