I wasn't sure what to think when I first booted up SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake. A part of me, the long-time SpongeBob fan part, was excited to see what developer Purple Lamp cooked up, but the game critic part that has played former SpongeBob games was telling me to get my expectations in check. I never thought it would be a disaster, but I was half expecting to find this title as something not designed for my demographic (which is that of a guy in his mid-20s). I was wrong. And this is because The Cosmic Shake is both a very fun and entertaining platformer, but also the SpongeBob game that fans of all ages have wanted. It's not an enormous game crammed with depth, but it is about as authentically SpongeBob as a game could be, and that is a huge bonus.
The Cosmic Shake is a game that shakes up Bikini Bottom to its core. Instead of just visiting the typical locations that coin the underwater world, you instead head to levels that are multiversal interpretations of SpongeBob lore. What I mean is that you won't just be going to Rock Bottom this time, no, you'll be going to Halloween Rock Bottom. Or instead of visiting the Kelp Forest, you'll be heading to a prehistoric take on the Kelp Forest, one where you get to actually play as the linguistically-challenged SpongeGar. It keeps the game fundamentally fresh and unique, yet allows it to tap into some of the iconic moments from the show in ways like never before.
Be it through the F.U.N.tastic costumes that can be collected and earned (and basically serve simply as a cosmetic addition, but I'll get back to that in a moment), the story beats, and the style of humour, it all feels truly SpongeBob. Having the original voice cast reprising their roles does wonders to elevate this of course, but the wonderful, hilarious, and charming script, and the introduction of SpongeBob staples such as the highly detailed still cut-aways make this feel as though you are playing through an episode of the show.
Add to this the platforming pacing and the general gameplay design, which is simple, fluid, and most importantly, fun. It won't frustrate you like Crash Bandicoot, and it's not as ingenious as say Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, but it's designed in such a way that allows the rest of the experience to shine, and in a way that is both entertaining for older fans but approachable for younger ones as well. The core gameplay elements are all very typical and easy to grasp, be it jumping, meleeing, dodging, gliding, and so on, and you're routinely introduced to further mechanics as the story progresses. Each mechanic - which is unlocked through story progression and not tied to each costume - can be chained well and mastered to reach hidden locations in each of the respective levels to acquire one of many collectibles and secrets. And aside from completing the core tasks in each level (that lead to saving one of SpongeBob's friends from these multidimensional Wishworlds), you will want to wander off the beaten path and gather as many collectibles as possible as this is how new costumes are unlocked (you'll need to find Coins to open a new tier of purchasable skins).
The enemy variety is also quite impressive for such a straightforward platformer. You'll need to use specific attacks to take down certain enemy types, all while avoiding damage else you'll need to restart from the last checkpoint. It's not a challenging game in any sense, and is very forgiving and simple to take down the foes, but having airborne, ranged, heavy, quick, and regular enemies to overcome does keep the combat fresh and fun.
But again, the combat isn't what makes The Cosmic Shake so entertaining. It's the level design and the way that everything you do feels truly SpongeBob. Whether it's gathering and returning the Flying Dutchman's prized socks to the green ghoul in a pirate-themed level, or saving balloon Patrick from the haunting Glove World mascot, Glovey Glove, this is the most lovingly built SpongeBob game I have ever had the luxury to play. Even though you will power through the story pretty quickly, there is incentive to replay each level to complete an array of side quests for certain characters and to use newly acquired abilities to reach new areas, meaning there's also a degree of replayability.
The graphics and visual offering is also fine, despite the fact that this isn't a current-gen game on consoles, strangely enough. The levels aren't strikingly pretty, but the character models and level design is detailed enough for it to feel like a modern game, on top of playing super smoothly in a performance sense. There is a noticeable overuse of certain voice lines when playing, which does become a little much when you've heard "the Krusty Krab pizza, it's the pizza, for you and me!" for the umpteenth time.
Yet, when you consider all of these areas, on top of the true connection to the SpongeBob brand (OG voice actors, plenty of original songs, instantly recognisable costumes that reflect specific moments in the show's lore, etc.), it's clear that The Cosmic Shake is a great addition to the platforming genre. Purple Lamp has created one of, if not the best, SpongeBob SquarePants video games to date, and if you're a fan of the series, it's worth giving this one a look because it will undoubtedly give you a few laughs and fill you with tons of warm nostalgia.