The Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie: The Game: The Review
Known as STTTTR SMG
"There goes that darn froge again, making a ruckus with bad memes and nonsense nobody asked for. One of these days I'm going to go up there and give him a piece of my mind..."
Ladies and gentleman, what if I told you that I afford the same amount of dignity to a game that nobody cares about, the same amount of effort, appreciation, and respect, for a game that was made slapdashedly to tie-in with another piece of mass-market media, that I do a game made out of blood, sweat, and tears, and was designed to be a game on its own merits, and not on the merits of another piece of media? I should tell you, because it is true. I afford the same respect to all works so long as they make a legitimate attempt to be entertaining, and because of this mentality, I can extract value from things which most people would not give a second thought to.
I understand that it is idealistic to think of all works as meant to be artistic, and not made for money. It is also idealistic to think that any art is made at all without the prospect of cash, unless the artists are so far gone as to think they can survive off that no-profit lifestyle. So when I judge something that was made for money, on the same level as I judge something that was made for artistic principles first, with money being a secondary aspect, then is it fair at all? I reply to this question: if you are going to enter an arena where both the artists and the vultures hang out, do not expect to be ignored by the artists, and do not expect for the vulture to not try to profit off of you.
All works that use an artistic medium can be judged based on the values of that medium. A cartoon that is made solely to be profitable, or made to be offensive, or made to advertise, can be judged on the same level as a cartoon that is made for the audience to feel some sense of wonder in the world, because they are both using the same medium, and as a result of which, are subjected to the same standards of quality. Somebody who says that their webcomic, or their drawing, "is not meant to be serious", has missed the point of having an audience. It doesn't matter what it means to you - all that matters is what you're communicating to your audience. If you don't want an audience, don't publish your work. Simple.
This means that all works, no matter with what intention they were made with, can be judged as equals alongside the great works of art which we base all other works of art along. However, just because we can do something, it does not mean that we should waste our effort reviewing works that nobody expects to be of any quality at all, nor does it mean we should praise works that we well and truly already know that they are good. It means that we should use the freedom we are given to review whatever we want, and decide what to review based on what an audience will get out of that review. If a shitty movie-tie in that nobody expected not to be shit gets a review declaring it to be shit... what did we learn? Not a damn thing.
There are exceptions, of course. If we were to review something that everybody knows to be good, but you give a contrary review of it, then that's some food for thought right there! It's like my Bojack Horseman review, which I viewed because it was recommended to me as an exceptional cartoon, but found it to be just okay. If you review something everybody knows is good, but you go really in-depth as to why it is good, then you are training a new generation of artists to follow what you have taught them and continue to create good work. That's even more food for thought - food for the birth of new works!
What about a work nobody knows about? An interesting problem. While there is always some novelty in dragging something unknown from the depths of Hell and publicly executing it, we have to wonder what the point of it is, and the circumstances of its creation. If it was an indy project made by one guy with no discipline involved in its creation, then what is the point of reviewing it? Nobody cares. Nobody will care after you make the review. But if something really good happens to be found, or something special in some sort of way - like it being a dancing fucking bear, or having a creepy pasta with it - then there is some incentive to actually review the thing and teach your audience things from it.
So what about this work, this Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie: The Game? Well, it's simple: it's a fucking meme. Yes, That Fucking Froge is reviewing a meme game. What did he expect out of such a thing, where the only reason to play it is to say that you are really quite good at a Spongebob game? What is the purpose of dragging this abomination out of the depths of Hell, taking it to the public execution square, and then firing a pistol into the back of its head? What do we expect to learn from taking this thing which nobody at all cared about, this thing that would have been better left in Hell, and then bringing it back to life, only to kill it?
Well, here's the plot twist: it isn't that bad. And let me explain why.
Why I played it:
Hey, kids! Did you know that your old friend Froge is a pirate? Shocking, I know. I always thought putting a blog into the public domain, tagging it with a Kopimi symbol, telling people to abolish copyright, posting about Web security every damn day, and running a blog out of the passion of my heart and with no expectations of any profit, advertising, or any sort of revenue enhancement whatsoever, are all tell-tale signs of a corporate shill.
