Every now and again, a game comes along defies the genres. A game so mighty and amazing that you wonder where it has been all your life. A game, though based on either a film or a TV series, is so brilliant, so wonderful, so totally mindbendingly stunning, that you wonder what kind of magic brain-boosting coffee the developers were drinking. A game that is so funny it reduces you to tears. So emotional that it leaves you a gibbering wreck on the floor, controller in hand. Plankton’s Robotic Revenge is not that game. However, it does feature Spongebob SquarePants, so there’s that. Are you ready kids? I can’t HEAR you!

In Plankton’s Robotic Revenge, a human ship accidentally drops a load of batteries into the ocean around Plankton’s place, the Chum Bucket. Being the evil antagonist that he is, Plankton builds a robot army with which to steal the secret recipe of the Krabby Patty. I’m sure you can see where this is all going. It is, of course, up to the gang—SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, and Mr Krabbs—to stop Plankton’s robot army and retrieve the recipe. So, much like any episode of SpongeBob, really.

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The game itself is an offline multiplayer third-person platform shooter. Up to four players can each choose one of the five characters and join in the game at any time (or drop out of the game, if you need to). There are two types of attacks: guns or fists, and beyond the first few enemies, there is really no reason to use fists (Claws? Tentacles?) to fight. There are a decent selection of guns, and each can be upgraded up to three times. However, the unlocked and upgraded weapons are locked to the character. Let me explain how this causes fights: player one uses SpongeBob and player two uses Patrick. We don’t care too much what players three and four are doing for this scenario. Both players one and two get knocked out at the same time. Player one had just spent four levels’ worth of sprockets to upgrade SpongeBob’s pickle gun. Player two, having been knocked out first, gets to choose which character to play as—they’re not automatically assigned the character they were using. He decides to choose SpongeBob. Player one gets furious, because all the time and effort they’d spent upgrading gets lost to player two, who gleefully kills robots with more ease than before. Player one, at this point, uses the controller as a makeshift shillelagh, and whacks player two upside the head. This is a true story*.

Since this game is aimed at younger players, I cajoled my two sons to join me in playing. The three of us set out after a lengthy fight over who was going to be SpongeBob. One of the first things we discovered is that the person who destroys a robot gets the cash for that kill. Of course, this led to another fight over who had the right to kill which robot. In the intervening time, Plankton’s army mercilessly downed us. This, of course, led to another fight. At this point, my wife, clearly frustrated, popped into the lounge to tell the three of us to behave. We dutifully agreed, and then continued to argue (quietly) over kills. It’s precisely this sort of aggressive behaviour that brings families closer together.

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I’m still not precisely sure how the game decides which character the camera should follow (Ed: Random whimsy, perhaps?), but it gets a little frustrating when the players are spread out across the level. The camera only seems to zoom out so much, leaving other players to flounder about offscreen like lost and beached salmon. This, once again, led to some fighting between my two boys, since one likes to get to the end of the level as fast as possible, and the other likes to collect every. blasted. thing. I’m sure you can tell how this worked out.

It wasn’t long before we discovered that the game has perhaps five or six types of enemy, and they’re all recycled. I know it’s aimed at kids, but even my two were clearly getting bored around the middle of the second set of levels. The levels also all looked incredibly similar, so if you want to tell at a glance whether you were playing the Bikini Bottom world or the Rock Bottom world or the Dutchman Triangle world, you have to take your cues from something other than level design or enemy design. Incidentally, those are the only three worlds, and they each have around six or eight levels, meaning that the game is ridiculously short. It can be completed in an afternoon, or shorter if you’re persistent.

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About the best thing that this game has going for it is that all the original cast of the show—Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence, Clancy Brown, and Mr Lawrence—have all provided their voice talents for the characters in the game. Some of the worst licenced game experiences are those where the developers used some random soundalike to provide the voices. (On an interesting sidenote, it’s simply amazing how much voicework Tom Kenny has actually done: we’re talking over 200 characters here! Check out his IMDB page for a full list.)

Here’s the thing: the game is disappointing for one really good reason: it could have been really good. There were the glimmerings of something that could have brought licensed games a reputation of some dignity. In fact, for what it is, there are surprisingly few bugs here. The animation is really good and the character models are so representative of the cast that I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that SpongeBob’s future will be in CGI. Had this game actually had a decent production design lead, it could actually have been amazing. As it stands, though, it’s been reduced to nothing more than another painful, shameless cash-in.

*Not really a true story.

Final Score: 4 SpongePrawn SpareSquants out of 10

Detailed Information:
Developer: Behaviour Interactive
Publisher: Activision
Distributor: Megarom
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox360, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS
Age Rating: 10+ (cartoon violence)
Website: www.activision.com/games/spongebob/spongebob-squarepants-planktons-robotic-revenge