SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake Review – I’m (Almost) Ready, Promotion

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake cannot decide what decade it’s from. In parts, it feels more like a ‘00s platformer than the actual ‘00s platformer that inspired it – Battle for Bikini Bottom, which was recently remastered by the very same studio. But with little to say for itself, it's a hollow imitation, shoving in nostalgia without understanding why we loved the endearing goofiness of classic SpongeBob in the first place.

Then, almost immediately after the halfway point, the feel of the game changes completely. Instead of shallow, safe platforming segments and repetitive nostalgia bait, we get a showcase of what the new devs are capable of – and it’s pretty damn good. Even with a few irritating performance issues, The Cosmic Shake finally becomes a new SpongeBob platformer, not an amateur tribute act. I just wish it wasn’t held back so often by a lack of confidence.

When you start The Cosmic Shake, all you get is the bare minimum: jump and attack. So, naturally, that’s all that the earlier levels have to work with, leaving us with bland, yet lengthy levels. Strung together with some typical SpongeBob shenanigans, it doesn’t make for a very inspired start to Purple Lamp’s first original outing in the series.

For some reason, all the fun is hoarded in the later stages. After the first couple of jaunts through familiar locales – not nearly as detailed as you’d expect from a 2023 release either – you finally get a bunch of new moves thrown at you in rapid succession. Reef blowing, bubble missiles, karate chopping, hook swinging – the devs weren’t hurting for new ideas, even if that’s hard to tell in the first few hours.

Once you’re decked out in the new moves, it’s a blast from then on. Boss battles have more variety to play around with, and the stages open up in a bunch of new ways – all complemented by gorgeous views that span for miles. When you’re on the highest point of the map, still able to see all of the details on the ground below, even the most cynical “SpongeBob was better in my day” 20-something has to admit that this is a huge upgrade on Battle for Bikini Bottom. I just wish that sensation was felt throughout.

That’s The Cosmic Shake’s Achilles' heel – consistency. While it can feel uninspired and forced at times, it will be brimming with creativity at the next turn, in everything from the writing, visuals, and platforming. But the common denominator here is that it’s worse when it’s trying to copy someone else’s homework, and not even trying to make it look different.

There’s no better mix of the old and the new than in the Prehistoric stage. Unlike some of the other gags, it’s far more than “hey, here’s that thing you remember”. There are new jokes everywhere, both around the level and in the caveman-speak all the characters use in cutscenes. Couple that with the expressive animation work, and it proves that modern SpongeBob games can be so much more than licensed game fluff strung together with nostalgia.

But again – consistency. The seahorse driving segments sprinkled throughout the game can feel like a rough copy-cat of similar modes in previous SpongeBob games. But then the tongue-riding (for lack of a better, less-gross word) areas are a vast improvement on what we’ve seen before, putting a new spin on an old mechanic.

It’s telling that, as the sort of 23 year old that the nostalgia bait is trying to hook in, the best time I had with The Cosmic Shake was with these new ideas. Especially in the levels that cram them all together, like the mazes and high-altitude platforming of the medieval dream world. The original characters are fantastic too, and fit seamlessly into the world of SpongeBob. Purple Lamp definitely has room to grow, but it’s proven that it’s up to the task.

That doesn’t mean that it should turn its back on fan service completely, however. It’s still a licensed kids game after all. Why can’t I explore SpongeBob’s house? Why can’t I break into Squidward’s place and muck up his paintings? Hell, why can’t I go into any building? The Cosmic Shake has the show’s heart, but it doesn’t quite have its soul.

This is what I mean by The Cosmic Shake struggling to understand the gags it references throughout. If there’s anything you can take from the fact that there are a lot of ‘90s kids hyped for this game, it’s that we love weird shit. We love that episode where SpongeBob thinks he kills the health inspector. We constantly reference another episode where our hero tortures Mr. Krabs because he thinks he’s a robot. Battle for Bikini Bottom had a whole level based on the episode where SpongeBob invades everyone’s dreams. Don’t hold back, that’s not what any of us are here for. Be earnestly weird.

Even with these issues, I hope this isn’t the last we see of a Purple Lamp-developed SpongeBob game. The final level alone – with its wonderfully daft premise and unique mechanics – is proof enough that the folks over there have a lot to offer. Even if I’m not quite ready to take Employee of the Month away from Battle for Bikini Bottom, we have the makings of something amazing here. Nickelodeon needs to recognise this potential, and sets its sights higher with the next SpongeBob game.

Score: 3/5. An Xbox Series X/S code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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