It’s no secret that THQ Nordic’s MO for the past few years has been acquiring the rights to and remastering literally any IP it can get its hands on. This most recent nostalgia grab at first glance seems like their most peculiar revival to date, a licensed platformer for kids from a time when those were dime a dozen, and not exactly renowned for their quality. But they may be onto something this time around. Along with updated visuals and previously cut content restored, the undeniable undersea iconography of this game all but guarantees a successful second life on store shelves. Here to remind us of Nickelodeon’s everlasting chokehold on our childhoods, it’s SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated.
The sixth console generation had many defining characteristics, one of these being an over-saturation of tie-in games for television and movie properties. Some of these were genuine classics like Simpson’s Hit & Run, others were Jimmy Neutron: Attack of the Twonkies. While the original Battle for Bikini Bottom released to mixed reception in 2003, popularity in the speed-running community would see a shift of opinion on the title. While other SpongeBob games have come and gone in the 15+ years since its initial release, Battle for Bikini Bottom continues to stick out. Fans would go as far as to say it’s one of the best licensed games ever made. Mileage on that claim will vary person to person, but regardless, THQ Nordic would go all in on the hype and remaster the action/adventure romp for audiences old and new to enjoy.
The plot follows series antagonist Plankton releasing a plague of evil robots onto the titular city of Bikini Bottom. Unfortunately, Plankton forgets to program any obedience into the robots so they immediately cast him aside and overtake the city for themselves. SpongeBob thinks this is all his fault for completely unrelated reasons, so along with friends Patrick & Sandy, the trio go from neighborhood to neighborhood restoring order, wrecking robots, and collecting a lot of shiny objects (that’s not a generalization by the way, the main collectables are literally called “shiny objects”).
It plays most like an unpolished Super Mario Odyssey. The entire city is broken into multiple sections you travel between, each with a variety of challenges you can complete in pretty much whatever order you want. The main prize you’re after are Golden Spatulas, but there are also a ton of hidden collectibles incentivizing you to really explore each world to its fullest. The stages aren’t going to be nearly as fleshed out compared to modern adventure titles, but the fun factor is absolutely still there. This game is genuinely hilarious, having been written when SpongeBob at its critical peak. The voice cast is mostly spot-on and you really get that sense that you’re playing through an episode of the show.
The updated visuals are an absolutely welcome addition, smoothing out character designs and adding a lot more color to the environments. The platforming and gameplay mechanics have mostly been left alone and that’s gonna be a double-edged sword for some players. Considering this was made with speed-running in mind, it made sense to leave in most of the glitches and exploits the game is now famous for. The tradeoff for that however, being some very dated controls.
Just as critics called out Yooka-Laylee for playing too much like an N64 game, Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is just as guilty of playing too much like a GameCube title. Movement is slow and floaty (though you could argue that makes sense for a game that takes place underwater), combat is simplified to the point where waves of NPCs feel more like a chore than anything else, and you’re going to run into some bugs that are more than infuriating. These were all really common criticisms of adventure games of that era, and even with a day one patch smoothing over some bugs, it’s going to be a bit jarring if you go from a contemporary platformer to this one. Even the newly added multiplayer mode didn’t offer much beyond your typical survival mode.
That being said, if you’re nostalgic for that era of gaming and you treat this more like a time capsule, the technical issues are a lot easier to gloss over. Even outside of speed-running, I really enjoyed stepping back and revisiting this generation. There is enjoyment to be had in the unpolished and imperfect elements because you don’t really see games like that made too often anymore. Licensed releases nowadays are usually massive AAA undertakings like Insomniac’s Spider-Man, or they’re simple but heavily-monetized mobile games, the middle ground that Battle for Bikini Bottom takes up really doesn’t exist anymore.
I’ve seen people disappointed by this game because they were expecting something on par with the Crash and Spyro remakes. It seems like the development team tried really hard to get it as close to that as they could, but the unpolished nature of Battle for Bikini Bottom is almost intrinsic to its identity in the cultural zeitgeist. It probably wouldn’t feel like the same game if every detail was coded to perfection with added raytracing and a crafting system and a season pass and everything else games apparently need these days.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated Review
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
If you’re nostalgic for a simpler time in gaming, or you just need even more sponge in your life, Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is a remaster absolutely worth diving into. The level design and humor holds up incredibly well despite some clunky controls, and it really does give you that feeling of stepping back into the early 2000s for an afternoon.