Licensed games are not what they used to be. What was once plentiful in supply on consoles of yore is now a bald spot for today’s generation of systems. Ballooning development time and costs have pushed most of that sector out of the market or into mobile gaming, leaving (in my eyes) a unique opportunity for keen-eyed developers to create quality games out of intellectual property they don’t own—particularly those that target younger audiences, a group that simply doesn’t get enough software in the market these days.
And so, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake comes into play, developed by Austrian-based Purple Lamp and published by THQ Nordic. Everyone’s favourite sponge is no stranger to licensed console gaming, but this is the first time in nearly eight years that he’s gotten his own original entry. Building off their remaster of Battle for Bikini Bottom (“BfBB”) a few years back, Purple Lamp has managed to create a solid platformer that even caught me by surprise, meeting my expectations and chucking the bit of cynicism I had right out the window.
Seriously, now this is how you make a kids game.
The Cosmic Shake follows the adventures of SpongeBob Squarepants and his best bud Patrick Star, taking us around Hillenburg’s lovely little world of crustaceans, Osteichthyes, and what have you to restore a now destroyed Bikini Bottom. Thanks to a sleazy traveling merchant by the name of Kassandra, SpongeBob is sold a bottle of bubble blowing liquid that alters the fabric of reality, and to restore everything back to normal he works with Kassandra to go through a myriad of portals to collect this jelly that has been splashed all over the place.
The game sets itself up to send players to various iconic locations from the long-running cartoon, and one of the notable changes from BfBB is just how big and wide levels have become. Enemies litter the place alongside a slew of collectable jelly and golden doubloons, with plenty of jumps and minigames to be found in-between cutscenes. Levels are also split up into sections that, once completed, can be teleported to at any time making collecting missed or unobtainable collectables easier to get ahold of. A feature I appreciate because of the size of said levels, because nothing ruffles my feathers more than a collectable hiding behind a mechanic I’ve yet to unlock. Now while I generally found the level design to be solid, I did feel that there weren’t enough collectables to hunt down as a result. Sure, there are some tight platforming challenges I had fun with, but the rewards usually meant more jelly—something the game will dump truckloads onto you anyway.
Speaking of mechanics, Purple Lamp has effectively doubled SpongeBob’s available moveset. Gliding with a pizza box, karate kicking or bubbling up enemies, extra body slams, and more. This is in conjunction with the many available enemy jellies that’ll stand in your way, with each new level introducing a new baddie you’ll face over the course of the game. And I wasn’t kidding when I said the game litters enemies throughout levels—many times you’ll be forced into combat zones that won’t let you escape until you’ve clobbered everything.
With each enemy type having their weaknesses (and health bars!) alongside the breadth of mechanics available to SpongeBob, fights don’t feel like an afterthought compared to other platformers and I enjoyed taking on scores of baddies. It also helps that the karate kick makes combat and overall movement faster. It’s a shame that the boss fights are fairly boring in comparison, and while I appreciate the attempt to change up how each level ends, I can’t say any of them were mechanically interesting besides the challenges and bosses towards the end of the game.
SpongeBob’s character controller handles almost perfectly. He has the right amount of weight to his movement, jumping around and about is generally responsive, and his swings and dodges are smooth which felt like a natural extension between me and our spongy friend. Unfortunately, problems with the game’s performance have led to rare moments where my inputs were eaten by the game and causing me to miss a jump or a swing. The game also has a tendency to transition players from cutscene to gameplay in a bizarre fashion, sometimes dropping you in a completely different spot than where the cutscene took place. Not the end of the world, but definitely annoying.
Expanding on the performance issues a bit, the game targets a 60 frames per second output but frequently fails to hit it, particularly in the filming set and medieval stages. While I had no problems getting through the game, the performance issues do put a hamper on the game’s gorgeous visuals and animations, especially the bespoke in-engine cutscenes. These scenes showcase how expressive the characters can really be and they’re such a treat to watch, especially if you’re a fan of SpongeBob. Regardless I think it’s a real testament to the passion the developers have for this franchise. Even on a budget, this game looks great.
Sweet, Sweet Victory
On the topic of passion, The Cosmic Shake is SpongeBob references galore. From settings featured from the TV show to having the entire cast reprise their roles proper (Mr. Krabs and the background characters, too!) to voice tonnes upon tonnes of dialogue for this game. Every turn or jump has Patrick or SpongeBob bouncing off one another, making crass or dead straight serious comments on their surroundings and their friends. I had my fair share of chuckles here and there, and I’m sure you or your children will have fun watching all the silliness unfold, just like every other episode of SpongeBob Squarepants. A side note, Tom Kenny’s performance as SpongeBob is near and dear to my heart, but hearing it now definitely reminds me of the pain that is the continued march of time.
SpongeBob also has many, many costumes he can equip. Ranging from references to the show or even past games, players can unlock these costumes by collecting the aforementioned gold doubloons and jelly. The former unlocks tiers of costumes that can be bought, and the latter unlocks individual costumes. Gold doubloons are rarer than jelly, so I highly recommend collecting them when you get the chance.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is the best SpongeBob game ever. There’s a lot of love that went into this project and you really feel it as you jump, swing, and kick about. A solid pick up for platforming and SpongeBob fans alike, this game is an example of what game software for children (and licensed property) should strive to be.
SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake
Xbox Series X
- Great visuals and animations pepper the game.
- Strong performances from the voice cast of the TV show.
- SpongeBob controls like a dream and new mechanics fit right into his arsenal.
- Levels are larger and change on revisits, with plenty of fun to be had jumping about.
- Presentation and technical issues are frequent.
- Boss fights are fairly lame.
- Level size can be a bit detrimental to the collectathon mechanics.