So I'm hauling my file-sharing ass to Linux, right? The Cool OS for Cool Cunts? And I'm figuring out how to download the Dolphin emulator get my game on, because even a well-rounded individual like me isn't afraid to play some Dankey Kang Cuntry once in a while, inbetween having sex with my seven wives on the cool beaches of Afghanistan, right before I get executed and have my dead ass be posted to YouTube before it gets blatantly censored under the guise of "nobody wants to see that", despite the fact that if people are deliberately watching it, then yes, YouTube, they fucking want to see that. But then they could just be saying "terrorism is bad don't do this folks", in which case, I.......... agree.
So then after I install the emulator through a truly arcane process which only needed me to go to the bloody Mint App Store and download the master branch (which they never advertised on their website - brilliant marketing), I leave it dormant for, about three months. What can I say, escaping from ISIS takes time. And once I come home from the Great Middle Eastern Adventure, I notice my old, disused, dilapidated, degenerate, GameCube controller lying there on the floor. Attached to a similarly old adapter, which has been duct-taped to the wall in a bodge so bad it makes OSX look good. Yes, I realise it's called "macOS" now, but the previous name looks like a guy doubled-over trying not to take a massive shit on the floor, so I prefer that name.
I bought those materials solely for the purpose of getting my game on, brah, and so imagine my shock and awe when I discover that I haven't been getting my game on for three months? So I immediately go onto my favourite little emulation site, Emuparadise, and download a game which I think will be small enough and shitty enough to test out and see if the controller still works at all - and how well my PC can run the thing, after having not put it to the test since the time I ran an image compressor on my root drive and ended up making my operating system look like 1989. At least it would, if I didn't chicken out and decide to kill the process, preserving the dignity of my PC forever. Long story short, that's how I ended up with a meme game in my hard drive.
So, how well does the GameCube controller work? Perfectly. You know, I always had to fiddle with so many different configuration files on Windows that I could never get any actual work done, so seeing Linux work better than I expected beyond my wildest dreams, really makes me proud. It just works.
Alright, now that I've pissed off every single Apple fan who reads my blog, let's shiggy our diggies into the meat of the review, and see if this meme game, turns out to be a meme... shame. It's funny because it's a pun. Please laugh.
How it works:
The gameplay is like discount Banjo-Kazooie, and I suppose that sums up the entire review nicely. You spend your days collecting tokens through various challenges over the course of the approximately eight hours it takes you to finish this game, going through levels that are linear in that you have one way to go, but are open when you consider that each is like a little arena, as well as some distractions like a little platforming challenge you have to deal with to collect these tokens. They are completely arbitrary beyond being related to the whole "Goofy Goober" plot of the movie, so you could be collecting the seven birth certificates for all the game cares.
In other collect-a-thon games, much more nonlinear games I can assure you, the doodads you pick up has some relation to the world around you, such as the weapons in Castlevania or the puzzle pieces in Banjo-Kazooie, unlocking new things and new shit to do. They cohese with the story because you absolutely need them to progress in a sensible way, whether it be because of the plot or because you need new shit to get past organic obstacles like a bomb for a rock or whatever, and not because the game demands you fetch their goober tokens.
I like the little detail on the coins where it says "In Goobers we Trust", instead of the United States Christian-babble "In God we Trust". It's a complete throwaway gag, much like the design of the tokens themselves, but it tells us so much about the lore of the Goofy Goober world, such as their economy being so underdeveloped that they have to use incredibly thick coins as currency, and that they are a society which is so secular that they not only abandon any idea of a God, but actually satiricises the idea by creating a snarky pun on their currency. Truly, they are on their way to being a world power.
Right, let's talk more about the world. The Gang, and by The Gang I mean Spongebob and Patrick, those fucks, follow the plot of the movie and use the settings as an excuse to have combat that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. The plot is shoehorned in with cutscenes, not integrating much at all into the gameplay, which seems to me a missed opportunity. You have your moments like riding the pussy wagon and fighting that bounty hunter which inexplicably showed up and didn't affect the plot in any way, but beyond that, it might as well be separate.
