SpongeBob’s Cosmic Shake is in Need of a Shakeup

SpongeBob's latest is a fun adventure but is missing the polish a new game needs to shine

SpongeBob’s Cosmic Shake is in Need of a Shakeup
Source: THQNordic.

If you grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s like me, you were likely to come across plenty of licensed games which were based on either movies or TV shows of the day. Most of those were seen as nothing more than a way for publishers to make a quick buck at the expense of an unassuming fanbase. Back then if you were to see a licensed game in a store, you’d be told to stay away from it as most of them weren’t all that great.

But like with most common beliefs, there are always exceptions to each rule and some licensed video games were not only good but even great. One such example would be SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom which was released for the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube in 2003. There were also PC and GBA versions but they differ greatly from the console version. Based on the popular Nicktoon, Battle for Bikini Bottom provided joy for both SpongeBob fans and casual gamers, which solidified its status as one of the best licensed games of that era.

Source: NME.com.

As the years went on and more SpongeBob games came out, Battle for Bikini Bottom is still held up as the yellow sponge’s crowning jewel of games, even growing a dedicated speed-running community. I have very fond memories of the game as it combined the funny characters and wacky worlds of the cartoon with fun and challenging levels I’d expect from a platformer. In 2020, following years of fan requests and speculation, we were treated to a remastered version of the classic game, entitled SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated.

The remastered version was a mixed bag, to say the least. The game looked cleaner with HD graphics and 4K resolution, alongside more conventional camera controls and minor tweaks, and it was faithful to the original game in many ways. But the numerous glitches made it hard to recommend to those who were looking forward to seeing what the talk was about. Even after several patches, the game remained a technical mess which, while perfectly playable, did little to impress.

Despite these problems, the remaster sold well and I hoped Purple Lamp Studios would get a chance at making a new SpongeBob game from the ground up. My wish came true as SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake, a new SpongeBob platformer in the spirit of Battle for Bikini Bottom released on 31 January 2023. With no movie to promote which would mean more time to polish things up, an existing framework from the remake, and a developer who clearly loved the IP, I expected this to be the next best SpongeBob game.

Source: THQNordic.

One playthrough later and I can definitely say that this is a game. Is it the best SpongeBob game ever? Not really. Is it bad? Not at all. Would I recommend it? That’s a surprisingly hard question to answer. Make no mistake, my time with The Cosmic Shake was fun while it lasted, and if you’re a fan of SpongeBob or platformers this will do you fine. But as a new game and a spiritual sequel to Battle for Bikini Bottom’s remake, this was very underwhelming.

Being the positive person that I am, not to mention sticking true to SpongeBob’s optimistic nature, I want to start with the positives as there are quite a few. The story and dialogue, while nothing groundbreaking, are doing a great job at matching some of the show’s best writing with plenty of moments that would get you to laugh while also scratching your head at the brilliant levels of stupidity on display. All the voice actors from the show are also back and still sound as great as ever. The presentation is colorful and enjoyably cartoony and all the environments are pleasing to the eyes. If you’re a fan of the show, this game is going to hit all the right spots just for the story and presentation alone.

With The Cosmic Shake being a video game however, it also needs to be fun to play in addition to just a treat to watch, and on a base level it serves that purpose. The character selection from Battle for Bikini Bottom has gone down from 3 characters to just 1, none other than our favorite observant and yellow sponge. But SpongeBob has many new abilities that make him feel more fun to control and don't leave you wishing Patrick and Sandy were back on the roster.

Source: THQNordic.

SpongeBob can still jump, double jump, attack enemies with his jellyfish net, and ground pound as he did previously. He can now also glide with the Krusty Krab pizza (which is still the pizza for you and me), dodge roll out of harm’s way, use a grappling hook to swing from grapple points, ride seahorses, and karate kick enemies and targets far away in a similar way to Sonic the Hedgehog’s homing attack. When it comes to control and move set, SpongeBob is still as efficient and fun to play as he was previously and the levels do put his skills, new and old, to the test.

I wouldn’t call The Cosmic Shake a hard game, as I’m aware that the target audience is little kids, but I shall commend it for not being too easy. There are a good number of fun platforming sections and decently hidden collectibles, thus satisfying both those who want to reach the end of the stage and those who like to explore every corner in an attempt to find everything. For a SpongeBob Squarepants game, I think the difficulty felt just right and the level designs did a great job balancing simple enough challenges so kids could get by fine but won’t cause those who are kids at heart to go numb while playing.

Really, if a fun platformer starring SpongeBob is all that you’re looking for, you won’t go wrong with The Cosmic Shake as it delivers exactly what it promises. But sadly, I can’t let go of some of the game's problems. They may not be significant but they pile up the more I think about them. Most fall into the category of graphical glitches and slowdowns that plagued my playthrough for no discernable reason. I know Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated had problems like these too, and they weren’t deal-breakers here either. But this is a sequel, and I would expect a sequel to address such issues for a smoother gameplay experience. Having these same problems 3 years later is inexcusable.

Source: THQNordic.

Besides that, I’m not sure what to feel about the game’s change in gameplay structure. While Battle for Bikini Bottom was a "collect-a-thon” (meaning you would be chasing a bunch of collectibles in order to progress through the game) in the vein of Super Mario 64, The Cosmic Shake follows a more traditional level-to-level structure like Rayman. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, and it still isn’t for the most part, if the game didn’t bombard players with more collectibles than its predecessor.

While your progress isn’t blocked by the need to collect things, there are plenty of collectibles to just find around secret areas or win from mini-challenges. Those could range from golden coins, golden spatulas, and various collectibles your friends would ask you to find as part of side quests. What do these things do? Well, the coins allow you to buy costumes for SpongeBob, and I’m sure a lot of them will make any fan smile. The items his friends are after will offer a checkmark that you’ve accomplished the task. The golden spatulas… that’s a good question on what they do since I have no idea! For what was the main collectible in the previous game, its inclusion here feels like a contractual obligation and not something that really does anything.

Source: THQNordic.

Speaking of things that were re-used from the previous game, most of the levels in The Cosmic Shake are almost the same as the levels from the previous game when it comes to aesthetics. There are differences to be sure and the levels themselves aren’t complete copies, but it is distracting how many times I could point out that "this is Rock Bottom" or "this is Downtown Bikini Bottom" mixed in with the new levels.

I’m fully aware some of my critiques of the game could seem nitpicky. Other than some gameplay-breaking glitches, none of these things are deal breakers and they won’t get in the way of the fun one would look for in a game like this. However, I must stress those things since we’re talking about a sequel to a game that came out 3 years ago. While it’s nice to be reminded of the good old days when platformers ruled the gaming world, and I’d be the first to eat any one of those up, I’m also expecting an evolution. I want the classics I grew up with to improve and use the new technology and opportunities they have today to be even better.

Source: THQNordic.

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake isn’t a bad game, far from it. It’s an incredibly fun game with a charming story and great level designs which is also easy on the wallet. You can tell it had a lot of love and passion for its source material and its audience poured into it, but I can’t ignore the fact a sequel feels like a repeat of what came before while not fixing any of the problems. I do hope that Purple Lamp gets another chance with SpongeBob. They clearly know what they’re doing from a basic point of view. Now they need the time to perfect the details, and whenever that day comes, I’ll be ready.


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