Release Date: November 12, 2007
There isn't a lot to say about licensed games these days. Unlike the old days, when we were treated to classic hits such as Disney's Aladdin game, most of today's licensed titles range from awful to mediocre. I actually can't remember the last licensed title that I had any fun with, that is, until I sat down with THQ's latest effort, SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis. Call me crazy, but I marginally enjoyed my time spent with the game starring everybody's favorite yellow talking sponge, even if the entire experience only lasted a few hours.
Unlike past SpongeBob games, Atlantis SquarePantis is not a platformer, but rather a cleverly disguised minigame collection. This is fine if you like such games, but it can be an unwelcome surprise if you don't, especially since there's nothing on the packaging that prepares you for it to be a minigames collection.
Playing SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis is a lot like watching an episode of the actual show. All of the usual characters are in it, and it comes with a fully realized story that has a beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately, like an episode, the game is also criminally short. The story line takes place over the course of 14 minigames that are accompanied by a 3-D animated short. Within these minigames, there are really only about five or six different types of activities. One level has you driving a tank that shoots ice cream, another allows you to play a rhythm-esque game, and then a different level takes you through a puzzle scenario that has you using different characters to get to the end. The levels range from being fun to tedious. No matter how much fun you are (or aren't) having, you'll be playing each one for about 15 minutes. This formula worked well in WarioWare, but those microgames only lasted about five seconds. You do the math.
I'd be remiss if I didn't at least explain the minigames a bit more in depth. When you start the first level, you'll be playing as Plankton inside an ice cream-shooting tank. The level design is fairly simple and is nothing more than getting from point A to point B. In doing this, you'll be confronted with other ice cream-shooting tanks and obstacles of varying degrees. While the animations are presented fairly well, the AI is rather lackluster. Don't expect to have any trouble getting through these levels. Another minigame features an on-rails shooter and is about as straightforward as you can get; you take pictures of certain items while throwing "Krabby Patties" at any enemies you encounter. The Wiimote controls really enhanced the "shooter" feel of this minigame, but they seemed to go on way too long. Both of these games were my least favorite of the bunch, and each time they resurfaced, I cringed.
Fortunately, there were a couple of minigames that I did actually enjoy. Among the on-rails shooter and tank minigames, there was also a series of rhythm games and dungeon crawlers. The rhythm games in Atlantis SquarePantis play exactly like you'd expect. Along the top of your screen, there is a bar that streams commands and tells you which button to press. While it may seem a bit basic, it can actually get quite challenging at times. You'd expect that these rhythm sequences are accompanied by music, but you'd be wrong; you just press the appropriate buttons to keep … walking. It's a shame, since that combination would have really hit the spot. The other minigame charges you with the task of taking two of the SpongeBob characters and leading them to the end of a fairly large maze. There are a number of hurdles thrown into your path to stop you, such as guards, holes, lights and traps. In order to help you get around these things, each character has a unique ability (SpongeBob can flip gates with his spatula, Patrick can throw people, etc.). The puzzles aren't all that difficult, but they can be quite imaginative in their design. Both of these minigames were the brighter spots during my play sessions.
While gameplay is important, graphics and sound should be considered when looking at any game, and in this respect, SpongeBob SquarePantis varies quite a bit. One of the first things you'll probably remember when thinking about SpongeBob is how bright and vibrant the world is. Unfortunately, this does not carry over into the actual game very well. While it's presented in 16:9, the title still manages to fumble in the graphics department; SpongeBob just doesn't look like his usual self. The opposite is true for the audio. All of the voice work and acting is spot-on, so if that is a serious concern for you, then you can rest assured that the game at least sounds like the show. The only real complaint I had about the sound was that there was some noticeable looping of the background music, which can grate on your nerves after a while.
You gather tokens that let you unlock a few standalone minigames, similar to titles like fl0w. They're playable by two people and will entertain you for a few minutes. You'll be able to choose between SpongeBob, Krabs, Patrick, Sandy or Squidward, and each game plays on the same field, although the tasks will vary. Sometimes you'll be required to collect all of a certain item before your friend can, and other times you'll be tasked with destroying items.
SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis is a mediocre minigame collection that doesn't want to admit that it's a minigame collection. Some levels are tedious when compared to others, and even the "good" ones have their flaws. Due to the game's incredibly short length and limited variety, I simply can't recommend it beyond a rental — and that's only if you absolutely can't get enough of SpongeBob in your life.