If you're really deep into the Spongebob lore, you may be upset at the blatant shoehorning in of scenes distinct from the movie, like the tutorial level where you have to beat up some jellyfish before you apply cheese to a burger, the level where you destroy televisions in a trash heap (followed by a blatant cutscene art shift from still images from the movie, to fully 3D rendered environments), and a sequence where you chase the Goofy Goober in the pussy wagon in order to escape from Goober Land, which was such a bodge job that you might as well have put up a sign saying "Our game was too short, have a dream sequence". It's a good thing the narrator is taking the piss on this job, seeing as you couldn't take yourself seriously after featuring a shift from "smash a giant monster's face in" to "chase a peanut on a unicycle through the streets of Candyland", which is never mentioned in the story ever again.
But let's be honest, nobody gives a shit about the Spongebob lore (sorry, John). It's just an excuse to feature levels which are tangentally designed around the sets in the movie - in this respect, it actually forges a unique identity. You have the candy shop where you go through the ice cream freezer and the freezer made of ice cream, the dark garbage dump where you navigate oversized pieces of garbage, the nightclub where you beat up greasers with worm dogs, and the huge-ass pyramids featuring depictions of Plankton, that fuck. There is a great deal of imagination on display here, and it is a shame that it is being wasted on poor gameplay decisions.
The enemy design is standard, and you only get three basic types - the guy that runs up to you and hits you, the guy that shoots something at you from a distance, and the guy that you can't kill unless you have a special skill designed explicitly to counter them. Despite the varied level design, you'll always going to get somebody burping at you, somebody having a work dog, or somebody shooting missiles at you, and it's not very cohesive when you see the same enemy in the garbage dump as you do in the candy shop, with slightly different textures and no chance in behaviour, and with the exact same way to defeat them as before.
I'm focusing a lot of the fundamentals of game design, but what do you expect with a Spongebob game? A deep and varied epic where Patrick gets cancer and Spongebob has to reconcile his grief through positive self-improvement and the desire to bring his buddy back on one last adventure, for old time's sake? Fuck no - start collecting tokens, bitch. What I'm saying is that nobody is expecting this game to set the world on fire, and while I will take the opportunity to review games that have set my own world on fire, this is not one of those games. It's an opportunity to appreciate the value in a game that, while flawed in so many different areas, has some good things to say about it.
It feels to me that the designers put effort into the wrong places, such as hiring voice talent to recreate the lines in the game (as the voice acting is much better than what you'd find in games with much bigger budgets), developing wide and expansive maps only for those maps to be went through in a linear fashion without any effort to expand upon the worlds they create, adding in a ton of extras that aren't substantial enough to be worth collecting, the diverse amount of audio lines to the point where they don't become stale even after a few hours (but after that point? you bet), and adding in boss fights with good presentation, but use mechanics that we've all seen before, and can be cleaned up in three minutes.
None of these detract from the overall experience, as it is a decent experience for the time you put into it. Like I said, there is a lot of imagination on display here, and it's clear the developers cared about creating a Spongebob Squarepants experience, whatever that means to you personally. It's not really funny, but it's goofy and has its own unique charm to it that so many games lack, even the games that are deliberately trying to be charming. I suppose it reflects poorly on Undertale when I felt less interested in its world than I did the world of Spongebob Fucking Squarepants. If Spongebob is the benchmark for a charming experience, then what excuse do games have for neglecting it?
Charm isn't a hard thing - it's just creating a unique and novel experience, with characters you care about. Would I sacrifice my life for Spongebob and Patrick? Not bloody likely. But they have solid, likeable personalities, and have so much fun with the world they're in, that it's hard not to feel some joy while playing the game. When you see little details like the ability to smash set dressings, or the exaggerated animations of the attacks that remind you that we're playing a game that is meant to represent a cartoon, or the way the enemies laugh at you after you get hit (also providing a novel way to recover after messing up an offensive strike), then you appreciate the amount of care that went into a game to make it seem so carefree. Yeah, put that one up on Wikiquotes - oh, I don't have a page.
A short section on game mechanics:
Now that's all for the presentation - but what's the actual gameplay like? Let me put it this way: are you familiar with speedrunning? Their primary concern is finishing games as fast as they possibly can. What could this involve - just doing the same things as everybody else, only perfectly? Yeah, because I can beat Super Mario 64 in three minutes doing it the normal way. The tactics used in speedrunning varies so greatly from what the developers originally intended, that when you undertake a game as a speedrunning endeavour, you are playing an entirely different game altogether, just on the same engine as the original. You manipulate the game's mechanics and push them to their logical conclusion, doing things that the normies could never imagine.
