capsule review

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Movie

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It’s hard to find kids who don’t love SpongeBob Squarepants, the goofy, irrepressibly optimistic fellow who lives in a pineapple under the sea with his pet snail Gary. Following his 2004 big-screen adventure, SpongeBob has at last made it to the Mac with his very own video game, SpongeBob Squarepants: The Movie.

The game loosely follows the plot of the movie: megalomaniacal Plankton has stolen King Neptune’s crown and framed SpongeBob’s boss, Mr. Krabs, for the crime. It’s up to SpongeBob and his best bud, Patrick Star, to save the day.

First, let me clarify that this is not a Mac version of the platformer that was released for game consoles. Instead, SpongeBob Squarepants: The Movie is an adventure game in which you, as SpongeBob, Patrick, Sandy Cheeks, Mindy, or Plankton, interact with characters and objects to push the story along.

Most of the game takes place in static scenes. By exploring the environment and interacting with the characters you can find what you need to get to the next step. For example, when SpongeBob needs to borrow Mr. Krabs’ car, he has to first find the passkey to Mr. Krabs’ secret garage, which involves providing a character he meets along the way with fried ice cream. You can solve most problems pretty quickly using basic deduction and an understanding of where things are located in the game—though you may have to retrace your steps or repeatedly visit the same locations. Sophisticated gamers won’t find much challenge here.

Occasionally you’ll find other stuff to do that’s a bit more action-oriented. For example, you’ll need to navigate Plankton, equipped with his trusty jetpack, through a scrolling field of jellyfish. You’ll also trigger interstitial, prerecorded video sequences that help move the story along.

The game offers branching dialogue choices, a staple of old-school adventure games. You’re presented with a choice of things to say to characters which may reveal plot points or give you clues about what to do next. It’s pretty basic stuff, though it’ll require players to be able to read (a disappointment for my kindergartner, a SpongeBob enthusiast who’s still working on basic literacy skills).

Although the game is nonlinear—which means there’s several ways to complete each level’s main objective—there’s very little replay value here. You’ll eventually end up in the same place doing the same thing. Once you’ve played it all the way through, chances are you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer.

If you’re a SpongeBob fan, you’ll be happy to hear the original voice actors reprise their roles. There’s also plenty of the goofy humor and in-jokes that this series has made famous. My favorite is a joke Plankton makes at Microsoft’s expense, though that’s far from the only rib-tickler you find along the way.

The graphics retain the cel-shaded look of the cartoon series, although the interactive characters are rendered in 3-D. The combination is a bit jarring, though the overall effects are pleasing.

The story unfolds across a series of chapters. Each chapter takes time to load, but that’s typical for this type of game. The game requires an 800MHz G4 or faster, which means it should play on any iMac G4, Mac mini, and most iBook and PowerBook systems bought in the last couple of years.

Unlike most Aspyr games, SpongeBob doesn’t offer a windowed mode. This means the game will have to reset the native resolution on LCD monitors—resulting in fuzzy graphics.

The game is suitable for the whole family, though it’s most likely to appeal to the elementary school set. Parents who only grudgingly put up with the show may be turned off to playing the game.

The bottom line

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Movie isn’t challenging, but it does retain the charm and appeal of the popular TV series and movie.

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Movie
PROS: Lots of jokes; fun for SpongeBob fans
CONS: No windowed mode.
PRICE: $30
OS COMPATIBILITY: Mac OS X 10.3.9 and more recent
COMPANY: Aspyr Media

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