SpongeBob SquarePants: SuperSponge - Not So Super
In the realm of children’s television - beyond perhaps pre-school, mind-numbing madness - is there a show more iconic or widespread than Spongebob Squarepants? I find it unlikely that anyone, at least having grown up in the western world, won’t know exactly what I’m talking about when I start humming the theme song. It’s a cultural juggernaut, regardless of its slide in quality in the past decade, and as such, received more than a couple of entries on the Game Boy Advance, not only based on the franchise itself, but the wide NickToons lineup. We’ll be going from the very beginning, at least for now, taking a look at Spongebob’s very first outing on GBA - Spongebob Squarepants: SuperSponge. Sure, it might not look like much - more a relic of the GBC era, and sure, it might fall into the traps of the ‘average platformer disease’ I’ve spoken much on, but… uh… Well? Yeah.
In what’s turned into a weird trend the last few months on the Game Boy Abyss, Spongebob Squarepants: SuperSponge is one of the earlier titles to come to the plucky little handheld, releasing less than six months after the game’s launch in North America. As it has been with many of these titles, leads to SuperSponge feeling a little generic, undercooked, and more interested in having a big new game on the market as an additional revenue stream. And, of course, as a near-launch title, it fits the mold of the average, easiest to make game of the time - the 2-D platformer. Across five ‘chapters’, each consisting of four stages, Spongebob will be leaping and slapping his way through a variety of locales, mostly based on his iconic early episodes. Unfortunately, some interesting boss fights and a genuinely fantastic wacky soundtrack does little to soothe the fact that this is a run of the mill, early era platformer for the GBA.
There’s little narrative to this game, beyond its framing device; it’s Patrick Star’s birthday, and Spongebob decides the perfect gift for his best friend is to get an autograph from their favorite heroes, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. Barnacle Boy, being the barnacle-up-the-ass jerk that he is, just tries to get rid of Spongebob by essentially getting him to do chores. Each chapter begins and ends with a short conversation between Spongebob and his heroes, but there’s none of the wacky, hilarious dialogue that made Spongebob such a television darling; it’s just Barnacle Boy being a jerk, and Spongebob going along with it. Seriously, the fact that we didn’t get an extended sequence of Mermaid Man screaming “Evil? EVIL!!!” is a crime all in itself. Like I said, it’s just a framing device for a run-of-the-mill platformer, but Spongebob is such a sharply funny series - is it really that hard to just, as crass as it is, recycle jokes from the show verbatim? It’d be a lot better than the nothing we have here.
But onto the actual game itself. Look, you can take one glance at this game and know exactly what it is. These 2D platformers are a dime a dozen, and whilst most of them have something unique or exciting within them, SuperSponge utterly lacks that. You’ll be running from right to left across twenty different stages, slapping fools with SpongeBob’s big karate glove, leaping over pits, and doing exactly what every other c-tier platformer was doing at the time. Perhaps it’d be a little more interesting if it was ever mildly testing outside of it’s boss fights and a few poorly designed bottomless pit scenarios; unless you are very, very new to playing video games, SuperSponge is a very hard game to die in; Spongebob has a lot of health, enough to take around a dozen hits to go down, and there are enough health items and whatnot scattered throughout each level to keep you topped up. Even in the rare cases you die, collecting fifty spatulas will give you a life, and these are present enough for you to never really run out of lives. The game never reaches the level of some of the worst games I’ve played, like Kong: King of Atlantis (Terrible, terrible), but it’s rarely anything beyond boring, which is perhaps more damning in itself. Kids will eat it up - especially the Spongebob obsessed, as most were at the time - but beyond that, there is absolutely nothing worth writing home within SuperSponge.
