Kids today just don’t realise how lucky they are growing up with such surreal cartoon fineries as Spongebob Squarepants. As an avid watcher of satellite television cartoon channels, I would class it (along with Fairly Odd Parents, Invader Zim and Samurai Jack) as one of the best non-adult specific cartoons ever made. The fact that it came 28th in Channel 4’s recent ‘100 Greatest Cartoons’ production suggests that many other people would agree with me – pre-adolescent or otherwise.
This is a game clearly aimed at the younger and less discerning end of that Squarepants-appreciative spectrum, but that does not detract from the entertainment value of its subject matter. In sticking reasonably closely to the events of the recent Spongebob film, to which I recently went under the pretence of taking my six-year-old nephew, it manages to avoid the sort of horrendous massacring of the source material to which games of this variety are often subject. But is there a strong enough game framework to support the license adequately?
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is solid enough. A simple level-based structure leads us through the events of the movie via different platform and racing levels, the latter of which see Spongebob and his cerebrally challenged friend Patrick skidding down mountains and across abysses in a bathtub or driving around Bikini Bottom in a giant sandwich. The platform sections are fairly straightforward – the player can switch between Patrick and Spongebob at different points, and each of them has different abilities (and different mildly amusing soundbites). Collectable “macho” weights serve to up the characters’ abilities, and collecting ice-cream tokens, which are hidden around the levels as parts of separate challenges, allows Spongebob and Patrick to learn new moves and progress to new levels.
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is fairly easy-going most of the time, which is fair enough for a game aimed at the younger end of the market. Satisfyingly, it’s also not so easy as to be patronising. As a reviewer, one sees children’s games made a mockery of by sheer laziness with alarming frequency, resulting in a product that’s not fun for anyone of any age. This game, however, is sufficiently varied and interesting to hold the younger player’s demanding attention-span without ever frustrating them through repetition or lazy design. It is a solid effort.
So, fairly standard stuff, then? Pretty much. But The Spongebob Squarepants Movie manages to do standard stuff really very well. The combination of racing and platform-based levels really helps to prevent the game from getting stale, and there is a surprising amount of variety evident in all of them. New moves enable the player to go back to earlier levels and try out new tasks, and completing the racing levels first time around opens up time- and accuracy-based challenges. And of course, it all being Spongebob-based makes it that bit more fun to play through – why swing by a rope when, instead, you can swing from a cube of ice by your tongue?
In fact, there are many such oddities in the game. The weirdness of the whole thing will no doubt bring a smile to the face of any fan of the series. Patrick’s hilariously retarded comments and cries of ‘UHSCHMUTHUTHUGNH!’ upon sticking his tongue to bits of floating ice definitely add something to proceedings, as do both characters’ expressions and lively comments. Besides – you won’t find many other games where you are called upon to defeat a monster with a tongue shaped deceptively like an ice-cream vendor.
Indeed, the game remains faithful to the fabulous insanity of the Spongebob Squarepants cartoon, and to be honest that’s where most of its appeal comes from. Without the soundbites, bizarre settings and downright weirdness that is often apparent (and the presence of the word ‘McSpazmatron’, which is almost worth renting the game for on its own), it would be just a solid-but-boring adventure game. As it is, it’s not only solid, but quite funny; not only average, but genuinely entertaining. What’s more, it’s a really great kids’ game, much more worthy of your younger relatives’ attentions than your average badly-made license cash-in; The Spongebob Squarepants Movie has genuine charm for a fan of the series.
Of course, there are areas which could have been improved. The twixt-level cutscenes consist of stills from the movie, which is not exactly enthralling, although the amusing French commentator does inject a bit of entertainment into them. The graphics, though usually bright and interesting enough, are occasionally a bit ragged. And the loading times are somewhat questionable. And yes, in the end it’s rather standard fare with an amusing license slapped on. But I don’t think that there are many people on this Earth who would presume The Spongebob Squarepants Movie to be some great gaming opus. For what it is, though – a game aimed at children who like Spongebob enough to go and see the film – it’s worthy of commendation.