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Lights, Camera, Action Button! is a series exploring film-to-game adaptations in regard to their faithfulness, quality and value long after the original film may have passed into nostalgia. In this edition Jack Ford looks at The Spongebob Squarepants Movie game.
After debuting on TV screens in May 1999 it didn’t take long for Spongebob Squarepants, the cartoon creation of the late Stephen Hillenburg, to become a pop culture touchstone, recognizable all over the world. This, of course, opened the door for a lot of merchandising, with all manner of spin-offs coming to be, which included a feature film.
November 2004 saw the world premiere of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (henceforth TSSM). It was a big success with both audiences and critics alike as well as at the box office, where it raked in more than $140 million worldwide. Expecting such a response to the film, Nickelodoen of course produced a lot of merchandise to coincide with the release – among them was a video game for the GameCube, Xbox and Playstation 2. Released at the same time as the film, was it a quick cash-in or did it have the cartoon’s same mark of quality?
Anyone who has played the previous Spongebob game, Battle for Bikini Bottom (henceforth BFBB)– the classic of many a childhood – will find The Spongebob Squarepants Movie very familiar indeed. The games share two playable characters, SpongeBob himself and his best friend Patrick Star, and they both have near-identical controls and move in the same way as they do in BFBB.
The similarities go further than that: both characters have the same attacks they do in Battle, such as the bubble bowl and cruise bubble, though that has been renamed the Sonic Wave in TSSM. Each level in the BFBB required collecting Golden Spatulas in order to progress and unlock further levels. Here it is Goofy Goober Tokens the heroes have to acquire in order to advance.
Some later levels require a lot of tokens to access, which can mean a lot of backtracking, as some early challenges can only be completed with techniques learned later on. This does interrupt the natural story progression and, later on, it can be irritating to have to go back and complete some of the missed tasks.
A lot of the film’s plot major elements are ported over into the game – Spongebob and Patrick being sent on a mission to retrieve the crown of King Neptune after their friend, Mr Krabs, is implicated in its theft.
The places they visit and the ensuing events are faithfully re-created, though some are given more prominence. For example, SpongeBob’s seeking solace at Goofy Goober’s ice cream parlour after being passed over for a promotion, a small part of the film, becomes the first major level of the game.
While the game does largely stick to the film’s plot, there’s also some story areas the game makers have taken license with. In the film Spongebob and Patrick are oblivious that the crown was stolen by Krabs’ business rival, Plankton, in order to frame him, steal his business and take over Bikini Bottom, until late on. The game makes them aware of that at an early opportunity and has them destroy his broadcast towers and screens where they appear along the journey.
Following the duo on their journey is Mindy, the daughter of Neptune and Patrick’s love interest who, in both film and game, tries to help Spongebob and Patrick in their quest. In the game she acts as their guide, setting up levels and plot developments as well as providing them with challenges to earn more tokens – even though it doesn’t really make sense that, in supposedly trying to help them, by withholding the items they need to progress and succeed is actually actually making it harder for them to progress and succeed.
This is not the only part that becomes muddles in translation. One minor element of the film in particular ends up becoming a major one in the game: the Patty Wagon, a giant, motorised burger that SpongeBob and Patrick drive much of the way to their destination.
Almost half of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie are either sliding sections or driving courses, where SpongeBob and Patrick take control of the Patty Wagon. The controls in these areas aren’t the most fluid, with cornering particularly troublesome. With some practice these sections can be fun diversions from the main gameplay, though given driving was not a big part of the film, there may be one too many of such levels in the game.
Some of the most memorable moments of the film also suffer in the translation: for one, David Hasselhoff’s hilarious cameo is changed in the game to a generic lifeguard in the same role, with an entire boss level set on his back. It’s amusing, but nowhere near as funny as the live action version.
A saving grace is the boss battles, which are inventive and challenging. The main enemies the duo encounter in the film are correctly made into bosses – the giant frogfish, Dennis the hitman and the final foe, King Neptune under Plankton’s control. Overcoming this last boss sees SpongeBob and Patrick succeed against the odds of returning the crown, saving the town and Mr Krabs.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a faithful amalgam of the film that inspired it, is well made and is fun while it lasts, but with no original mechanics or anything that leaves a lasting impression, it could have been better.
Those who already have played Battle probably need not apply for this game: the similarities between the two are rife and Battle’s depth making it a more fun and enjoyable experience. By comparison TSSM feels like a more limited and breezy adventure, with its constant need to back track for more tokens a strain too much even for those in the key demographic. As such it will likely appeal most to die-hard SpongeBob fans, if such a thing exists.
Featured Image Credit: Author’s Own Screenshot.