Release Date: October 26, 2009
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Not sure? Here’s another hint. Absorbent and yellow and porous is he. If you have kids (or were a kid in the past 10-15 years), it’s highly likely that you know the answer to this question. In fact, you probably have his theme song running through your head right now. For that, I’m truly and deeply sorry, but I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to kick off my review of Spongebob Squarepants: Truth Or Square.
Although the eponymous, and seemingly ubiquitous, lead character has starred in several games over the course of the past decade, 2009’s Truth Or Square is the only one currently available on the Xbox 360 if you discount the Live Arcade title Underpants Slam. The title is also available on Wii, DS, and PSP, but is curiously absent on PS3. Although it’s the indomitable fry-cook’s first current-gen appearance, this isn’t Heavy Iron Games’ first crack at the fruit-dwelling sponge’s universe. Before being spun off as an independent company, the studio was part of THQ, one of the largest game publishers around, and is responsible for both the Spongebob Squarepants movie tie-in game, and Spongebob Squarepants: The Battle for Bikini Bottom. Heavy Iron also cut its teeth on a number of Disney/Pixar licensed movie titles, which honed their ability to build a decent platformer.
And that’s what Truth Or Square is, a decent platformer, with all the comfortable components that the genre usually entails. There are power-ups a plenty, countless robotic baddies to battle, coins to acquire (called “happiness nuggets” here), hidden collectables, occasional boss fights, light puzzle-solving elements, and, of course, platforms to be jumped on. The level design and combat are both sound, if nothing to write home about, and the controls are tight and responsive- a crucial element to this type of game- and something that Heavy Iron has missed the mark on in the past (i.e. the Ratatouille tie-in game). All this is wrapped in the trappings of what is arguably the most popular animated kids’ show in the past 20 years.
It’s not all grins and jellyfish, though. The story is far from gripping. Adapted from the Squarepants 10th anniversary television event of the same name, Truth Or Square revisits Spongebob’s happiest moments in an effort to jog his memory and help him recall where he misplaced the super secret krabby patty formula in time for the Krusty Krab’s eleventy-seventh anniversary. And while seasoned gamers will have no problem with any portion of this game, the challenge level does spike curiously high about halfway through for a product that is obviously aimed at the 10 and under demographic. Some of the combat segments especially may prove frustrating for youngsters starting about the midpoint of the second act. Luckily this game throws 1-ups at you like they’re going out of style, and by the time you get to that point you’ll likely have dozens, if not scores, of extra chances. The drop-in, drop-out co-op makes it easy for a friend or parent to jump in and help tackle those especially pesky fights as well.
Twenty-five years ago, every video game was considered a “kids” game. Nowadays, the hobby has evolved to the point where most triple-A games are rated T, if not M, and the kids section has devolved into generic piles of licensed crap. While Truth Or Square isn’t a beacon of shining light in the darkness, there is enough quality here that a discerning gamer won’t have to try to disguise a grimace watching their kids play. Heavy Iron doesn’t do much wrong, but they don’t really go above and beyond either. The end result is a middle of the road game that I can’t really recommend to a teen or adult unless you’re a hardcore platformer fan in need of a fix. That is, unless nautical nonsense is something you wish.