Is mayonnaise an instrument?
When SpongeBob SquarePants debuted in 1999, I had just said goodbye to Nicktoons and Nickelodeon as a whole. Arguably, I should have parted with that part of my childhood a few years earlier, but I was a late bloomer. Nevertheless, the misadventures of the little yellow sponge that lived in a pineapple under the sea would fly under my radar for several years. It wasn’t until my final year of high school that I, bored at home one afternoon, decided to give the show a go during one of its many marathons.
I remember the first episode I saw. It was “Graveyard Shift,” the episode where SpongeBob and Squidward have to work 24-hour shifts at the Krusty Krab. If you’ve seen it, you know the episode goes for kid-friendly horror and ends with an out-of-left-field cameo from Count Orlock. It was bizarre, it was beautiful, and that was the day I realized I wasn’t too old for kids’ cartoons.
More than 20 years later, I’m still laughing. While I don’t always have a chance to check it out when new episodes release, I always know that sponge will be able to put a smile on my face. And with SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake, I was smiling nearly every second I spent with it.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Purple Lamp Studios
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Released: January 31, 2023
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake sees everybody’s pineapple-dwelling sea sponge causing a ruckus for the people of Bikini Bottom. This time, while trying to enjoy a night out at Glove World, SpongeBob comes across the mysterious mermaid Madame Kassandra who absentmindedly sells him a glowing bottle of bubble formula that has the power to grant wishes. Cut to a few hours later, and SpongeBob has blown bubbles that’ll grant wishes to everyone he knows. When those bubbles pop, the universe is torn asunder and his friends are scattered around several different universes that take recognizable locations from the show and mash them with a new theme. With a magic bubble wand in hand, SpongeBob must travel to each of these worlds with his balloon-ified best friend Patrick to get everyone back and restore Bikini Bottom.
Mechanically and structurally, The Cosmic Shake plays similarly to the licensed platformers of the GameCube/PS2/Xbox era. SpongeBob has a double jump, a spin attack, a jump-slam attack, a cartwheel dodge, a bubble projectile, and a weak pizza box glide ability. Throughout each world, there are specific areas where you can use techniques like hook swing and karate kick to access new areas or make it over deep chasms. Levels are linear, usually consisting of a few small open areas connected by long platforming or action sequences. It’s somewhat similar to what we got a few years ago with the remaster of Battle for Bikini Bottom, also from Purple Lamp Studios.
That game, for whatever reason, didn’t really work for me. The Cosmic Shake, however, does, and I am dumbfounded by how much I enjoyed going through it.
Arguably, the game didn’t make a great first impression. The opening tutorially didn’t give me a lot of hope for things to come, and the first 20 to 30 minutes of the game’s Wild West Jellyfish Fields threw me into some poorly controlled seahorse action sequences. Once it slowed down enough to let me get my footing, I started to realize the excellent job the developers did putting this game together and how they were able to keep things fresh and new throughout.
Each world brings with it a unique feel and presentation, from chasing down some cosmetics in Medieval Sulfer Fields to setting up a light show in Halloween Rock Bottom. It’s truly wonderful to see just how much diverse gameplay Purple Lamp Studios are able to get out of Cosmic Shake‘s simple formula because they really do take it to fun and exciting places. Outside of the levels, you can explore the Bikini Bottom hub world that expands and populates as you work your way through SpongeBob’s quest.
The platforming sections throughout the game are pretty top-tier for a licensed 3D platformer and the different jelly enemies you face provide enough of a challenge that I had to use every single tool in SpongeBob’s arsenal to make it through several of its fights. That includes the boss battles, which can be mighty tough, but thankfully the game is generous with respawns, checkpoints, and auto-saves, so it was never really much of a hassle if I got knocked out.
The game’s wonky nature, however, did prove to be something of a hassle, though the developers are aware it needs some work. The framerate is constantly in flux, some of SpongBob’s actions weren’t entirely reliable–there was a 1-in-50 chance his pizza box glider wouldn’t work and the karate kick attack isn’t always available when it should be — and it wasn’t unusual for character models and objects to straight-up disappear during cutscenes. At one point when running around Bikini Bottom, everything on the screen beside the UI went black and I had to restart the game. As mentioned before, the seahorse controls aren’t so great and there are more than a handful of jumps throughout the game that requires overly precise execution and timing of the double jump glide. Cutscenes can often feel like they all end with a smash cut, but I suspect that’s intentional as it plays into the game’s humor.
And what humor it has. The writer’s behind Cosmic Shake have effortlessly tapped into the comedy of the show, bolstered by pitch-perfect performances from the SpongeBob SquarePants cast. I would argue the game could use an option to cut down on some of the repetitive soundbites, but beyond being constantly reminded that Krusty Krab pizza is the pizza for you and me, this is one funny game from beginning to end. It’s also one with a soundtrack that is far better than I could have anticipated. I don’t often pay attention to the music in games, but I couldn’t ignore it here.
If there is one area of Cosmic Shake where I was slightly disappointed–outside of the Krabby Patty minigame that doesn’t seem to do anything at all–it’s with the game’s costume system. Part of the gimmick of SpongeBob traveling to different worlds is he’ll be given new costumes that blend him into the environment. These costumes look great, but that’s all they do. There’s no gameplay advantage to using one costume over another, and you don’t even have to wear a costume that fits the theme of the world if you don’t want to. There are a lot of costumes to unlock, and doing so is what I suspect will make up the bulk of the post-game experience. It would be nice if each costume had some unique ability tied to it, but it is what it is, and the simplicity of the feature didn’t detract one bit from my enjoyment of this adventure.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is an astoundingly good game. There is so much creativity packed into its seven different worlds that I could not stop playing it over the past weekend because I was too excited to see what was next. This is, without a doubt, the best SpongeBob game I’ve ever played, and I hope Purple Lamp Studios keeps the keys to the license for years to come.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]