reviews\ Jan 21, 2003 at 7:00 pm

SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman - GC - Review

The ever-cheerful SpongeBob Squarepants is back again in his latest adventure, SpongeBob Squarepants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman. It seems that curiosity doesn't pay when SpongeBob opens a treasure chest that just happens to be lying around. See, this is not just any old treasure chest, nope, it's the home of the Flying Dutchman, who doesn't appreciate being disturbed. He's not very happy and decides to enact his revenge by hypnotizing all SpongeBob's friends into being his crew members. It's up to SpongeBob to track down everyone and free them from this base servitude!

For those not familiar with SpongeBob, he's a sponge that lives in the sea (not a real sponge, but a square, yellow dishwater one). He's employed at the Krusty Krab, where he's overworked and underpaid, but still maintains a touching loyalty to his boss. Innocence is SpongeBob's middle name, which fuels an unfaltering belief in the goodness of his fellow creatures. The show is full of silly humor which appeals to all ages, and the game has faithfully captured that same goofiness.

Well, to get back to the story, SpongeBob must now travel the depths of the sea in search of his friends. Before he can travel too far, though, he will have to accomplish several jobs in order to roam freely. First off, he must collect letter tiles, doubloons and jellyfish, plus reach certain areas in a tutorial styled manner. There is a helpful narrator who explains how certain things can be accomplished. All this takes place in Bikini Bottom, the first world in the game. Once these goals have been met, SpongeBob will be able to travel to other worlds in a limited fashion, as this game has both linear and open elements in the game paths. The worlds open up in a somewhat linear fashion, but there is also much travel back and forth as play advances. The goals for each world are listed and checked off as they're finished, but not all of a world's goals have to be met before traveling to another world, although some of the goals do have to be finished before moving on.

The tutorial leads players by the nose, of course, in order to facilitate the learning of the controls and how the game is played. But even after the tutorial ends, there are still "pop-ups" that tell players what to do at certain areas; for instance, in the world Downtown, when SpongeBob walks next to a lowered platform, a pop-up appears that instructs "place something heavy here", or words to that effect, anyway. While this does take some of the guesswork out of the game, there are still plenty of areas and situations that will have to be thought out carefully. And, even when players are directed by pop-ups, actually meeting that goal may still be a trifle tricky.

There are a total of seven worlds: Bikini Bottom, Downtown, Jellyfish Fields, Goo Lagoon, Flying Dutchman, Chum World, and Tree Dome. Familiar characters from the cartoon are here, like Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, Patrick, Sandy, his pet snail and others. Each character is voiced well, but as we don't have cable, I can't say if the voices are the same as the show, although my kids (fans of SpongeBob) say they think they're the same. The animation of the characters is superb, but the backgrounds leave a little to be desired, being very blocky and flat at times. However, the colors are rich and pleasing to the eye. The blockiness of the background objects can sometimes lead to navigation problems, mostly when trying to jump and the perspective is hard to discern.

The camera follows SpongeBob, but more from a third-person viewpoint, not in an over-the-shoulder viewpoint. This is troublesome at times, as players will have to pause movement to keep using the camera toggle button to move the camera angle to gain a better view, especially for jumping to various platforms or to throw objects at targets. However, as this game is extremely forgiving (SpongeBob never dies permanently, he just begins again at designated points which are never too far from the point of demise), this isn't much of an issue.

The controls for the most part work well and do what they're supposed to do, except in one area that had us making rude gestures at the TV - Sandy's room in the Tree Dome, where SpongeBob had to beat her in karate attacks on the furniture. According to the game's pop-up instructions, SpongeBob could spin and karate chop at the same time using the "duck" button while using the action button. Well, au contraire, this movement only worked sometimes, and not others, when each time the same button combos were used. Also, just moving SpongeBob from one side of the room to the other was frustrating in the extreme, as he would just stand there while we frantically mashed the directional controls. At least beating Sandy wasn't too hard, so this area didn't have to be revisited but just a few times.

SpongeBob has some cool costumes to aid him in defeating evil: Mermaid Man, Reef Blower, Jellyfishing Gear and his regular get-up, Squarepants. Tents are scattered around in the worlds to facilitate changing. As play advances, the costumes become available. Collecting items is part of the fun, with jellyfish, doubloons, letter tiles that spell SpongeBob's name and energy tiles? that give SpongeBob more lives, although this is redundant, really, as he has unlimited lives for all practical purposes. The music is the same as the show's, pretty much, and the tunes change with each costume SpongeBob dons. It's pleasant and fits the theme of the game well.

Although not advertised as such, it's pretty obvious this game is aimed at the younger gamer. While all players can enjoy playing as SpongeBob with his wacky costumes, strange worlds and sometimes challenging areas, for the most part this game is easy and older players will beat it in a few days of playing. For the younger crowd, however, this game is right on the money and will please most kids no end, especially fans of SpongeBob. The fact that SpongeBob doesn't die, but keeps on trucking on makes all the difference; it's nice to see the designers knew who they were making the game for, instead of displaying the schizophrenic feel that many games of this type do. While most of the puzzles are obvious because of the pop-ups, many others are not so easy and will offer some challenge, although not so much as to frustrate.

This game reminded me strongly of Disney's 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue, which is an excellent children's platformer. While not as much fun and featuring much shorter gameplay, there are still many of the same elements that make a good children's platformer: unlimited lives that start up close to points of death, familiar characters, lots of collectibles, some challenges but not too many, and plenty of variety in locations. Having a longer game-time, plus some fun mini-games, would have been better, but this is still a nicely designed game that parents are pretty safe in getting for their families in terms of appeal, and one they will probably enjoy playing themselves.

Gameplay: 8
The gameplay is fun and easy for the most part, with some tricky challenges interspersed with the easier ones. A children's platformer at heart, the game is very forgiving of errors and won't frustrate younger players. Doing all the items in each checklist is motivating and keeps players on track.

Graphics: 7 
While the characters are nicely drawn, the backgrounds are a little crude.

Sound: 7.5
Pleasant music that matches the ocean themes, but nothing spectactular.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
The difficulty is mostly easy, with a few harder areas scattered throughout. This is a good thing as this is a kid's game, which are not dirty words.

Concept: 7 
A platformer featuring TV characters with items that you collect. Having checklists is a good idea!

Overall: 7.5
While this is a great game for kids, the replayability factor must be questioned in a game that costs $40. There is some return appeal in trying to collect all the jellyfish and coins, plus kids may want to relive the whole SpongeBob experience over again, but others may not want to basically play the same game all over again. But, this is a fact with most games of this type. Having mini-games would have helped some in long-term appeal. But for families with multiple kids, this is a good value and with its non-violent content, is one that parents can feel safe in getting. Older fans of SpongeBob may want to just rent.


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