The thing about video games is that they're flexible - the proper way to play them is whatever way brings you the most enjoyment out of it. Somebody who plays Super Smash Brothers with the sole intent to win, consistently, isn't going to have much of a fun time when they play against somebody who just wants to mess with the items. Just as well, a person griefing on DOTA 2, or on some other multiplayer game, is playing very differently from somebody who is playing that game in order to win. Playing for fun, and playing for real, are two very different philosophies. It is important for game designers to realise that any "casual" game will be played at the highest possible level it can be played at, and so it is necessary to design the game to accompany that. Just as well, every single game will develop alternate ways of playing it, and you must expect and encourage the player to try all the possible ways. Emergent gaming isn't a quirk or a problem - it's the end state of all games.
Take a look at the speedrun for this game. Yes, I believe I will have invalidated my review by linking you a gameplay video and causing you to create your own opinion, but why shouldn't I? If you want to understand a game well enough to the point where you, too, can review it, then it is necessary to have as many examples, as much media, as you can about a game, because otherwise you won't have enough information to develop complex opinions. I have said before, in an e-mail but never in anything published so you can all scoot your boots and not feel bad, that it is not necessary to play a game to develop an opinion about it. It is necessary to understand the game. Playing the game is the most direct way to understanding it, and puts you in a position where you know most things about it. For other things, it is necessary to gain more knowledge of the game through external input, through external knowledge, in order to get as much perspective as you can about a thing, so that you may choose the best ones for your audience.
Don't feel like you're missing anything by watching that video, as indeed, you will develop much more entertaining ways of playing the game, should you decide to play it. You will notice that most of the run is very slow - the walking speed isn't fast, there are very speed-boosting mechanics, and nothing in this game is supporting a speedrunning lifestyle. But when you see some trick like an ice cube out-of-bounds height boost, or a momentum-preserving double damage boost, then you understand the types of movement strategy that could have been deliberately put into this game, and yet wasn't. There are mechanics that could have been exploited to create a game that could have been enjoyed by gamers without having to purposefully glitch them in - and it's the obligation of the developer to create these mechanics, as the more a player puts into the game, the more the game should give out.
But it's one thing to watch a video, and another to actually play the game for yourself, as reading about a place is good, but actually being there is another experience altogether. So how is the gameplay? It is like the video I linked above - slow, but it has its moments. It is decently challenging in some respects, monotonous in many others, and is so short and has so little replay value as to barely register on the radar of games that you could be playing instead of this one. But it does us no good to complain idly, so let's dig into it.
The gameplay is divided into three main sections of running around and smashing some blokes heads in, a section where you ride in a bathtub and scoot your boots across a hill, and a section where you drive the pussy wagon through Bikini Bottom. The first one is the best one, the second one is the second best one, and the last one is the worst thing to happen to humanity since the epileptic raves of 1969. Spongebob and Patrick do things in each one, and sometimes it's Patrick, and sometimes it's Spongebob. They are a part of this video game, and you control them. This is a video game.
That was the most boring series of sentences I have ever written, as is always the case when describing very simple things like game mechanics, because the chances are, you don't need to bloody know about them. If I was to describe to you a particularly good video game, I wouldn't describe it to you in terms of what happened, but what I felt during it, because a game that evokes emotions more than it does a series of bullet points off the checklist of mandatory genre-conforming game mechanics, is a very good game. When I get esoteric in a review and describe how I feel, and these are positive emotions, then you know that I am describing a positive review, and not one that is designed to fill up space.
Like I said before, the game as a whole is particularly slow, as you don't walk very fast and there aren't any movement options, which is a wasted opportunity. I understand that this game has a target audience, E.G. for children, people who really fucking like Spongebob, and for siblings with absolutely nothing else to play and they find this solitary game disc in the back of the TV, so they throw it in because playing Goldeneye 007 for two hours doesn't inspire much of the imagination, beyond coming up with arbitrary new restrictions like "you can only move diagonally" or "every time you get a kill you have to shoot a dick in the wall". It's because of this that I understand why they would make the mechanics not very complex, but given the complexity of other games made for children, there is really no excuse beyond developer apathy.
