Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated marks the return of one of the most iconic licensed characters to enter the 3D platforming fray. Sadly, this flashy remake feels more like a skin-deep remaster in practice, doing little to fix the issues that plagued the original adventure. Its graphical update is accompanied by some imaginative improvements, but those few bright spots aren’t enough to bring Battle for Bikini Bottom’s passable but simplistic and collectathon-heavy gameplay up to the standard you’d expect from a platformer released in 2020 – especially with remakes like the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy showing how a revival like this should be done.In our October 2003 review of the original Battle for Bikini Bottom, reviewer Mary Jane Irwin said: “The love for the SpongeBob franchise really shines through in Battle for Bikini Bottom — and if it weren’t there this would be a very dreary title.” As I replay it nearly 17 years later, that feels extremely accurate – and what’s dreariest about Rehydrated’s 10-ish hour campaign is all the missed opportunities to truly modernize this adventure for first-timers and those of us who look back on it fondly alike.To its credit, Rehydrated runs cleanly on PlayStation 4 Pro, its remastered soundtrack’s cheery tunes have earwormed their way into my mind, and the actual feel of running, jumping, and bubble-blowing as SpongeBob is precise and responsive. But it’s largely the adventure around those mechanics which, while admittedly fun and enjoyable for how it took advantage of the SpongeBob license just a few years after its debut, remains as limited in its scope, design, and overall thoughtfulness so many years later as it did back on the original Xbox. Worse, it now comes with the added context of having been so thoroughly surpassed by almost two decades worth of amazing 3D platformers.
F Is for Faded Memories
Playing a nostalgic platformer remake is something I’ve done quite a few times at IGN. Crash felt fresh again when the N. Sane Trilogy revamped it, while Spyro’s Reignited Trilogy became the fiery new standard for what I thought these remakes could do. But in playing with beloved source material that has long outlived the original game’s era, Rehydrated is in a strange place. Its jokes and episode references remain kid-friendly and largely based on the earlier seasons of the show, leaving the majority of the series’ rich comedy deposits untapped. There’s very little, in fact, aside from a few SpongeBob meme references here and there, that offer something new for returning players like myself.
It’s been years since I’ve watched SpongeBob, and the pleasantness of returning to Bikini Bottom for a few hours was occasionally fun. But even though it’s called a remake, in every conceivable way it feels like a disappointing remaster, with its PS2-era hang-ups often getting in the way. A remake should do its best to modernize and improve aspects that haven’t aged well, but Rehydrated rarely does that. Every entrance to a new area is saddled with a few seconds of load time, even when going into a small building like Patrick or Squidward’s one-room homes (PlayStation 5, you can’t get here soon enough!). All three playable characters – SpongeBob, Sandy, and Patrick – have the same repetitive line or two of dialogue they bleat out after finding collectibles, grabbing health, or hitting enemies. The first couple of times it’s amusing enough to hear Patrick’s uncertainty about wearing SpongeBob’s underwear, but by the 10th it’s grating. And by the 30th, I wanted to stop playing.
Battle for Bikini Bottom still hits that sweet spot of absurdist mayhem that SpongeBob episodes so often nailed, but it doesn’t really work as a cohesive SpongeBob “episode” (or even movie) because the individual stories of its already disjointed levels are barely present. Mrs. Puff and Barnacle Boy deliver some great, cutting lines that go over SpongeBob’s head, and SpongeBob interpreting paragraphs out of Gary the Snail’s Meows is still a joy. But, even as someone who hasn’t watched the show in ages, it’s absolutely jarring when one of the original voice actors doesn’t voice their own iconic character, like Mr. Krabs’ Clancy Brown who was absent in the original and is still not voicing the role in Rehydrated since very little new dialogue was seemingly recorded.
U Is for Unimaginative Gameplay
Playing Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated in 2020 is a strange roller coaster ride of platforming love and hate. Overall, it’s an incredibly easy platformer, with only a few truly challenging section thrown in. The welcome challenge in levels like SpongeBob’s Dream is often fun, but they’re such whiplash from the rest of the adventure, which then reverts to being simple for its final levels.
Like in the original, you can intermittently swap between SpongeBob, Sandy and Patrick, often to solve character-specific puzzles, but it’s rare that Battle for Bikini Bottom makes interesting use of this. Also, why do I have to keep trudging back to a specific location to switch characters instead of just quick-swapping with a button? That adds nothing but busywork, standing as an easy example of something a proper remake could have addressed.
As an obsessive collector in platformers, Battle for Bikini Bottom passably makes the process of nabbing golden spatulas and Patrick’s socks engaging, if not challenging. Every level is upfront about how many of each item it holds, and are perhaps overly clear in explaining how to reach every collectible, occasionally robbing me of the joy of discovering something through my own ingenuity. Shiny objects, meanwhile, are infinite. So, if you’re in need of a few thousand more to hand over to Mr. Krabs, just keep intentionally dying and respawning at convenient spots and you can grind for shinies to no end without consequence.
N Is for Not Much Notably New
If you’re just looking to replay the original Battle for Bikini Bottom adventure to revisit its sporadic bright spots, some amusing character interactions, and a romp around Bikini Bottom, then you’ll find that intact.
Battle for Bikini Bottom still feels a generation behind, but its graphical update is largely appreciated. The bright, cheery, almost neon-drenched world feels a lot closer to the energy of the show and its title character than the original’s look. Characters animate well in cutscenes, with the most care clearly put into the principal cast and locations as opposed to the lifeless denizens of Bikini Bottom, who walk around serving no purpose other than set dressing. Some of the most iconic locations and buildings’ shift into three-dimensions much more cohesively than their chunkier forms did two console generations ago. But because the entire world has been made more vibrant, there’s occasionally little distinction between platforms you can actually jump on and set decoration ledges that fooled me into thinking I had found a new secret path.It’s still nice to see the different neighborhoods of Bikini Bottom brought to life, from the dingy Rock Bottom to the Mermalair to Bikini Bottom itself. And SpongeBob’s Dream gets to play with wacky, surrealist level design buoyed by the graphical update that made me wish for an entirely new game inspired by it rather than a remake. Unfortunately, the hollowness of some of the world feels stuck in its earlier incarnation and despite plenty of Bikini Bottom residents walking around each area, interacting with them does nothing. No silly quips, no angered screams when hit, no shout of “My leg!” Just… silence, which is as loud a reminder as any of what could have been.
Battle for Bikini Bottom adds a new wave-based horde mode that lets you and one other person, either locally or online, battle against wave after wave after wave of the robotic enemies you fight in the campaign. And it is…a waste of your time. The mode is so simplistic, so monotonous, and so unrewarding that it would have been a poor addition when the original Battle for Bikini Bottom debuted in 2003 and is even worse now. Including playable characters you don’t control in the campaign is a nice touch, but they all largely play the same with only visually different melee or ranged attacks. So, sure, it’s funny to hear Squidward use his clarinet to attack the first time, but, like the repeated dialogue of the base game, it becomes grating after hearing it 10, 20, 50 more times.
And the waves devolve into very little strategy other than mashing attack and corralling swarms of enemies to easily dispatch them with a ground pound. The various attacks for each character really made essentially no difference. The biggest obstacle moreso than enemies is that every few waves takes place on a different island, and plenty of enemy attacks can knock you into the surrounding water there pretty easily. But so long as one player survives a round, you both move on, and both of you dying just resets that wave. There’s little risk in being overly aggressive with enemies, and there’s little other option because the mode itself is so limited. Completing all 27 islands with a friend, each with three waves, took about 30-40 minutes. And it’s 30-40 minutes I wish I could have back.