Platformers are like a bowl of warm soup on a cold January morning. There’s something just really comforting about tucking into one, as you almost always know what you’re going to get. There will be things to jump on/off/to and all sorts of stuff to collect, with a lot of them allowing you to simply switch off and unwind as you’re transported back to simpler times. SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is one such game, a collectathon platformer that would feel right at home during the genre’s boom period in the 90s — for better or worse.
The Cosmic Shake picks up the baton from SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, a remake of the cult classic platformer from the sixth console generation. Cosmic Shake builds atop those foundations to make a competent platformer, though one without the nostalgia to fall back on. What you get is a new platformer that instead of feeling like a love letter to the platformers of old just feels kind of old itself.
As a collectathon platformer, the setup for Cosmic Shake might feel immediately familiar: after a wish-granting goes wrong, the whole of Bikini Bottom is displaced, leaving Spongebob and Patrick (who is a balloon) to journey to new worlds to bring their friends home. With plenty of collectibles to find along the way, a couple of new abilities to unlock, and dozens of meme-worthy costumes to add to your wardrobe, The Cosmic Shake is definitely aware of what makes platformers so beloved by so many.
The issue, though, is that The Cosmic Shake just does nothing new at all. The (somewhat janky) introduction of a karate kick and grappling hook for SpongeBob does change up platforming a tad, but if you’ve already played Bikini Bottom, Cosmic Shake might feel more like a beefy expansion to that than a brand new game releasing in 2023. From the rather weightless, imprecise platforming to the basic animations to the very stodgy combat, The Cosmic Shake is a PS2 game wearing a ninth-gen skin. That’s not a bad thing in of itself, as a lot of throwback platformers successfully recapture that classic feel and earn tonnes of fans for doing so, but Cosmic Shake feels a bit like it’s being held together by tape.
The game’s structure does nothing to shift those concerns, as the pattern of play is remarkably similar throughout. Equip a new costume, travel to a new world, collect some things, then collect some more of the same things, then go and fight the boss — or just more of the same enemies you’ve already been fighting for the whole level. While each world has its own distinct look, costumes being entirely cosmetic feels like a missed opportunity to really play around with abilities and make each world feel distinct instead of just plain repetitive.
That’s really the main problem with The Cosmic Shake: It’s just very repetitive, especially so for a collectathon platformer, with little to change up the routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for those who want the video game version of comfort food, but the fact that SpongeBob keeps saying the same lines over and over and over again (“a little dab’ll do ya” haunts my dreams) while the same music track just keeps repeating might drive some players up the wall. If you thought High On Life and Forspoken had annoying dialogue, strap in to hear the same five voice lines for ten hours.
The Cosmic Shake also just wastes opportunities to really expand upon or improve Bikini Bottom’s formula. For instance, Patrick accompanies you throughout the game, but does nothing apart from collect health on occasion and make jokes when he could have perhaps been a co-op partner. Similarly, you spend your time bringing people and locations back to Bikini Bottom, so why not let the player redesign the city themselves and place locations where they want? It needn’t provide New Horizons levels of customisation, just something different to make you feel like you’re not simply going through the motions and to give you more incentive to explore the hub world.
However, there’s no denying that this is a game clearly made with love for the IP. The cutscenes are gorgeous and vividly animated (with the full SpongeBob cast finally present), and provide some of the funniest moments the license has seen in quite some time. There are also tonnes of references to classic moments and memes from the franchise, and there’s loads to work towards with thirty costumes to collect for those who want to. While it does feel somewhat pointless to collect jelly to unlock costumes when you also need to collect hidden gold coins, that and many other secondary objectives offer some welcome respite and variety.
For those who love the Sponge and just want more Bikini Bottom, The Cosmic Shake might be the perfect slice of mindless fun, with the low level of challenge making it ideal for players of all ages. However, anyone wishing for Purple Lamp to really shake things up after Bikini Bottom and to make a brand new SpongeBob game that will be as fondly remembered as its predecessor might be left disappointed.
A PC key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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