On complexity and individual mechanics:
All of the great games of all time were designed to provide challenge, doing so through abusing all of the game's mechanics as far as they can take it - at least until the Internet came along and we got Asshole Mario levels that show Nintendo was holding back on us all along. Games like Super Metroid, Castlevania, Super Mario World, Mega Man, and so forth, all have movement mechanics which aren't essential at all to complete the game, but given how legendary their status is in the world of speedrunning, it shows that the amount of care that the developers put into the game into making them easy to access, but hard to master, paid off fucking dividends over time. Perhaps the key difference between a good work of art and a great work of art, is that a great work of art rewards you the more effort you put into understanding it, while a good work of art doesn't have much to understand at all. The same is for games - the deeper the mechanics, the better the game is when you play it as a game.
When you see a game like Super Smash Brothers Melee where the default mode of movement is a funky-ass hop and slide that combos into anything, then you know it has some complexity to it. I'm not saying that the game is good because of this, as it would have been much easier to put the wavedash mechanics into the standard movement instead of having to use a carpal tunnel button sequence. What I am saying is that, while the complexity of the mechanics are severely mangled for their unituitiveness and ability to simply break the game apart and create a community which spends years of their life playing a single video game that stops having new things to offer, with only marginal increases in skill and prestige over time, a competent video game would have integrated those mechanics into a sensible design, and take the depth of skill and make it available for absolutely everybody to abuse.
The fastest standard movement tech in the Spongebob game is Patrick's cartwheel skill, which makes you go about 20% faster and damages everybody in a radius, so there is no reason to never be cartwheeling if you don't need to use another skill. It's unnecessary busywork to make a player jump up small platforms, cartwheel for a quarter of a second, and then jump out of it only to continue cartwheeling - and every player who wants to go fast will complete this sequence. It would have been much more sensible to increase the base movement speed by 20%, allow fine movements through slightly moving the control stick as per the standard, and make the cartwheel move the same speed as your regular running to avoid busywork. To avoid the cartwheel becoming useless in the face of the standard spin attack, I would add a charge attack to it, where if you charge it up you lunge forward at great speed, creating opportunities for high-speed tech that the player isn't obliged to use at every opportunity. It's simple mechanics like these that add a lot of complexity to an otherwise standard game.
The spin attack is the default for both Spongebob and Patrick - but Spongebob's is unique in that he can both spin in mid-air, and hover a little while doing it. Unlike Yoshi's Island where you can hover constantly with frame-perfect timing, Spongebob only gets one hover per jump, and that's it. Because it helps him preserve momentum in the air, the level design could be better suited to taking advantage of this, such as implementing more aerial platforms instead of having so much combat take place on the ground, which also encourages more exploration of the detailed game world that the developers made. There's also a strat where you can use the massive speed gained from an environmental hazard to jump into an area you're not supposed to, so it would have been wise to add in a gameplay feature that takes advantage of the freedom gained from this strat, creating more challenging areas.
The level design itself appears to be linear Banjo-Kazooie, as I've expressed before. It would have worked greatly in its favour if all it tried to be is Banjo-Kazooie, with wide-open levels and opportunity to do whatever the fuck you want and unlock new areas given your upgrades, like the Spongebob game already does. The problem is that the level design is not at all suited for this - the levels are too damn compact to add more challenges into, and they have such a strict progression to them that you can't deviate from the path or else you'll be wasting your time. I understand that they had a strict time budget, but it wouldn't be hard to make a few levels, throw in a shit-ton of platform challenges, and then spread tokens around the entire joint. That's what indy developers are doing right now, and it's working out for them... if they would ever release the bloody games.
The most blatant examples of missed opportunity in level design is where you can jump onto a magic square pad and then press "R" to warp to a challenge, completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Why the heck couldn't you integrate this into the level like what Crash Bandicoot or Spyro does? Surely, it wouldn't have been hard to add in a trampoline that shoots you really high up, and then provides you opportunity to still feel attached to the level? It feels like these levels were made as tech demoes, prettied up a little bit, and then hacked into the final game in order to artificially lengthen the gameplay. Which is a damn shame, because the platforming challenges are the best part of this game, so not seeing it be integrated better into the levels shows a severely misaligned development team.
