Spongebob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab Review
When it comes to games designed for kids, for some reason, the developers just don't put as much effort into the production. Every once in a while, we get something halfway decent, like The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, but for the most part, games geared towards a younger demographic often fall far short of the mark. One of the most popular kids shows in recent memory, "Spongebob SquarePants," vaulted into the interactive entertainment world some time ago, and with a somewhat surprising level of fluffy fun. And thanks to the show's continued success, it's no surprise that we'd see another installment; Spongebob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab. The first one on the PS2, Battle for Bikini Bottom, was moderately successful and actually worth playing for fans of the show. Is the sequel another solid title?
The graphics are an interesting mix of cel-shaded and nicely detailed visuals, combined with a lot of vibrant color and a significant dose of artistic appeal. The only problem is that it's still far behind the better graphical presentations on the last-generation console, and there really isn't a lot to crow about. Despite a good attempt by Blitz Games, there are too many imperfections and flaws throughout, although the awful camera (discussed later) exaggerates a lot of the problem. We also can't really agree with the very industrial style, which is a bizarre choice because it's basically the opposite of the undersea world depicted in the cartoon. In the end, you're looking at a diverse palette with a few high points, but for the most part, it's hardly anything spectacular.
But at the very least, the graphics are better than the sound, which suffers from plenty of imbalance issues, repetitive and annoying character catch phrases, and a surprisingly unfunny script. The voice actors aren't bad, but the writing doesn't seem to retain the same hilarious tone often found in the show, which is a definite drawback. The soundtrack is okay, despite being ultra-bouncy, but it often drowns out the voices and rarely changes significantly. The effects work well for this action/adventure title, but they quickly become just as monotonous as the soundtrack; both will eventually grow tiresome within a few hours. There are some comical tidbits ("I break through paper walls like...paper") but overall, we had anticipated much better sound. After all, this category is key when recreating a cartoon as a video game, and it just didn't gel.
The gameplay is...somewhat strange. As we pointed out in our graphics description, the designers apparently didn't want to use the actual cartoon environment, and instead implemented a very modernized above-water playground full of mechanical do-hickeys and gizmos. Granted, there isn't much to the show besides Spongebob's pineapple, Squidward's house, Patrick's rock, and the Krusty Krab, but it still makes very little sense to produce a game with this kind of atmosphere. That being said, everything you do is easily accomplished and relatively entertaining, regardless of whether you're running for your life as Plankton, racing as Spongebob, or battling your arch-villain as Patrick.
You'll play as the three aforementioned characters in separate missions, beginning with Spongebob, moving on to Patrick, and culminating with Plankton. In each, you'll be doing very different things, especially with Plankton, which turns the game into a fairly straightforward and fast-moving 2D side-scroller, and actually provides a minor challenge. This is in stark contrast to Spongebob and Patrick's missions, as neither is even remotely difficult. Both aquatic buddies have similar moves, all executed with the simple press of a button; attack, dash, jump, and one special move (swinging on anchors with Spongebob's stretchy arms and Patrick's super...er...blowing ability). Both can double-jump as well, and you'll progress through a series of areas that has you solving simple puzzles, whacking the snot out of mindless enemies, and playing fetch for the sake of the objectives.
Spongebob alternates between finding parts and upgrades to his racer - 3D platforming - and actually racing in his first scenario; neither of which should give you even the slightest problem. In fact, if you even get hit, you probably just weren't paying attention, and we have no idea how you'd even lose the race. Presumably, if you hit every single obstacle there was, you might not make the checkpoint, but unless you're very young (or have some kind of horrible muscular problem), you really can't lose. The platforming is equally simple and very obvious, and unfortunately, the Spongebob missions are found lacking more so than either Patrick's or Plankton's. At least there's slightly less hand-holding and a more wide-open area in Patrick's section, which makes the game marginally more interesting.
The objectives for each mission are silly and don't really make much sense...but then again, they don't really have to. But in this particular case, we believe a game more closely associated with the show (perhaps we could play through a few well-known episodes?) and more recognizable to fans would've been advisable. There's something to be said for attempting to create an entirely new world without "stealing" anything from the cartoon, but why make a game that only vaguely feels like the television show? The designers should realize they're creating a game that will almost exclusively cater to Spongebob fans, so merely taking three characters and putting them in an almost entirely foreign world doesn't cut the mustard.
And speaking of the characters, where's the rest of the crew? Mrs. Puff and Gary make cameos, but what about Mr. Krabs and Squidward? Where'd they go? We do miss seeing them in this installment, but even so, the entire game is solidly produced and flows with an easy yet quickly-moving pace. There are some fun mini-games to play, and a great option called Free Play - it allows you to replay any level you like, whenever you like - so it's not like you'll run out of things to do. In fact, even though you could probably finish the entire game in four or five hours, as far as children's game go, this one's fully loaded. There isn't a whole lot of fan-oriented extras, though; probably a by-product of Blitz Games' odd determination to avoid the Spongebob water world.
One major issue we must point out- the camera is barely functional. It's supposed to be a free-roaming camera in the fully 3D levels, but it usually only succeeds in accomplishing erratic zoom-ins, spins, and angles. Sometimes, you can't move it at all and you find yourself staring at some obstacle that takes up the entire screen. Other times, it seems sluggish and unwilling to cooperate. It's not so much of a crippling problem that ruins the gameplay, but it can be very frustrating, and all in all, it's a poorly implemented feature. But at least the character control is better, and much more consistent.
It's too bad there was never much beyond the most basic of maneuvers, but the fact remains- just about anyone can pick it up and play the whole way through with little difficulty, and still have fun doing it. Fans should be content (to a point), and while avid/hardcore gamers shouldn't bother with this one unless they're really giant Spongebob fans, kids should get a kick out of it. One of these days, they might get around to developing a children's game that can stand on its own merits without relying on fanservice to deliver a quality experience. There are far too many shortcomings in Spongebob Squarepants: Creature from the Krusty Krab to make it a very good game, and they're all technical and control flaws that could easily be ironed out with a bit more effort. Oh well...at least it was fun for a while.
2/22/2007 Ben Dutka