In 2003, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom was released and became a touchstone for a generation of children already obsessed with the cartoon. While nostalgia plays a large factor, I, like many people around my age, hold that game in high regard, even if the experience doesn't quite hold up all these years later. Now, two decades later, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake has been made as a spiritual successor and, for better and for worse, it plays the way I remember Battle for Bikini Bottom.
In The Cosmic Shake, SpongeBob and Patrick stumble upon a Mermaid named Kassandra, who sells antique and mysterious items. SpongeBob purchases bubble soap that supposedly grants wishes, running around town and asking everyone he knows for their wishes. Unfortunately, all of the wishes kick in at once, tearing holes in reality and sending the citizens of Bikini Bottom off into the multiverse, with SpongeBob and Patrick left to pick up the pieces.
This opening sets up the seven levels players will explore throughout the game, each one with a different theme and environment. The aesthetic design of these levels is one of the places The Cosmic Shake shines, pulling together references to iconic episodes of the show, while adding new elements that fit within the game's story. A movie-set-themed episode combines SpongBob's obsession with karate with an action movie, and a pirate level has an enemy ship constantly firing pie bombs at you.
As for where The Cosmic Shake pulls most of its inspiration from, it stems almost exclusively from the older seasons of SpongeBob. While the show is still airing, many of the references made through the game are from the seasons I watched as a child and easily could have appeared in Battle for Bikini Bottom 20 years ago. There are a few nods to the more modern seasons of the show, specifically Plankton's pet Spot, who serves as a collectible in each level, but the majority of its jokes and callbacks are old-school. Most of these references feel well-placed and don't overstay their welcome, with one major exception.
That exception is the caveman level, where Spongebob and Patrick are sent back to the prehistoric era to try and save Squidward. This pulls directly from the episode SB-129/Karate Choppers in Season 1, where Squidward ends up time-traveling to both the past and future. In the past, language hasn't been invented yet, so everyone speaks in gibberish. What works as a small section of a half-hour cartoon overstays its welcome here. In most levels, SpongeBob and Patrick are frequently commenting on the level, spouting off jokes that mostly land, but here, it's an hour to 90 minutes of caveman speak, which really kills the game's momentum.
As for the design of the levels, The Cosmic Shake takes a far more linear approach than Battle for Bikini Bottom and this mostly works in its favor. The levels have a bit of width to them, allowing you to explore off the beaten path to find extra Cosmic Jelly, which you are tasked with collecting throughout the game. But beyond this small amount of freedom, this focus on a more linear setup allows for the platforming to shine, since there is a single defined path that can be purposefully designed around the movement skills that have been unlocked so far. SpongeBob comes equipped with a double-jump out of the gate but is quickly given far more movement abilities throughout the game, making for fluid platforming. These movement abilities make SpongeBob feel fast when they are all working together and the sections that ask you to use them all together feel incredibly satisfying.
You gain abilities like a glide, a karate kick, a ground pound, and even a grappling hook. Doling out a new ability in most levels means there is always a new mechanic to keep the game fresh, and it provides a way to hide secrets in each level for you to come back to. Levels require you to platform through them, eventually needing to find a number of objects to move further. These sections usually have an arena-like area, where you can choose which direction to start in for your collecting, but always end up at the same destination. It's a nice break from the more linear platforming sections and these sections never overstayed their welcome. Where the linear design falls flat is in the game's secrets and optional objectives.
As for combat, you use your new abilities to fight off Cosmic Jelly monsters. There are a number of different types of Jelly Monsters, and each one has a specific way to beat it. Unfortunately, as time goes on, this becomes a tedious task, especially with enemies where you have to wait for an opening. For example, the large enemies carrying bathtubs require three hits to take down, but they only take damage after missing an attack on you. By the time you fight one of these for the 10th time, it becomes more tedious to wait and hit it, which is true for other enemy types as well. There is far more platforming than combat in The Cosmic Shake, but long battles, especially late in the game, feel like a chore.
Each level caps off with a boss fight of some kind, with the exact format of the battle changing from level to level. The opening western level concludes with you chasing Mr. Krabs through a train while battling enemies, and the movie level concludes with a showdown against Sandy. None of these are particularly challenging, but they are all different and short enough to be enjoyable.
With a linear design and unlockable movement abilities, going off the main path to find a secret can have mixed results. Sometimes you find a Gold Doubloon, which is needed to unlock extra costumes, and it feels rewarding. Many times, though, you find a side objective that is locked behind an ability you don't have yet, which can feel frustrating in the moment. This is obviously meant to get you to come back through each level after beating the game, but replaying levels is where The Cosmic Shake really starts to flounder.
Since each level is linear, replaying them can feel like a slog. There are checkpoints that you can choose to start from in each level, but the game doesn't tell you where the collectibles are, just that you are missing them. This means you realistically need to run through the level from start to finish, unless you remember exactly where all the secrets were when you couldn't reach them. And if you miss one on that second runthrough, your only choice is to go for a third. There are some new challenges and sections added after completing the game, but not enough to justify a full second run through any level.
While playing The Cosmic Shake is certainly fun, its collectibles and unlockables leave a lot to be desired for one particular reason: There is no point to collecting them. While it is part of the game and platforming is fun enough to make the process enjoyable, the rewards are often lackluster. One of the main mechanics is that with each new multiverse level, SpongeBob is given a new costume to help him fit into the environment. In addition to those costumes, you can also purchase more using the Cosmic Jelly you collect after unlocking them by finding enough Gold Doubloons. The problem here is that the costumes don't impact gameplay in any way, so the novelty wears off quickly. It's cool to spot an outfit that SpongeBob wore in a specific episode, but without any impact on the game itself, they just aren't that interesting.
In addition to those disappointing costumes, the other collectibles aren't needed for anything else. The game tells you to collect Cosmic Jelly, but you don't need it to advance from level to level. If an item isn't a part of the main objective in a level, there is zero need or incentive to collect it. Once I realized this in the last few levels, I began ignoring optional platforming challenges that only appeared to reward Cosmic Jelly, since it didn't feel worth my time.
Despite a few hiccups and disappointing aspects of The Cosmic Shake design, at its core it achieves its goals. Playing it felt the way I remember Battle for Bikini Bottom playing and all of the jokes and references felt aimed at older SpongeBob fans, pulling straight from the classic episodes. There are tons of small jokes and references in the levels that will make you smile and SpongeBob and Patrick will have you at least chuckling more often than not. It's not a revolutionary platformer, but it is good enough to keep you engaged throughout the entire game's length. If you have no reverence or appreciation for SpongeBob, whether it be the old games or the cartoon, The Cosmic Shake likely won't appeal to you. But for those of us who love SpongeBob, the Cosmic Shake is a great time with some old friends.