And speaking of going really high up, Spongebob has an ability that shoots your fist into the air, lets you grip onto things using it, and then make it explode. It's a really unique feature that I've never seen before, and the sheer height of the skill provides a sense of depth and enjoyment to the game that's missing from so many others - rarely have I seen gameplay that fits in so well with the theme of the game, being a skill that fits in with the cartoon atmosphere, while still being novel to use. A lot of other games focus on being too realistic for the game's good, sacrifice the simple joys of unique gameplay in order to fulfill an utterly pedestrian slot, such as most shooter games not featuring any movement tech at all, whether intentional or otherwise. Even Deus Ex, remarkable for its exceptional story, complex-yet-intuitive game mechanics, and ability to do whatever the fuck you want, had you simply running on the ground and shooting people for most of the game, unless you deliberately chose the jump-and-run upgrades. It's still a great game, but this is just the way it works.
There are two main problems with the ability - it's under-utilised, and it doesn't lead to any intentional movement tech. The ability to grab onto platforms from underneath and then jump onto them is an ability that I haven't seen before (and this could actually be a very common ability, but I'm a complete fucking dumbass for not thinking of examples), leading to a lot of opportunities for height-based level design, as well as complex platforming. It never comes into actual effect in gameplay, only being used to punch set-pieces and buttons which you're obliged to proceed, instead of being organically woven into the levels. In addition, it doesn't affect any ground enemies, only able to harm enemies from above - but there is only one enemy design that can be harmed from above, meaning it's piss-poor as an attack, and feels like a deliberately limiting feature. It would have been much better if there were more aerial enemies, allowing for more attack and defense strategies, though a man can only dream given the budget of the movie tie-in.
The bigger problem with the bash attack is that it can only be used on the ground, meaning that any opportunities to use it is artificially limited by requiring a set-up. While in theory it's good to limit the player's movement options somewhat so as to not completely break the game apart (see: Half-Life: Source's insane out-of-bounds strategy), this specific limitation doesn't do much at all to create clever level design or new gameplay features, as the developers didn't make use of the limitation to design their levels around, and as such feels arbitrary. While I like how it doesn't give any opportunity to break the game into pieces by allowing users to simply jump and bash onto normally inaccessible platforms, creating level design that isn't needlessly obtuse, the lack of clever level design and enemies which you could exploit the bash with, means that its use is strictly limited.
It's a very unique skill, and one which I'm harping on, because there is some brilliance to it. If the skill had unlimited freedom - meaning the ability to jump and bash while preserving momentum - it would break the standard level design to pieces, but allow opportunities to create levels where the technique is used as an organic upgrade, such as tokens being place exceptionally high up that you can only reach that way, instead of reducing its use to buttons and the one specific enemy that is countered by it. If it continued to be restricted in this way, it would have allowed for the levels to remain compact, but the designers would have to create platforms that make use of its ability to stick to platforms and then jump off of them, which they didn't do. Personally, I would go for the latter route. While it reduces the complexity of the movement, it allows for a more grounded experience, which could be paired up with other movement-boosting skills in order to create a game that is unique for its intuitiveness, but not so babified that you can't also gain some complex strats out of it.
There's an interesting contrast between the roles of Spongebob and Patrick in this game - Spongebob can be considered the platforming type, with the ability to float in air, and a height-boosting and grappling ability which could have been used to great extent. Patrick can be called the ground-based muscle, dominating it using his cartwheel, body-slam, and throw abilities to deal great area-of-effect damage. I saw that can be, because this rarely comes up in actual gameplay, because the enemies are tailored to Spongebob and Patrick's individual damage types, and the level designs require you to switch out the characters as needed to gather tokens. There is very little organic gameplay, and even the gameplay that you create yourself is limited in scope, just due to how the levels are designed.
Usually the problem with these types of games is that there isn't enough mechanics involved to justify playing the game, because it will be a boring and predictable romp where each level is just a grind to get through to the next one. This game has a good deal of mechanics, but they aren't being used to their fullest extent, and as such end up being inconsequential. For instance, while Spongebob and Patrick both hold their own in a fight, the enemies don't have enough variety to produce much more strategy than using whatever skill is right based on the scenario. While there is uniqueness to the combat, where you aren't universally spamming the cartwheel because this will end up making you fall of a cliff (though it's never happened to me, because I'm not bad), they all knock out all the enemies in one hit if you aim properly, and so most of the combat is spacing yourself between the enemies so as to not get hit.
