The original SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom back in 2003 was nothing short of a cult hit. In a time when a hundred cheap licensed games were were being pumped out, Battle for Bikini Bottom stood above the crowd. It was competently made, but compared to other 3D platformers of the time, such as Super Mario Sunshine, Spongebob of course fell short. But that was just the thing - it was never made to compete with Mario. Battle for Bikini Bottom is, at its core, a true love letter to the first seasons of the Spongebob Squarepants TV Show.
Fans found plenty to love in the game, including references to the smallest of inside jokes from the TV Show and even whole levels designed around a single gag. The game was released after the first three seasons of the show, which - if you are now in your 20s - you likely remember as "the good seasons," so it's obvious in retrospect how using those references to their fullest in a competently made platformer in 2003 was a perfect recipe for a cult classic.
Full disclosure: the original Battle for Bikini Bottom was one of the most beloved games of my childhood. I have played it to completion over a dozen times, the most recent being just two years ago. I know every nook and cranny of this game. I know where every golden spatula is hidden, every secret shortcut, how to win every boss fight. When this remake was announced, I was blown away. If I had to pick one game from my childhood to be remade with modern technology, it would have been this one. This was a dream come true. This is unironically my Final Fantasy VII Remake.
If you, like me, played Battle for Bikini Bottom to death nearly 20 years ago, then I'm happy to announce that Rehydrated is a perfect 1:1 recreation of the original 2003 game. If you did not play the original game decades ago, I must unfortunately announce to you that it is a prettied-up game from 2003.
Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated drops the player into a story where Plankton's killer robots have usurped him, spreading across the ocean to take control of Bikini Bottom while throwing him to the sidelines to watch. This is the first reason it works - the entire plot is very typical SpongeBob fare, almost unremarkably so. Players will take control of SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy, each with their own distinct set of abilities, and traverse the harrowing and hilarious landscape that is a killer-robot infested Bikini Bottom.
Players begin in a hub world, Resident Row, and can enter 12 open, sandbox levels by way of taxi stands. Players can unlock new levels by possessing a certain number of golden spatulas, of which there are 8-9 in each level, each with a mission title. There are smaller collectibles, like Patrick's socks, that can be traded in sets for gold spatulas as well. If you're thinking this sounds a lot like Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, you're correct. SpongeBob is not shy about where it gets its inspiration.
Besides the fun of hanging out with SpongeBob and his pals, I'd most like to commend the level design of Battle for Bikini Bottom. Each of these massive worlds is an open pseudo-sandbox with mission-based golden spatulas that can be collected, mostly, in any order. Each are divided into 3-4 zones, which are again, pretty sizable. Just wandering through Jellyfish Fields in Rehydrated took me over an hour, and that was without going for all the spatulas. Check points are nicely spaced, providing some level of challenge without making death outright punishing. Some missions are platforming challenges, some are rudimentary fetch quests, some are collectathons and yet others are beat 'em up style arenas with waves of enemies.
The list of levels is as follows: Bikini Bottom, Jellyfish Fields, Downtown Bikini Bottom, Goo Lagoon, the Poseidome, Rock Bottom, the Mermalair, Sand Mountain, the Industrial Park, Kelp Forest, the Flying Dutchman's Graveyard, Spongebob's Dream - and finally - the Chum Bucket. Fans of the show will notice that most of these locations only featured in a single episode, or in the instance of The Industrial Park, a single one-off joke.
With the exception of Mr. Krabs and Mermaidman, every cast member from the show lends their voices to their characters, giving Battle for Bikini Bottom more validity right off the bat than most licensed games. None of the actors phoned in their performances either; even the actors voicing Larry the Lobster and Mrs. Puff sound like they're having an absolute blast. It's clear that these talented voice actors were excited about being a part of the game, and their passion shines through in probably the best voice performances I've ever heard in a licensed game.
