So, stay with me, Battle for Bikini Bottom is a pretty damn fine game. No joke. Not even a smile. Like, will-reading serious.
Within this age of what I think of as extremely underrated platformers, Spongebob came out with something singular, unique feeling, funny, and satisfying on a collectibles level. This age is a Think Piece in the making with how many quality platformers came and went without the full ripples they deserved.
For now, let’s explore Bikini Bottom’s representation in full. The Spongebob craze held me pretty tightly up through its fourth season as the humor seemed pretty balanced for kids and adults through then. Battle for Bikini Bottom hit in 2003: the heartland as far as the quality of the series in concerned, and it shows. The humor is brief and capable of carrying out a laugh or two while keeping you smiling throughout. Patrick, pre-Homerification, is the highlight with some spectacular screams. His screams are the best.
Spongebob, Sandy, Plankton, and that damn fish in a business suit that delivers the news all deliver at one point or another too. What is it about news anchors in animated shows that make them so funny? Absurdity is at its best when it aligns with reality, which is an axiom Spongebob embraced fully in those early seasons to a huge payoff that splashes to Battle for Bikini Bottom.
To me, the early comedy of the show came in the small moments you were pretty sure were coming but still filled you with glee. The fish screaming “My leg!”, Gary’s meowing, Patrick’s screaming etc. all carry over here with their golden touch intact. There are duds and missing voices, and the main enemies are bland as all hell, but the overall comedic picture comes off fairly well.
That main enemy of Battle for Bikini Bottom are these Plankton-made robots that never pull off the same wacky antics that the main characters are capable of. It’d be something of a brilliant contrast if they were dead serious in their whole affair and did something weird like worship Squidward, but that doesn’t happen. They’re given personalities that just don’t stick.
You’ll find them chasing, rummaging, beating up on smaller sea folk, or attempting something too diet-zany given the cast. These are metallic bullies that are never played that way nor given the latitude to mesh with the comedic effects everyone else has. While a small downfall, it becomes more and more noticeable as the game moves forward.
On the other hand, Battle for Bikini Bottom does make playing as Spongebob and company an extremely fun time. Patrick, Sandy, and The Bob each have different moves and specials such as Patrick’s huge belly bomb. Spongebob has the most versatile moveset with his bubble creations and feels the quickest and smoothest in levels. His bubble wand attack gives the same effect as rolling as Ocarina of Time as far as giving you just the tiniest bit of extra speed, and satisfaction, at your disposal.
To be clear, Battle for Bikini Bottom does ape a bunch of characteristics from other games. Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Banjo-Kazooie, Dark Souls somehow, the list goes on. Golden Spatulas are stars that you can find seamlessly inside of larger areas, most with 10 to nab that are needed in sum to open the next big area. Spongebob and his humor are the only original aspects to speak of, but with the writing and setting, that’s a pretty huge shield to lessen the sense of cloning.
There are boss fights against huge machinations that topple over those uninspired feelings. You’re just waiting. And running. And waiting. Then, attacking! Then waiting. Structurally, the fights are sound enough with the huge robots, at the very least, being set against an absurd background with my favorite news anchor running commentary. There are just absurd “survival” sections that stretch the butter over too much bread while you’re just dodging attacks. Recent Sonic games have implemented the same kinds of pacing maneuvers and it’s one of the main reasons those boss fights are about as enjoyable as a lava snow cone.
Bikini Bottom itself feels very condensed and walled to just a few main areas littered with hub entrances. There’s no castle to explore or secret walls to remove, which lessens your interaction and commitment to any sort of time spent in the barren streets.
The individual worlds in Battle for Bikini Bottom are somewhat more positive with some duds remaining. Goo Lagoon and Rock Bottom feel claustrophobic and focused a bit too much on callbacks to house everything accomplished elsewhere. Such as Sand Mountain and Kelp Forest. Holy s*it, does Sand Mountain make me feel alive! Hyperbole aside, that and Spongebob’s Dream are my highlight world because of the music, the snow/tongue boarding, and the intention to clearly just let the players have a hell of a time.
Battle for Bikini Bottom does crimp many things done many times before into a new skin. To say that it would stack up favorably to any of those design originators would be stretching the definition of reality a bit, but derivative doesn’t equal unimaginative. Spongebob Squarepants puts on his fun pants for Battle for Bikini Bottom and creates, god help me, a platforming classic from an age seemingly devoid of recognition.
Battle for Bikini Bottom Score: