Once a cartoon series and its starring protragonists reach a certain level of popularity it seems almost inevitable that a movie based on the series will be made, it is then equally inevitable that a videogame will appear based on said movie, and there would appear to be an unwritten rule which states that the videogame of the movie of the cartoon must be offensively bad, unfunny and generally awful - such is the principle of cashing in.
So it comes as a very pleasant surprise to find a cartoon to movie to game experience that doesn't suck and instead delivers a solid gaming experience instead, this is what we have here in the form of the videogame The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie. A 3D platformer from Heavy Iron Studios, the team responsible for the previous SpongeBob title - Battle for Bikini Bottom.
Previous experience with the SpongeBob series will not be necessary to get into this game although it may help you to understand where some of the situations and humor are coming from to have seen at least a few of the cartoons before playing, and the humor makes it across well into the game, some genuinely funny one liners are delivered throughout the games 2D cutscenes and during conversations between characters during the game although the sound bites used during play can get boring after a short while as you will end up hearing them hundreds of times during the course of the game.
The plot of the game follows very closely the plot of the movie and features amongst other capers the unfortunate misunderstanding between Mr Crabby and King Neptune and an evil plot to control the world via the use of mind-controlling buckets which the populace wear on their heads.
World beneath the waves
Graphically SpongeBob cannot really be faulted, the look and feel of the SpongeBob universe and it inhabitants make the transition into 3D perfectly smoothly and perfectly smooth is the framerate too supporting impressive animation routines that never jerk or jump from one state to another but flow impressively, adding to overall quality of the visuals.
The colorful world that SpongeBob and his hapless starfish companion Patrick must traverse is brought to the screen beautifully carrying with it the feel of the cartoon series and throwing in cool lighting effects on much of the world as well as on the attacks that SpongeBob and Patrick can perform. All in all SpongeBob SquarePants : The Movie is a very good-looking game. The soundtrack comes packed with the expected piano dittes and light hearted tunes you usually find in this style of game, they don't really ever get annoying though and add to the cartoony oddball feel on the SpongeBob world.
You begin the game with only one useful method of attack per character which is the basic spin attack common to pretty much every 3D platformer in existence, there are more attacks for SpongeBob and Patrick to use as you progress which are brought using the tokens you will earn as you complete the levels and challenges presented to you.
You attacks can also be powered up via the use of the collectables you will get by defeating enemies, smashing open crates or by simply finding them lying on the ground as you go, when you have collected enough of these pick-ups to fill a green bar which appears at the top right of the screen you will be allowed to perform an upgrade to any of the attacks you have unlocked or to either characters maximum health capacity, these pickups aren't to difficult at all to come by and you are allowed to keep repeating sections of the game to collect as many of them as you want.
Upgrading your attacks is definitely worth and indeed necessary to progress through some parts, upgrading an attack will cause it to change a lot both visually and in terms of the damage it deals, an attack you gain early on for Patrick, the cartwheel, is a prime example as the upgraded version of it is much more useful to you when compared to how the attack is when you first obtain it, and looks much better.
The games mechanics follow the rules laid down by its predecessors of the same genre, we're talking moving platforms, double jumping, hanging from ledges, smashing crates open to reveal pick-ups and the rest, if you've seen or played any of the 3D Mario games or some Crash Bandicoot then you'll know pretty much what this plays like, that's not to say that it's a bad game or a rip off of existing ones but the 3D platforming genre really does need some originality injecting into it in my opinion.
The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie has some racing action sprinkled inbetween the platforming sections in which SpongeBob and Patrick will speed along in a giant Krabby Patty (hamburger, to those not familiar with SpongeBobs weird world) during which time more tokens can be earned. The racing sections first of all just require you to reach the end of the course alive but can be repeated as time trials and GTA style checkpoint passing exercises in order squeeze more tokens from each one.
The driving parts are fun and strangely satisfying when you complete them although this is probably due to the fact that at checkpoint and second time trial stages they are a bit tricky. You may go back and attempt any challenge or platforming section through a handy level select accessible via the start button making switching around between various challenges to attempt to earn more tokens a doddle.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a very good and well polished game, the developer has obviously not just expected the game to sell on its licensed characters but instead on the quality of the game underneath all that, and there is definitly a good solid platform game here. Older platformer fans may not be gripped by the games cartoony style as much as younger gamers and may find more enjoyment in some of the darker platformers out there such as the excellent Prince of Persia games, but nevertheless the latest SpongeBob title is a solid, enjoyable and genuinely funny experience.