Licensed video games based on properties from other media; be it books, television shows, or movies; are a type of product dating back to the earliest days of game development. In fact, 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for Atari 2600 is considered a major contributor to the video game crash of 1983. However, not all licensed games are bad, and in 2021 there is even a considerable resurgence thanks to games like Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man. Now it seems television channel Nickelodeon is pushing to also get back into the swing of things.
Though it also offers live-action programming, Nickelodeon arguably became best known for its lineup of animated cartoons which aired over the 1990s and 2000s. Popular Nicktoons ranging from The Ren & Stimpy Show's dark themes and violence to The Fairly OddParents' imaginative childhood wonder stand out to this day, and SpongeBob SquarePants is still a pop culture icon some 22 years after his show debuted. Though Nick is still running newer programs like The Loud House, its "golden era" inspired more than a few licenced video games, and a slate of new releases harken back to those nostalgic fans.
Harkening Back to Old-School SpongeBob
As SpongeBob SquarePants is Nickelodeon's perpetual cash cow, it isn't surprising that the show continues appearing in various venues to this day. The channel's parent company ViacomCBS often includes a SpongeBob float in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside properties like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Blue's Clues, and it even introduced a new SpongeBob balloon in 2019. That's not to mention the SpongeBob SquarePants movies and spin-off shows that are cropping up following creator Stephen Hillenburg's death in 2018.
Unlike other popular Nickelodeon cartoons such as The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, SpongeBob SquarePants has also continually released new video games past what would have been considered its prime. Mobile games like SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit came out as recently as May 2020. However, things really took off again for the character with SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated, a remake of the fan-favorite 3D platformer from 2003.
Released by THQ Nordic last year, Rehydrated was a return to a game many players grew up with. Its "Overwhelmingly Positive" review aggregate on Steam as of this writing suggests it was successful, despite some having quibbles with the redesigned title. The art style didn't appeal to everyone, and some new additions were considered superfluous, but ultimately the game succeeded in its aim to harken back to SpongeBob's many 3D platformer titles from the mid-2000s. It even reintroduced cut concepts from the original game like a giant mechanical Squidward boss.
Evidently THQ Nordic and SpongeBob's IP holders had a good sense that Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated would succeed, as just over a year later came the announcement of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake at the THQ Nordic 10th Anniversary Showcase. If anything can be said for the game based on its trailer, developer Purple Lamp Studios is clearly hoping to continue scratching the nostalgia itch for fans. With references to a number of iconic episodes of early SpongeBob, namely setting the whole thing to David Glen Eisley's "Sweet Victory" as heard in infamous Season 2 episode "Band Geeks," it will likely succeed in drawing more of an audience.
Bringing Nicktoons Back From the Dead
As previously mentioned, SpongeBob was not the only Nickelodeon character to receive video games in the past. He could be considered just one part of the network's golden era going by a game like 2005's Nicktoons Unite! that paired SpongeBob with Danny Fenton, Timmy Turner, and Jimmy Neutron. While this trend has continued to some degree with things like the Nickelodeon Kart Racers series, it arguably turned a corner with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.
All-Star Brawl is, for all intents and purposes, a Super Smash Bros. clone. It's a 2D party-fighting game starring an increasingly diverse roster of characters from Nickelodeon shows including Rugrats, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and even older or more obscure programs like Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. However, while a similar venture like 2011's Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion received a middling reception and is largely forgotten, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is making waves.
The upcoming game is being developed in-part by Ludosity, a studio known for its fighting game Slap City. On top of this pedigree, All-Star Brawl has intrigued casual and competitive fans alike thanks to its balance of meme references and deeper game mechanics like wavedashing - made famous by Super Smash Bros. Melee. Its willingness to dig into more bygone shows such as Invader Zim also puts it a cut above something like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, which seemingly focused its roster on advertising current properties over appeasing fans with old-school icons.
Whether SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake or Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl will be "good games" when they release is still unknown, but it's easy to have hope for their successes. Nickelodeon is jumping hard into the licensed games market with pushes to its fans' nostalgia that feels like more than just a marketing gimmick. It seems like the developers care about the properties they're adapting, and want to present consumers with something they can also appreciate. Regardless of their success, it's hopefully a good sign for how licensed game development evolves from here, be it for Nickelodeon properties or otherwise.
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