Developer: Fizz Factor
Release Date: March 3, 2009
THQ has found the perfect analog to Mario with Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants character. Like the famed plumber, SpongeBob has been a part of some of the best console platforming games. This was especially true of the platforming games of the previous generation, which showed licensed characters can have above-average games. Another similarity that SpongeBob shares with Nintendo's mascot character is the ability to appear in just about any and every possible genre. Almost everywhere you look, you can find a new genre or game type that features the pineapple-dwelling sponge. Need a party game? Go for SpongeBob SquarePants: Lights, Camera, Pants. Want an arena-style fighting game? Look no further than SpongeBob SquarePants: Underpants Slam. Have a great idea that isn't selling very well? Try out Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants. Even Rock Band has traces of his involvement with a recently released pack of songs from the TV series.
The love affair that both consumers and THQ have for the cartoon character seems to translate into game ideas, no matter how mundane or silly, that people can get behind. This time around, SpongeBob and company are tackling the food services titles that seem to be the new trend in casual gaming with SpongeBob vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook-Off. Like the other titles in which SpongeBob has previously starred, the game can provide some fun if you're willing to deal with its simple nature.
The story is similar to something that would play on a typical episode of the TV series. It's summer in Bikini Bottom, and the residents are heading to the beach for some fun in the underwater sun. This year, Jack Kahuna Laguna is holding a giant beach party for the whole town, and big parties mean lots of hungry people. With visions of greenbacks in their eyes, Mr. Krabs and Plankton are vying be the official restaurant of the party. In order to solve the dilemma, Jack has them enter a competition to see who will get the contract. Both restaurants need help, and it just so happens that Plankton's many cousins want in on the competition as well. Unfortunately for them, Plankton wants them working for free. Disgruntled, the entire family decides to work at The Krusty Krab and get paid a little instead of nothing. As the head fry cook of the establishment, your job as SpongeBob is to help train Plankton's relatives and get the orders to the customers so that The Krusty Krab wins the competition and the boatload of money.
The premise of the game is similar to that of Order Up! on the Nintendo Wii. The player works on a daily schedule with a certain number of customers who must be served before you're done for the day. Each customer asks for certain orders that you must fulfill by performing several mini-games related to the dish. High-scoring dishes receive larger tips, and at the end of the day, the tip money can be used to buy more items. New recipes can be used to earn more money if placed on the menu, while changing the décor of The Krusty Krab can get you bonuses, such as bigger tips for particular food items. With all of this to deal with, the game becomes equal parts business management and cooking.
It's abundantly clear that Beach Party Cook-Off was made for a very young set of players. All of the activities for each dish must be done by the player. Any CPU assistance can be used to handle some of the other activities, but since some games have these characters specializing in certain activities only, you don't really expect them to have perfect rankings on every activity they engage in. In this title, things are completely the opposite. The only time you'll be required to do any cooking yourself is when the Planktons call for your help. If they don't, they're each capable of doing a perfect job on each required activity. There were a few times during the game when the player had nothing to do simply because the Plankton family had it all covered. At this point, the only way the game can be a challenge would be if you did all of the activities yourself or increased the difficulty level.
The multiplayer is here, but the mode might not get played too often. Like the Cooking Mama series, you and a friend get to compete to see who can make the same recipe with the highest possible score. While this would seem like a challenge on other games, the fact that the game isn't too difficult only makes it challenging for younger kids and those unfamiliar with the game mechanics. Once gamers understand exactly how the game works, though, this mode becomes boring enough that it will rarely be touched.
The controls work but are definitely not perfect. Everything is controlled with the touch-screen, and the commands for all of the cooking maneuvers are pretty easy to understand, and the controls work well enough. Almost everything you do will rely on dragging, flicking, tapping, tracing or rapid turning, which is done with the stylus on the screen. The only problem occurs in the mixing games where, for some reason, the game doesn't respond to the mixing until the user starts spinning at a very fast rate. Considering the strict time limits placed on some of the recipes, this may be the only activity where veteran gamers will fail due to the mini-game's bad response time.
The graphics are pretty well done for a children's title. The large character models for SpongeBob and his friends are nicely done, as are the smaller models of each of Plankton's relatives. The food items are also done pretty well, though some items, such as the pink sauces, look strange due to the obvious polygonal lines within the liquid. The only other thing to note would be the movies located in some parts of the game. While most of them are pretty clear, some have so much pixelation that it can be difficult to make out details on some of the characters. Jack Kahuna Laguna, for example, looks like a big tanned blob in some scenes.
The sound is surprisingly good in Beach Party Cook-Off . The music is lighthearted and follows the same style as the score heard in the series. It's nothing memorable, since it doesn't even have instantly recognizable variations on the show's theme song, but it gets the job done. The sound effects are equally silly and standard. You get the standard frying sounds and sauce bottle-squeezing noises mixed in with goofy sounds of dough and meat getting pounded by a somewhat squeaky fist. It's comical enough, but nothing stands out as being either good nor bad.
What surprises here are the voices. There are plenty of times when SpongeBob will start talking. He'll start spitting out phrases when someone is in trouble, when a job is well done, or when an order goes out. He'll also start talking whenever rewards are earned or menu items change. He'll also be there front and center anytime a tutorial is given. Unlike other games, he'll say just about every word given in each tutorial. It might not seem like much at first, but when you sit down and play the game, you realize that there are only a few moments when SpongeBob doesn't open his mouth. Sadly, his is the only voice you will ever hear in the game. The narrator is in the opening movie, but everyone else, from Patrick to Sally to Squidward, simply stands there in silence. For variety's sake, it would have been nice if any of the other characters got some dialogue.
At the end of the day, SpongeBob Vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook-Off doesn't do a bad job of being a good food services game. The emphasis on the cooking portions makes it an easy title for the kids, though the controls will frustrate them a bit due to the spotty nature of some of the activities. SpongeBob fans will love the graphics and sound, which do a great job of conveying their favorite cartoon character. All in all, players who enjoyed games like Order Up! will find this title to be a decent companion piece — until they decide to port Order Up! to the Nintendo DS.
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