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You know how sometimes real estate agents will describe a house as having “good bones”? It’s when a house is a little bit rubbish, or a little bit old and outdated, but it has a lot of potential for improvement. That’s exactly what SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake is — a game with good bones.

That’s not to say it’s bad, by any means. If we were living in 2004 and this was a licensed game for the PlayStation 2, it would be the best-licensed game on the market. But it’s not 2004, and we can do better.

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The Cosmic Shake is an original story set in the SpongeBob universe, rather than a tie-in to some existing movie or event in the long-running series. That’s a good thing, because it gives the developers a lot of freedom in how they approach the storytelling, and they’ve certainly done a good job with that freedom here.

The story starts with SpongeBob and Patrick on the way to Glove World, a theme park devoted to rubber gloves, which is an actual thing that is in the show for some reason. It doesn’t really work out, and the dynamic duo instead end up talking to an apathetic mermaid who owns a traveling market.

The mermaid sells SpongeBob a bottle of magic bubble liquid that can grant wishes, and of course SpongeBob blows a bunch of bubbles for his friends. This tears a hole in the fabric of time and space, and opens up a series of portals in Bikini Bottom to alternate universes. It also turns Patrick into a balloon, allowing him to tag along without getting in the way, which is nice.

It’s honestly a really solid story setup, feeling very appropriate for SpongeBob while still opening up a lot of opportunity to take SpongeBob and Patrick outside of the usual stomping grounds. Letting the duo explore a series of strange and wacky alternate worlds – like the set of a karate movie, a wild west town, and a dinosaur-infested volcano – is a great way to add variety without bending the rules of the norm.

The Cosmic Shake is also voiced entirely by the cast of the show, with some stellar performances across the board. That has its drawbacks too, as typically you’re only really exposed to SpongeBob and his friends in short, 20-minute bursts. Here, you’re stuck with them for at least 10 hours, usually an hour or more at a time, and it can definitely start to get grating over time.

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It’s not helped by the repeated voice lines for certain actions. For example, sometimes when you glide, SpongeBob will sing “Krusty Krab Pizza is the pizza for you and me”, and that’s funny and cute the first couple of times. When you’ve been playing for an hour, gliding hundreds of times in that hour, you’ll have heard this song a few dozen times, and it becomes more annoying than anything else.

Other aspects of the sound design got on my nerves too. Every step SpongeBob takes is accompanied by a rubbery squeaking sound, and that doesn’t change throughout the game’s runtime. It doesn’t matter what ground you’re stepping on, it’s always there, always squeaking, always annoying. I genuinely played the last couple of hours of the game with the sound off for everything but cutscenes because I just couldn’t take it anymore.

And then we get to the gameplay, and it’s… fine? It’s fine. For the most part, The Cosmic Shake plays like your typical 3D action platformer. You’ll jump and glide and hit things with your bubble wand, and all of that is okay on paper, but in practice it all just feels a bit off.

Platforming is probably the worst of it, owing largely to some floaty, imprecise controls coupled with level design that requires fine precision. Either one of these factors could have been changed to alleviate the other, but together they make for a frustrating experience.

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I cannot tell you the amount of times I died trying to platform over a very simple gap, because what I had available to me was a series of tiny boxes to jump on. It’s hard to effectively gauge momentum and distance, and that means it’s easy to overshoot or undershoot your target.

There are some movement abilities unlocked later in the game, and they help somewhat, but they’re largely locked to specific interactive set pieces and don’t help with general movement around the world.

Combat doesn’t fare too much better, but that can easily be pinned down on the enemy design, rather than the combat itself. The combat is fairly basic — you can hit, dodge, jump, and ground pound — and it would get the job done in just about any other game of this type.

The enemies just make the whole thing feel unfair and annoying. The basic enemy types are okay, but the special enemies are truly awful to deal with. For example, there’s a big blob enemy that has an annoying hit box, spawns more enemies, and can attack you from afar. To top it all off, you have to hit it three times, and in between each hit, it can (and will) stun you, which lets other enemies hit you.

There’s another enemy, a big fish guy holding a bathtub, that asks you to watch for its poorly telegraphed attacks, dodge them, and then rush back in to hit it. The hit box is awful, fighting it is slow, and it’s just not a fun experience.

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Like with movement, you do get some combat abilities later in the game, and they help massively with the monotony and frustration of combat encounters. They’re a band-aid on a bullet wound, though, and even at its best, combat is never really fun, just tolerable.

Thankfully, there are some redeeming factors in The Cosmic Shake. Its alternate worlds are a lot of fun to explore, packed with secrets and collectibles that are genuinely fun to hunt down. Each world has a dozen or so coins to collect, which can then unlock costumes for SpongeBob to wear. Most of these coins are locked behind puzzles or platforming challenges, and while the problems inherent to platforming are present here, these segments are short enough and enjoyable enough to make it worth doing.

There’s also a host of side quests that will have you tracking down even more collectibles scattered throughout the worlds, as well as some silly minigames like burger-flipping, horse racing, and Mario 64-style slides. All of these are enjoyable distractions from the main game, and any time spent outside of combat and traversal is always a good thing in this game.

One more minor point of contention I have is with the game’s costumes. As you progress through the story, you’ll be given different costumes that are appropriate to the world you’re about to visit — a cowboy costume for the wild west world, a karate costume for the movie set, a Halloween costume for the Halloween world. You can also unlock costumes by collecting coins, and these are all very cute little references to iconic moments in SpongeBob history.

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I’m just not entirely sure why these costumes exist. None of them change anything about how SpongeBob interacts with the world, and none give any special abilities, combat buffs, or movement perks. You don’t even have to wear the specific costumes for each world, you can change into whatever costume you like at any time and it makes no impact on the game whatsoever.

Of course, not everything has to be functional. It’s sometimes enough that something is just a nice little cosmetic flourish. But when costumes are pretty much the only thing to work towards, and when there’s such a focus on the costumes in key story points, it feels a little bit strange that they don’t really do anything. They don’t even change SpongeBob’s feet sounds, and that would have been the easiest possible win.

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a particularly great one either. It exists firmly in the middle, a game that is slightly more good than it is bad, and a game that could be quite good with just a few tweaks and changes. If I were an eight-year-old kid with plenty of time and patience, I don’t think I could find much to fault here, and given that’s primarily who this game will be aimed at, that’s probably good enough.

Score: 6/10

Version tested: Xbox Series S