Spongebob and Patrick's earliest upgrades is having the ability to have enemy projectiles be launched directly at them, hitting them instantly. I like this because there's an element of timing to what would otherwise be a chaotic battle, the calm in the fog of war, as it were. While the game doesn't make much use of it, and when you do try to take advantage of it the window is so tight that you often just end up taking damage, it demonstrates what this game could have been - a bullet hell! Imagine that: the Spongebob Squarepants X Touhou Project Experience. Because while it would have increased the difficulty a lot, it would have done so in a good way, encouraging players to make the most of their abilities to survive as long as they can, and also to make the health point upgrades not seem so bloody useless, given how health can be picked before, during, and after every major battle, and your biggest danger is not getting murked by thirty assholes at the same time.
On the general combat:
Oh yeah, I never talked about the general combat. How it works is that Spongebob, or Patrick, walk into a bar, and the entire club gangbangs them, and then they knock the barflies out. All the combat involves piling onto the gang, spamming whatever abilities they have - whether it's burping, a big fucking crowbar, or just shooting at them from a distance, to knock them out. But it never feels chaotic, and it works for a few reasons. Every time you get damaged, the enemies pause and laugh at you, giving you a breather so you don't end up getting wrecked. The enemy designs are such where you know exactly what each one does, and they're distinctive enough so as to space yourself properly. The animations are so telegraphed that you have an opportunity to dodge pretty much any attack, and you have counters for every enemy in the game. The challenge comes from getting sloppy and then getting knocked off a cliff, or comboed into a wall of pain, or misjudging the distance between a spin attack and the other dude's spin attack, trying to take advantage of that one or so pixel you have to knock them out before they knock you out. Into the lava.
The comparison to a bullet hell is apt, like how melee attacks in Source games are just bullets that disappear after a decimetre, or a full metre if you're playing against a Spy, which you probably shouldn't, because Valve's multiplayer games are a bigger time sink than trying to get them to bloody run - which should be your warning to turn back then and there. The trouble is that this game is a bullet hell so long as all the bullets are made of ice cream and they're spat out from the enemies' mouths, and there's only so much ice cream to go around, so don't expect the Bikini Bottom SWAT units to show up and start piling on the sprinkles. Like I said, the game is better off for not having too much shit go on it it, because otherwise it would just be one big mess - but it does leave something to be desired when you respawn within five seconds and every enemy is knocked out instantly, making every combat seem inconsequential. I suppose it's to the game's benefit that it's not too hard, because not only would it be inconsequential, but it would also be a massive pain to get through.
But here's the thing: a hard game is generally more satisfying to get through, because it requires artful manipulation of its mechanics, as well as a much tighter performance over all. In an age where we get instant gratification from pretty much everything, it's nice to see a game like Spongebob put up a decent fight. While the driving and the rock slides are right boring bullshit, the other sections, such as the platforming combined with the combat, as well as the inexplicable Super Monkey Ball section, make it feel like you're actually overcoming a challenge, and not just wading through a game waiting for the end. I can imagine a few youngbloods having an issue with this game if they aren't intimately familiar with every single video game ever made, unlike me, who isn't bad at those games and actually think of them as pretty easy. To challenge me in a way that still makes sense shows a level of respect on the part of the game developers, and so I appreciate that very much.
As I said, the mechanics aren't perfect, and it screams of a lot of missed opportunity, so let's rattle some off. Patrick's throw command is very finicky and take a long time to set up, making it only good for ranged attacks, but the meta of this game means that you don't really need throw attacks. I would have appreciated it if the throw button grabbed the first thing in a circle instead of me having to walk up to it and position myself in the right spot, hoping that the command registers instead of me just sitting there waiting to be spit on by the ice cream man, and just as well having the animation be faster than pulling up a weed and pitching it to home base, sloppy gardening and baseball analogy. Given that this game's meta is all about close-ranged combat, it's necessary for the ranged attacks to be just as speedy, otherwise they become awkward to use. Would have been nice to have some extra platforming elements as well, perhaps manipulating trampolines and throwing them in the air.
