We'll be honest here. When an early copy of SpongeBob SquigglePants showed up at the office, we weren't sure what to expect. After all, it sported an "E" rating, was based on a kids' cartoon, and the PR sell sheet listed "endless creativity" as a bullet point. Then, with a group of 30-somethings gathered around the TV, we fired up the Wii and promptly had a blast.
SpongeBob SquigglePants is more or less a SpongeBob take on WarioWare. The game is packed with more than 100 minigames (dubbed nanogames by the developer), all of which are designed to last an average of five to seven seconds each. Of course part of the fun is figuring out exactly what you're supposed to do, as the games aren't big on instructions. You're often given a single word only moments before the game loads and expected to figure it out from there.
Because the minigames all make use of some sort of drawing motion, THQ's uDraw GameTablet peripheral is required if you want to play the game on the Wii. Essentially a video game version of a Wacom tablet, the uDraw attaches to a Wiimote and provides a stylus-based input for the console. It's simple, direct and easy to understand, which makes it accessible to both gamers and non-gamers alike.
The minigames within SpongeBob SquigglePants are separated by theme, with each group showing off a different art style. This is appropriate, as the game's main menu is the wall of an art gallery — the art gallery of Patchy the pirate, to be exact. He's no Captain Jack, but he is the bumbling president of the SpongeBob fan club, and he's here to offer advice and show off his collection of art — assuming you have the skills to impress him.
As an example, the first group of minigames that we played through was drawn in traditional SpongeBob style. In contrast, the second group was themed after a '50s horror film. In order to unlock new art styles, you have to beat the current batch of minigames. Once a particular style has been unlocked, you are free to return at any time in order to set a new high score.
In addition to the minigames, SpongeBob SquigglePants also features a drawing studio where you can create custom artwork and then embellish it with Nickelodeon-approved SpongeBob characters. All of your favorites are here in the form of custom stamps. Drawings can be saved to a SD card in PNG format, so you can then import them into your computer. The drawing studio isn't as full-featured as the one that comes bundled with the tablet, but as a bonus mode, it's a nice touch.
One disappointing thing about SpongeBob SquigglePants, which isn't likely to be changed before release, is the fact that although it makes a rocking party game, there is no way to track multiple players. Sure, you can pass around the uDraw unit from player to player, but there is only ever one score and one profile. This is fine if you're playing by yourself, but it would have been great to face off against other players in direct competition.
Wii-exclusive games can sometimes get a reputation as being "kids-only," but that is decidedly not the case here. SpongeBob may be cute, but his latest game has plenty of cross-generational appeal. The only real question that remains is whether it will have any staying power.
Since we were playing on a pre-release build, we only saw the first few levels of the game, and that resulted in some minigame repetition. If the final version feels repetitive, then it might end up on the shelf prematurely, but assuming the variety holds up, SpongeBob SquigglePants might be the next great party game to hit the Wii.
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