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As a wannabe discerning parent, I usually give the old intertubes a poke before letting my nearest and dearest loose on the latest brain melding media to be pumped in their direction. This has the added benefit of being able to engage with them about their favourite characters over the dinner table, whilst ducking spoonfuls of food thrown by my two year old.
To that end, Wikipedia tells me that Sponge Bob Square Pants is an Emmy nominated American animated television series and media franchise brought to us by Nickelodeon the children's television channel. My kids, still being of CBeebies rather than CBBC age, haven't come into contact with Mr Square Pants as of yet. But from my reading it looks like it is only a matter of time as Sponge Bob is now broadcast across the world.
The series was created a marine biologist come animator by the name of Stephen Hillenburg. Action unfolds in the Pacific Ocean, in the city of Bikini Bottom and the surrounding lagoon. As with any children's show worth its salt, it is aimed at both kids and adults; Hillenburg often includes marine biology and popular culture references and jokes. This was evident by its popularity on both the MTV and Spike TV channels. The inclusion of music from bands such as Wilco, The Shine and The Flaming Lips all help to keep SpongeBob in the cool pile.
Although controls are only one aspect of the game, they really do make a big difference to my kids. Something about the Wii's gestures and pointing seems to click with them.
So how about the game itself? It is a pretty standard action adventure set in the, now famous, world of Bikini Bottom. If you have come across the Gamecube or PS2 version of SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab (to give it its full name) you may want to move on now as it is essentially the same game with some new Wii controls. That said, although controls are only one aspect of the game, they really do make a big difference to my kids. Something about the Wii's gestures and pointing seems to click with them, so much so that I keep having to tell them 'no just press the button, don't tilt' on the older Gameboy Advanced and Gamecube titles we sometimes play.
SpongeBob doesn't disappoint in this department and delivers a scheme they could instantly pick up, and then develop when they managed to listen to Dad's advice and direction. The main collecting missions are broken up by a variety of other games each with their own distinctive controls. Unfortunately these aren't always as successful. The variety is certainly there in each of these different puzzles and challenges, but the refinement that is evident in the main quest is lacking. That said they are all a lot of fun, and the kids really didn't seem to mind the odd awkward button press or steering mechanic. Particularly popular were those that used the motion sensing abilities of the Wii-mote, they had us jumping, hoping and laughing around our living room like any good Wii game should.
The game is structured around eight distinct worlds. Each one has its own distinctive art style and environment. These are all nicely rendered in a cartoon aesthetic as you would hope. It all manages to stick at a decent frame rate, although we obviously aren't really pushing the boat out here. The visuals are pretty similar to the Gamecube or PS2 version of the game.
Unfortunately the main story game is not supported by all that many other options. My kids really enjoy either co-operative or competitive multiplayer modes in games. But Sponge Bob only has the main one player experience. There is something about the Wii, and its play together moniker, that means I really expect more of these collaborative group play experiences. It's not the end of the world, but is certainly a trick that has been missed.
Most levels present tasks that are basic to understand, but require skill and dexterity to achieve. Although my kids are a little young to understand the inner complexities of the game, aged two and four, they could still enjoy running around collecting tokens here and there. An older player may find the main collecting action a little repetitive, but I don't think this is such a problem for younger players. Certainly, most kids seem quite happy to watch the same SpongeBob show over and over, so I don't see the limited variety of the main game to be a problem. As mentioned already, these main levels are broken up by the inclusion of the racing and 2D plat forming levels before things get too samey. In fact, and I think this is a testament to the enjoy-ability of the main game, you end up looking forward to returning to it whilst completing the other racing levels.
Overall, this is a pretty decent game. The Wii controls are likely to make a substantial difference to the younger audience. As with any franchise game, it is all a lot more exciting if you already know and love the staring characters. If yours is already a SpongeBob household, and you haven't had this on previous outings, this will make a welcome addition.
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