Say what you like about SpongeBob SquarePants, but there's a reason it's still one of Nickelodeon's most popular shows. The cartoon starring a yellow sea sponge and his starfish best friend is delightfully daft, and the first few seasons are full of ingenious episodes with genuinely funny writing. At the height of its popularity in the early noughties, a game based on the show was released for PlayStation 2, and it's still beloved to this day. SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated revives the 17-year-old action platformer on PlayStation 4, but is it a pretty patty or a bucket of chum?
The first thing that hits you about the remake is the visual upgrade. In a deliberate decision to ape the more saturated look of the more recent seasons, Rehydrated is more colourful than a coral reef. It makes the original look washed out by comparison, and while it's maybe a little overdone, the graphics are suitably cartoonish. It's not perfect -- some characters look a little off, and quality can be somewhat inconsistent -- but it's a pretty dramatic overhaul of the PS2 title.
In terms of sound, things aren't quite so strong. All the music and voice work from 2003 returns, meaning it might look very different but it sounds basically identical. Yes, that means Mr. Krabs still isn't voiced by Clancy Brown. Strangely, the audio mix has occasional issues; we noticed a fair amount of the dialogue sounds blown out, and there are also rare instances of audio not playing. Neither of these are deal breakers, but the sound seems a little sloppy.
Still, there's more to a remake than sights and sounds. Rehydrated is a pretty close match to the original in terms of gameplay, although die-hard fans may notice some small differences in how things feel. Most notable is probably Sandy's lasso swinging move, which has very different physics. Generally speaking, though, we'd say the gameplay experience is smoother, largely thanks to a vastly improved camera. Fans will quickly get right back to gathering shiny objects, bashing baddies, and surfing down slopes.
If you're unfamiliar with the original game, it stars SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy as playable characters in a non-linear 3D platformer, fighting to rid Bikini Bottom of Plankton's disobedient robot army. As you make your way through varied environments, your main task is to collect golden spatulas and dispatch the metallic horde.
Back in 2003, collectathon games like this were pretty commonplace. In 2020, 3D platformers are few and far between. It's fair to say that Rehydrated's structure and moment-to-moment action is extremely basic by modern standards. Each character has some unique abilities, but combat is one-note and objectives aren't exactly diverse. Bosses are very tame affairs, and fly-by cutscenes showing you the levels are a constant reminder of the game's PS2 heritage. That being said, it's nice -- refreshing, even -- to play something so simple. There's no penalty for dying, there are lots of collectibles to find, and it presents a fun underwater world to explore. Yes, it feels dated in a number of ways, but it offers the sort of lighthearted fun that's rarely seen these days. Whether or not you've played Battle for Bikini Bottom before, those looking for a straightforward 3D platformer will be well served here.
It's not without its flaws, of course. While Rehydrated runs at a consistent 60 frames-per-second, there are some rough edges. Loading screens show up more than you'd think, texture pop-in is noticeable after an area loads in, and we even had a particularly nasty bug where an early golden spatula became unattainable. We're informed the latter will be fixed in a future update, but until then, make sure you get Squidward's golden spatula before you leave his house.
But what of the brand new stuff, then? Part of the package is a wholly original multiplayer aspect; an online or offline co-op horde mode featuring all-new playable characters and previously cut content. Two players take on Robo-Squidward's increasingly challenging waves of robot enemies. It's extremely basic, and each character only has two moves (even the ones that should have more, like SpongeBob), but it provides even veteran players something new to check out, and it's a nice way to repurpose things that were once left on the cutting room floor. It's definitely ancillary to the main game, though.
SpongeBob Rehydrated is a vibrant remake of a much loved PS2 platformer. It's a little rough around the edges, but it's a solid effort that brings back a type of game that's all too rare on modern machines. The simple fun of collecting, bashing enemies, and exploring a beloved location is very much here, and fans young and old will get a kick out of this underwater excursion.