The games industry is currently in the business of remastering and remaking its best games. Over the past few years, we've seen Activision bring back Spyro, Crash and several older Call of Duty games, we've seen Rockstar and Bethesda re-release hit titles such as GTA V and Skyrim countless times, and right now THQ Nordic is starting to join in the fun. One of the first games on their collective plate is a nostalgic classic that should resonate with younger adult players who experienced the title during its 2003 hay-day, the game being SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated.
The Rehydrated edition, developed by Purple Lamp Studios, features the same storyline as the original, which itself takes place in Bikini Bottom and follows a nefarious scheme by Plankton involving disobedient robots that undoubtedly goes wrong. The responsibility of saving Bikini Bottom, as usual, falls to SpongeBob and his friends, taking them to a bunch of notable locations such as Goo Lagoon and Rock Bottom, helping in-need characters along the way. Due to this design, the title is an action-adventure experience at its core, with many individual levels made to reflect and feature the sorts of areas visited as well as the escapades the Bikini Bottom crew get up to.
Unlike a traditional action-adventure however, Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated does not ask you to just complete a level and maybe pick up a few collectables along the way. Instead, the core design requires you to find collectables if you have any plans to move to a new zone. In effect, it is the same sort of thing we've seen in Super Mario Odyssey, where you can only progress further once you have collected enough Moons, or in SpongeBob's case, Golden Spatulas. Finding these usually requires completing some sort of challenge or mission for a character, for example, winning a time trial in a set time. Then, only after you have enough, can you open the Chum Bucket and deal with the root of Plankton's scheme.
The title features multiple playable characters, each with their own skillset. SpongeBob has a base set of abilities that allow him to ground-pound, leap into the air, interact with bungee cords (which give him a massive wedgie - it's rather distressing to see) and use bubble moves, such as Bubble Bowl and Bubble Missile when you reach a certain point in the story. Patrick can do a lot of similar tricks, except instead of being able to create bubbles, he can lift objects and manipulate them to reach new areas. Sandy is in the same boat, except she can leap higher, and use her lasso to slingshot and glide to new places that are inaccessible to the others. The catch is, Sandy and Patrick can only be used on certain levels, and only unlock after a specific point in the story, whereas SpongeBob is always playable from minute one.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated does feature the same combat systems as the original, which largely revolve around using the character's basic moves to deal with foes. For SpongeBob that means using the bubble moves to your advantage, whereas with Patrick and Sandy, lifting and lassoing are your respective go-to moves.
Plankton's disobedient robot army gives us the majority of enemy types. Spanning ten varieties, each with a different appearance and set of attacks, they each require a unique approach. My personal favourite is the tar-tar sauce launching bots, who with their crack shot aim use the tanginess of the sauce to bring about your downfall. The main issue is how none of the robots feel even marginally threatening since they're pretty much all one hit. In fact, over the course of my playthrough, I found environmental hazards to be more challenging than the enemies themselves.
On the other hand, the boss encounters do require a little bit of finesse. Each boss has a health bar that requires a certain number of hits to whittle down, all whilst manoeuvring around a bunch of unique attacks only found in each new encounter. Without a doubt, the boss fights are a highlight of Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated, but the cream of the crop has to be the encounter against Prawn, one of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy's greatest nemesis, simply for the absurdity of how the elderly pair react to the tiny villain's threats.
Even though the Golden Spatulas are at the heart of the experience, there are other collectables to find throughout the story. Each area has a number of Patrick's socks to find, which in turn will reward you spatulas as you reach a certain milestone, and likewise, there is tons of coral-based currency to pick up that can be used to buy access to new areas or to barter with Mr Krabs for more spatulas. Ultimately, if the nostalgia is not enough, there are plenty of other ways to entertain yourself. But, what does the Rehydrated edition bring that the original did not?
First of all are the visual upgrades, which genuinely do look much better, making Bikini Bottom seem livelier and less bleak. There is also new content originally cut from the 2003 game, such as the Robo Squidward boss fight and entirely new features such as the Horde mode that can be enjoyed locally or online with up to two players. The best part about this mode is how you can play other characters, for instance, Mr Krabs, Squidward, or even Robo Plankton.
When it comes to looking at the Rehydrated edition as a whole, you can see how important nostalgia is to the way it is designed. Of course, having a faithful, almost perfect re-imagining is great but recently we have seen the likes of Crash and Spyro return along with the Remake of Final Fantasy VII, and they all look, feel, and play incredibly well. These games have been modernised in all the right places, but Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated holds onto the past a little too firmly in places.
Why aren't the subtitles aligned to how the characters speak? Why do I have to click to move to the next subtitle, even with the characters speaking anyway? Why do some of the abilities feel as fluid as they did almost 20 years ago? I am not asking for a completely overhauled version of the 2003 original, but surely there is nothing wrong with using modern tools to bring back older games so they're better than they were originally? We know studios can do it because we've seen it done countless times before, so why does Battle for Bikini Bottom still feel like a PS2 game, decorated to suit this generation, instead of being reworked more thoroughly so it's better than ever.
Pulling everything together, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated satisfies a lot of the nostalgic wants and desires that the original left fans with all those years ago, and it will still be enjoyed by younger players even to this day. With its upgraded visuals, restored content and added extras, Rehydrated delivers a more complete package than the 2003 original, however, its downfall lies in its inability to adapt to the present when compared to other remade games from the last few years. If the Spyro Reignited Trilogy didn't exist, or the Final Fantasy VII: Remake hadn't delivered, this conversation would likely be very different but considering we're nearly into a new console generation, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated feels a little dry, like a sponge out of water.
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