The sponge-bowl which throws a giant metal ball at enemies and then explode would be greatly overpowered in the hands of an ignorant developer, but instead only knocks out enemies if it lands a direct hit, and gives them a little kiss in the area of effect. It's a fun skill to use because of the dramatic impact of the thing, and also comes into platforming by having to aim at different buttons and spindles to make platforms appear. It's a limited little skill that has a long windup and is awkward to aim, meaning it doesn't break the game apart beyond a few instances where it's designed to. I'm sure there is no need to expand on this ability, though given the gameplay opportunities it would present if we could jump on top of the ball, or roll ourselves instead of something else, then there is a lot of potential for improvement.
Patrick's body slam throws you into the ground face-first, which I suppose is perfectly fine for what it does. It's powerful and stuns enemies near you, so there's very little risk unless you get swatted out of the air before you hit the ground, though you do pause on the ground to recover, meaning it's a slow ability that you can't spam for fun - which is a shame because seeing Patrick do a somersault in mid-air because you're too high up to hit anything would be good for increase the minimum mandatory fun values. At this point in the review (EIGHT THOUSAND FUCKING WORDS ABOUT SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS), I've made so many suggestions that this might as well be a design document for the open-source remake of this game, but come on. If I don't make suggestions about a game that I'm reviewing, then I'm less a critic (although being a critic implies I get paid), and just some bitch on the Internet. So my brilliant suggestion is to have the opportunity to let Patrick bounce from one body slam into another, chaining together incrementally weaker slams, to allow the user to fuck around with the ability without abruptly losing all their momentum. Would it make it too easy to abuse? Well considering that I've never been hit on the ground - only right before I've slammed into the ground - I don't see any problem at all with letting my overweight starfish ass jiggle gormlessly around in the air like a plastic beach ball.
There, that's a list of all the abilities that could have possible been better implemented, and why you're a fucking idiot for not implementing them better. But then again, that's only one portion of my review. Join us next time, after you purchase the Froghand Season Pass, for the next fourty-thousand words of our fifty-thousand word epic, "Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie: The Game Review"...............................
If you've already read this far into things, the chances are that you've already made up your mind whether or not you want to play it. The problem is that during the course of the review, I have brought up so many different games that does what this property does, but better, that you may be tempted to play those instead. To which I say: go ahead! We have to understand that "not bad" does not mean "good". And while it is good, better than I expected indeed, given the choice of spending hours playing this game, as opposed to a game that isn't just in it for the memes, then go ahead. Better yet, why not make your own game? Learn how to 3D model and then try a 3D engine with your 3D glasses and your 3D beer and your 3D wife you 3D fuck. But don't use Unity. Never use Unity.
Maybe if you were the sort of guy to play every single Banjo-Kazooie knockoff out there, and yet didn't bother to learn how to speedrun that game because you're only interesting in playing titles once, lest they physically manifest in your house like some sort of demented house spirit, then I would recommend this game. But I know my audience isn't going to boot up their VPNs and run the risk of the fun police by booting up qBitTorrent and downloading some shitty meme game, because they can't be bothered to play any game unless it meets their incredibly high standards. But for what it's worth this isn't the worst title you can ever play, and certainly isn't one of the best licensed games you can come across. I would say this is a game for the die-hard Spongebob fan, but really, if you've seen the movie, you've seen it all.
It's actually an interesting game for aspiring developers to check out, because it has that interesting principle of having a lot of good ideas that you have to fill in the blanks to understand, sort of like the lessons in WarioWare DIY, only without being able to create your own games, because running a game engine inside a Spongebob game would be too much for the feeble developers to manage, unless you were Satoru Iwata or something, whose code for Earthbound to this day baffles gaming historians, such as the portion where the pizza delivery guy has pathfinding AI written exclusively for him and nobody else, and how the in-game dialogue system has its own scripting syntax and language that can become its own programming language given enough legwork. I never understood why people had a problem with run-on sentences if it can lead to fun facts like that.
So I guess you have to ask yourself two questions. One, am I a developer who gets frustrated when a game is shitty, and have a lot of ideas to fix them? Two, do I own a Spongebob body pillow? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please check yourself into your local halfway house, and then persuade your parole officer to get a Wii so you can play this shit, or Paper Mario or something. Or you could just get Dolphin. But then that would be silly.
Today's page was updated on 2016-12-22 and created on 2016-12-14!
Some days you have to look at yourself and think if it was a good idea. And you must trust it was.