Beyond the basic platforming, most levels equip Spongebob with a new tool to mess around with - this could be a jellyfish launcher, a balloon to help you float, or a wand to spawn bubbles for vertical platforming. Now, whilst these change up the core platformer ever so slightly, the big issue is the fact that they’re barely used at all beyond the level(s) they’re introduced in. I genuinely can’t remember if the balloon or bubble wand were used beyond a single level, and the leaf blower - a terrible item that can only suck up a single ‘leaf’ at a time to shoot back - wasn’t even needed in the first place. I’m always happy for a bit of variety in my platformers, especially in the stock standard, dime’a’dozen so prevalent on the GBA, but SuperSponge’s additions are so ephemeral and unsubstantial that they might as well not exist, beyond perhaps the jellyfish launcher’s presence in the first boss fight. It’s clear they were attempting to reach parity with the PS1 version as much as possible, but they really should’ve just worked on making the basic platformer more interesting - all these tools add next to nothing, feeling nothing more than a missed opportunity.
There are only two things in this entire game that approach any kind of difficulty. The first are bottomless pits; not that the platforming across the pits themselves isn’t particularly terrible, but they always pare them with enemies that’ll knock you off tiny platforms, or the goddamn lava pits, with little flames that hitboxes that juuuuust long enough to disperse that I JUMP TOO EARLY AND GET KNOCKED INTO THE PIT. The only other thing that makes you actually work are the bosses. Each set of levels ends with a boss fight for… some reason. They aren’t particularly involved encounters, usually involving hitting an enemy with a certain timing, or shooting with the jellyfish launcher. Look, they’re honestly not even that good, but I think they just stick out at all because the rest of the game is just so… boring. At least they’re not complete ass and they look nice enough, being much like the 3Dish sprite Spongebob is, except with actual animation instead of Spongebob’s unmoving smile. But yeah, they’re fine. Not good. But fine. I just wish they pulled a bit more from the weirder elements of the show - hell, I only recognized the giant jellyfish and the Flying Dutchman as boss fights, though it could be it’s just been that long since I’ve actually watched the show that I didn’t recognize the other two.
If any inspiration has been pulled from its parent show, it’s in the music… in a sense. Spongebob music has always been weird, wild, and wacky, and whilst they obviously couldn’t completely replicate that for SuperSponge, this game’s soundtrack slaps in the kind of fever dream, acid trip kind of way. It’s certainly not tracks from the show, but that has nothing to do with its quality. Is it good? I dunno, I don’t know how to review music, but it’s hilarious all the same and ultimately it’s the most ‘Spongebob’ thing about this entire game, even if it’s sick beats sound less like it’s parent show and more like something out of, I dunno… Tarzan? That’s…. That’s a lot more damning than I meant. Ah well, it’s written. Can’t get back on it. Sorry, game from twenty years ago. It’s more than I can say for the graphics, which in a similar vein to something like Power Rangers: Time Force, not terrible but have very little interesting going on. It goes to show how cheaply and quickly this game was made due to how little animation really happens. Even whilst moving, Spongebob seems almost like a statue, and the variety of misplaced enemies seem to have a few frames of animation apiece. Though, when you complete a stage and Spongebob just gives you a thumbs up like a PNG, being stretched makes me exhale from my nose most times, as janky as it looks. For a game from more than twenty years ago on a handheld, it looks fine, but the general animation is very, very lacking and it gives it a look of cheapness other near-launch titles didn’t remotely have at the time.
Yeah, really hope this doesn’t bode badly for Spongebob’s outings on the GBA. Whilst few elements of SuperSponge lean into truly bad territory, as it is this 2D platformer is incredibly basic and straightforward, filled with missed opportunities for jokes and interesting gameplay. At least, whilst its visuals are of the time, the music is genuinely fantastic - not quite being one-to-one with Spongebob’s audio vibes, but being wonderfully bizarre all the same. Unless you’re a hardcore SpongeNut, this is a simple hour-long platformer that was oh-so-common all those years before that’ll impress next to no one, remaining a footnote in Spongebob’s video game history, and nothing more.
Thank you so much for reading The Game Boy Abyss’s review of SpongeBob: SuperSponge! Another review I’m not the biggest fan of, but eh, what can you do. Whilst I normally take every third week off, I’ll have a very special review for y’all next week, something… something very, very special. Look forward to that, uh, shite. As always, you can email me questions or requests at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on my neocities profile! You can also find me over on Twitter @Lemmy7003. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you in my next review.