Originally released 17 years ago, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is a remaster of the classic 2003 licensed platformer, accurate to a fault. Perhaps “remaster” is an unfair term. Watching comparison videos, it’s clear that Rehydrated is a remake, with new character models, animations, and environments that better capture the spirit of the beloved TV show—but while many things were remade and improved, still more elements on the gameplay side were left the same, creating a pretty looking, yet dated adventure into a nostalgia-inducing cartoon franchise.
Based on the early years of the show (SpongeBob first started airing in 1999), the jokes and references mostly call back to the classic humor of the series, though many of those jokes have also become long-running bits over the last 21 years, so not much is lost to the annals of time. Elements like SpongeBob getting his driver’s license (or trying to), drying up in Sandy’s dome, and the ol’ classic Rock Bottom sketch all get nods here, among many others. With the new animations, much of the humor and personality is recreated more accurately than the dated engine of the 2003 original could muster, so the game overall looks and feels a lot more like the cartoon, even if there’s still that uncanny valley divide when making a 2D show into a 3D game.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated Review – Same Old Sponge
Battle for Bikini Bottom is a traditional collectathon platformer with very little in the way of an actual story to drive players through. The overarching plot is that Plankton has unleashed a horde of evil robots on Bikini Bottom and the surrounding area. SpongeBob and Patrick think they are responsible, and thus take it upon themselves to play through a bunch of disparate bits referencing the show until the robot menace is eradicated. To be honest, it’s not an “edge of your seat” “nail-biting” kind of narrative, and too many of the puzzle pieces don’t entirely fit together (like the super random Robo-Patrick fight that just pops up out of nowhere). This isn’t an interactive SpongeBob episode. It’s a bit mashup.
Most of the game is spent collecting Golden Spatulas (again, for some unknown reason that doesn’t seem entirely related to the robot plot) by performing various tasks and finding them in the environment. There are also Patrick’s lost socks which can be turned in 10 at a tim for Golden Spatulas), “shiny objects” used for unlocking various pathways, and assorted collectibles divided up by region (which ultimately grant Golden Spatulas or lost socks), meaning there’s a lot of collecting to do. It’s a dated formula that just doesn’t translate well 17 years later, with nearly two decades of evolution of platformers behind us. Even in its era, there are better examples of collectathon platformers during that time. Just look at Jak and Daxter, which released two years prior in 2001.
Gameplay is fortunately divided up into multiple different segments, from traditional platforming to combat challenges, to sliding down a sand mountain using SpongeBob’s tongue. You’ll also have the opportunity to switch to both Sandy and Patrick during certain levels to overcome challenges with each of their unique abilities. Still, after some time, the gameplay did start to get tired and dull. I felt like I had to drag myself into the next area to do essentially the same series of challenges in a new iconic SpongeBob location. Add the repetitious soundtrack, audio, and voicelines, and I eventually turned the audio way down and listened to music on Spotify while I continued to collect the game’s 100 Golden Spatulas. Collecting became a chore of necessity, rather than something I was driven to do.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated Review – Nostalgia?
One of the biggest issues with remakes of classic games is failing to update the design language that guides players through levels, clearly defining things like level boundaries and interactive objects. In the 2003 original, it was very obvious where the level boundaries were, and where you could or could not go. While the Rehydrated environments are vibrant and full of life, they also blur those boundaries a lot more. I found myself attempting to jump onto objects that weren’t meant to be jumped on, going out of bounds when levels seemed bigger than they actually were, and getting stuck in the environment as I ventured places I wasn’t meant to go. All because the new visuals don’t clearly delineate the game’s boundaries.
Rehydrated is also shackled by excessive load times, both while moving to new areas and after death. Once again, compare this to the impressive single open-world design of Jak and Daxter in 2001, not to mention the fact that this game is a remake of a 17-year-old game, and the long load times seem inexcusable, particularly for how relatively small each area is. I’m not sure what the technical limitations are behind a game like this but to have it still inherently feel like a title from the early 2000s—limited environments, load times, and all—is a big loss when other recent remasters and remakes have made classic platformers feel entirely fresh and new. Perhaps the original Battle for Bikini Bottom just wasn’t all that great a game to begin with? Maybe its beloved nature comes from its licensed source material and not because its was ever a great game? Alas, the 17-year lens of nostalgia is a fickle thing to look through.
And so it goes, the need to strike a balance between retaining the look and feel of the original creation while updating for a modern audience. SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated leans heavily on the former at the expense of quality of life updates that could have given players a great SpongeBob game in 2020. Despite starring a sponge, Rehydrated failed to soak up nearly 20 years’ worth of lessons on platformer design, even as it holds onto its classic nature to a fault. It’s a time capsule, for better or worse.
Oh, and let’s not get started on its worthless multiplayer addition, a senseless horde-mode wave-based brawler that feels tacked on in an attempt to add an extra bullet-point “feature” to the game. Rehydrated’s combat isn’t exactly enthralling, so this mode ends up feeling like an enormous waste of time if you can even convince anybody to sit down and play with you in the first place. I wish the time and development energy put into this mode would have been spent updating the main game with better modern quality of life features.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is a fun enough game in its own right, but it’s encumbered with the weight of near-ancient game design practices. It’s new bright visuals bring Bikini Bottom to life in a whole new way, with character animations now better portraying the classic cartoon than ever before, but its gameplay is still firmly anchored to 2003, some of which has been negatively impacted by its updated visuals. At its core, Rehydrated is a repetitive and cumbersome 2003 platformer. A bit of water in 2020 isn’t enough to soak new life into this old dried up sponge.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.