A note at the top of this review: SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake should carry an extra-heavy warning for anyone with epilepsy or light-sensitivity issues. While I have not included any of the triggering footage in my coverage, there is a sequence not particularly far into the game involving mashing a button to pose for a camera.
The game does not warn you that mashing the button will also cause high-speed camera flashes, creating a very intense strobing effect that lights up the entire screen. Given that this can be an issue for player safety, I wanted to note it at the beginning.
In the early-to-mid 2000s, store shelves were saturated with cheap, rushed, poorly-made video games made as merchandise for an existing property. While there were diamonds in the rough, for every 007 Goldeneye, there were ten cash-grab titles made under poor working conditions that only existed for name-recognition synergy. Your kids loved The Polar Express, so it stands to reason that they’d love the video game, too, right?
Yet, for whatever reason, one franchise always seemed to buck this trend. The console-based SpongeBob Squarepants titles were, for the most part, well-designed 3D platformers that oozed with the charm of the source material and are looked back on so fondly that one of these titles even got a surprise remaster a few years ago, Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated.
It’s fair to say that many were surprised about the announcement of a brand-new title, as the last one was an Xbox 360 exclusive. So, two generations later, does The Cosmic Shake live up to its predecessors?
Unfortunately, yes, and also no.
The Cosmic Shake leaves a rather quirky first impression that I feel is representative of what the rest of the experience is like. SpongeBob wakes up, goes to his friend Patrick’s house because they have plans to go to a theme park, finds Patrick is still sleeping, goes elsewhere to visit his other friend Sandy, returns to Patrick, they go to the park and see some “cool kids,” SpongeBob laments that he isn’t as cool as them, finds a mermaid selling magical goods, buys a bottle of bubble soap that grants wishes, makes wishes on behalf of the entire town, and accidentally breaks reality itself, wrecking the town of Bikini Bottom and scattering his friends across the multiverse.
That run-on sentence describes the first ten minutes of The Cosmic Shake, and the entire game is full of weird, whiplash-inducing developments that seem totally unconnected. For example, in the first two levels, you rescue Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob’s boss, and Sandy, his water dome-dwelling squirrel friend. And despite there being many people left to recover, after the second level, SpongeBob is suddenly extremely concerned with saving his house, to the point that it takes precedence over rescuing his pet snail Gary.
The levels themselves are acceptable though not particularly engaging. The heyday of this series was on sixth-generation consoles like the PlayStation 2, and many times during my experience, I found myself thinking that if someone had told me that this was also a remake of a PS2 game, I would fully believe them.
The game plays out over a series of very linear platforming levels frequently interrupted by simple combat sequences. SpongeBob can double jump, dodge, do a spin attack, and perform an aerial homing attack later; that is his entire ability kit for the vast majority of the game. While the platforming eventually becomes more challenging, I wouldn’t say it ever graduates into being interesting.
The corollary issue here is that each level also contains several platforming challenges that you’ll have to return to later since you won’t yet have the situational power-up needed to access them. While it’s nice of the developers to include an at-will fast-travel system in the pause menu, the levels themselves have no maps, so the only way to access these challenges is to either remember where they are or re-do the whole level looking for them. You get a completion gauge for each, but that’s all the hint you get as to where to look for anything.
All of The Cosmic Shake is unfortunately plagued by a lack of polish like that – the first thing that happened to me when I started it was that the first voice line bugged out. Much of the game is, to an adult eye, a very low-budget experience. The levels are hard to remember because they’re long stretches of repeated assets (and, irritatingly, repeated voice lines), and there are invisible walls everywhere, some of which punish you for crossing them even though you had no indication there was a boundary there.
There are also moments where content is clearly missing from the game. For instance, the Wild West-themed level hints at and seemingly builds to an encounter with the Alaskan Bull Worm, a massive sandworm monster from early in the show. SpongeBob even goes so far as to enter its lair to retrieve an item and enters a huge room with a raised island in the middle. It seems obvious that a boss fight with the worm should be here, yet instead, you encounter more generic baddies, retrieve the item, and leave. The level ends with a train chase sequence, but notably, no boss fight. It’s evident that there was supposed to be a significant fight here, likely left on the cutting room floor.
The one department where The Cosmic Shake succeeds is in its character writing. Many references are lifted from the show’s golden era, and the sense of humor carries over wonderfully, even if most of the dialogue is delivered in boring, shot-reverse-shot cutscenes. When it works, it does genuinely work, and this was enough to keep me going for most of the game.
The Cosmic Shake is a mixed bag. It works exactly well enough to make me alright with continuing to play and will probably be a decent enough game to give to your kids who don’t have the finesse to get through Super Mario Odyssey yet. However, for a comeback in a long-running franchise, it’s severely let down by an unoriginal concept, a severe budget deficit, and levels that feel like a developer just going through the motions to crank out a game.
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