A new title in the weirdly proud lineage of SpongeBob platformers.
As odd as it is to think about now, there was a time in which Nickelodeon's absorbent, yellow, and porous SpongeBob SquarePants managed to make a bit of a name for himself in the 3D platformer genre. Most famously, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, which itself received a remaster on all major platforms back in 2020. Three years later, developer Purple Lamp takes their experience remastering Battle for Bikini Bottom and turns their focus to creating a brand new SpongeBob 3D platformer. But is this an attempt to maximize on nostalgia, or can SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake prove itself beyond its branding?
While visiting Glove World, Spongebob and Patrick come into possession of a magic bubble soap capable of granting any wish they care to make. As one would expect, the duo’s inherently zany nature fractures the world into a variety of dimensions. Bikini Bottom and its inhabitants are torn across these worlds and it's up to SpongeBob and Patrick to save the day. Also Patrick is a balloon now, but that’s not important. The story is told with a surprisingly high level of production value. Cutscenes are excellently animated, characters are expressive, and everything feels very on brand with the classic show. Presentation on the whole is a strength for Cosmic Shake. Even the Switch port turns in a generally sharp image, though it does sometimes come at a cost. But more on that later.
The adventure takes place across seven worlds and a hub area set in Bikini Bottom proper. Each world takes on a unique theme: western, pirates, halloween, etc. These worlds unlock one after the other and while almost entirely linear, they are extremely expansive. A reasonably collectible-minded player will have no trouble spending an hour or more in most worlds. Each world puts forth a variety of story-based objectives as you progress through it. They may require SpongeBob to locate a certain number of a given item, reach a hard to reach area, or simply defeat tough enemies.
The actual platforming feels excellent and is the predominant focus of the design. Each world introduces some new element that allows SpongeBob to interact with the environment in a new way. Early on you’ll earn a karate kick that, outside of combat, allows you to zip to certain targets. Later a grapple hook allows you to swing off specific points. These abilities are then excellently combined into more complex platforming challenges requiring you to mix and match your different options. While the platforming never got particularly difficult, I found myself deeply enjoying almost every moment of it.
Combat, the secondary focus of most levels, is significantly less interesting by comparison. It is functional, and never caused a problem, but it lacks the creativity and constant sense of evolution that the platforming naturally carries. Most fights amount to using SpongeBob’s net to hit enemies who rarely pose much of a threat. A few specific enemies do require you to make use of unlocked platforming abilities, but the majority simply require that you run up to them and hit them once or twice.
As you complete worlds and bring stranded characters back to Bikini Bottom you’ll unlock subquests. These objectives oftentimes offer up an incentive to return to completed levels and complete additional goals. Unfortunately due to the linear nature of each world, they’re not particularly conducive to freely exploring. You can zip between checkpoints but unless you already know exactly where you’re going, you’ll more often simply wind up playing the entire level again. I enjoyed each level once, but their structure made them less interesting to revisit.
As alluded to earlier, the Switch turns in a sharp, good looking rendition of Cosmic Shake. While resolution is dynamic, the average image quality is significantly above what I’ve come to expect from modern multi-platform releases on the system. Most levels also turn in a pretty stable level of performance at most times, though the primary hub struggles significantly more as you fill it by completing more and more worlds. That being said, while most areas run well, the transitional segments of levels are littered with hitches and pauses. Oftentimes you’ll be shot across a map to access a new area, or you’ll ride a seahorse across a large area. In these instances, the engine seems to struggle to stream in new assets fast enough and the game will occasionally pause for several seconds before resuming. It is this feeling of general instability anytime you get moving too fast that causes the game to feel like it's just barely holding together. The resolution clearly isn’t a problem, so the game generally looks great, but delivering these massive levels is evidently an issue.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake, is a surprisingly endearing 3D platformer. The evolution of your traversal options is excellently paced and synthesizes naturally into constant, new challenges. The combat, while uninspired, is functional. The drive to push for 100% completion may be asking a bit too much given the structure of the worlds, but the levels themselves are fun to explore. The Switch version turns in crisp visuals, and generally stable performance, outside of a few specific areas. That being said, when the engine does come under stress it grinds the game to a halt. While it may not often affect actual playability, it's hard to ignore when the image simply freezes for five seconds. Perhaps appropriately, this feels like a lost licensed platformer of the early 2000s. That comes with the good and the bad, but there is certainly a lot to like here, even if it's a bit rough around the edges.