The world of SpongeBob SquarePants makes a surprisingly easy leap from the 2D cartoon to a 3D world, somehow retaining its original art style in the process. This achievement is in no small part due to getting the background landscapes correct, down from the distant clusters of submarine-shaped buildings to the iconic, colorful 2D flowers that dot the sky. Character models look better than ever before, although with the caveat that the colors are much brighter and more saturated in Rehydrated than the original. I personally prefer the muted (but still varied) tones of the original, but I will admit the new color palette looks better in HD than the original's would have.
The music has all been remastered as well, and it is an absolute delight. The distinct, chill Hawaiian folk music of the TV Show is captured perfectly in Battle for Bikini Bottom, and the soundtrack sounds better than ever. Players will find themselves humming along to these catchy ukulele-centric tunes even after an hour of loops, and headbanging to the familiar Slide Theme. The efficiency with which the art and music capture the feeling of the TV Show is a feat unto itself.
Each level always allows the player to control SpongeBob, along with an added choice of either Sandy or Patrick, but never all three in the same level. You can switch between characters at bus stops that are scattered about each area. This restriction is much to the game's benefit, as each level is more tightly designed to work for those specific two characters rather than compromising design quality to accommodate all three wildly different ability sets. It is in the actual gameplay that some of the issues begin to show, though. The characters feel like they move much too slowly in comparison to current-gen 3D platformers - they feel heavy.
It can get frustrating trying to redo the same section of a level over and over again without it being made clear why you're failing. Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated, just like the original, expects the player to just keep doing stuff until it somehow works. A lot of it is inconsistent, with hitboxes seemingly altering at random, and Sandy's grappling lasso constantly changing its range. Checkpoints are spaced fairly, however, and there are no game overs, so the only thing players will really be losing is time. I expect there are some sections, like the Mermalair's infamous Rube-Goldberg machine, that will have new players literally tearing their hair out.
SpongeBob's abilities are pretty standard platforming fare at first - a standard attack, an upward attack and an aerial ground-pound. Over the course of the game, he gains two new abilities, the Bubble Bowl for ranged ground attacks and the Cruise Bubble for ranged aerial attacks. The unlockable powers allow for a metroidvania-esque return to previous levels, finding new spatulas and even unlocking entirely new zones. Patrick and Sandy do not unlock any additional abilities. By the end of the game this is a pretty comprehensive kit, and using your abilities correctly alongside carefully timed jumps is the key to success.
Patrick is probably the least fun to play as, since his kit requires a lot of picking things up, moving them to another place, and then throwing them. His attacks have a small hitbox and the puzzles generally require tracking things down and carrying them from one place to another. His ability to freeze goo into a solid surface is fun though, and his stun attack allows him to handle robot hordes much more easily than SpongeBob or Sandy.
Sandy's ability to hover with her lasso makes her hands-down the most useful character, never mind that she can grapple and kill robots from the air. Her abilities are less varied than the others but ultimately more useful, and you'll definitely miss her aerial abilities when looking longingly at a far away ledge as Patrick.
All this being said, Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a 1:1 remake. Nothing about it has modernized or brought up to date. Areas where improvements could have made a pretty good platformer great are ignored in favor of faithfulness to the original product, and I think that's to the remake's detriment. A lot of the game still feels clunky, and players will constantly ask "why didn't they fix this?" If the mission statement for Rehydrated was to build the exact same game from the ground up with a new coat of paint, THQ Nordic knocked it out of the park. If they intended to bring this classic to a new generation of gamers in 2020, they messed up big time.
At its worst, Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is frustrating, inconsistent and outdated. At its best, it is a charming, faithful remake of a true love letter game, made by and for passionate fans of SpongeBob SquarePants. As much as I enjoyed replaying this cornerstone of my childhood, I cannot in good conscience recommend it for everyone. This is a game only for fans of the original or diehard SpongeBob fans. It's outdated, it's frustrating and it shows its age constantly. If you don't already know how to navigate the swinging masts of the Flying Dutchman's Graveyard, or the labyrinth of the Kelp Forest, you're not going to be able to do it intuitively in Rehydrated. If you're just looking for a new 3D platformer and this one caught your eye, keep looking. There are a dozen at least that better deserve your time.
Nirav reviewed Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated on Nintendo Switch.