"Each of SpongeBob's techniques is linked to a specific touch screen mini-game. They're all routine stylus activities, even if the ingredients are a little weird. Trace a line to slice up some kelp. Tap quickly to pound out a Krabby Patty. Rotate frantically to mix up some seaweed pasta. Slingshot deep fried flotsam out of hot oil. Okay, maybe they're not all ordinary culinary arts..."
SpongeBob SquarePants, Bikini Bottom's finest fry cook, finally gets to show off his skills in detail. There's a huge beach bash coming up, thrown by the illustrious surfer dude Jack Kahuna Laguna, and someone needs to feed the masses. Vying for this privilege are the Krusty Krab, our hero's place of employment, and the rival Chum Bucket, owned by the devious Mr. Plankton. And so, SpongeBob vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook-Off seeks to settle the score. The game takes the standard formula for a restaurant/cooking simulation, and then stuffs it with as much Sponge as it can hold.
The basic activity in the cook-off involves working a shift at the Krab, processing customer orders through an organized assembly line. Thankfully, SpongeBob doesn't have to work alone, as Mr. Krab has hired all of Plankton's reject cousins to provide cheap labor. That leaves the titular character to supervise, in addition to managing the sequence and timing for the dishes in the order queue. Theoretically, each amorphous little creature could finish up an item completely on his own, moving it through the four stations: prep to grilling to frying to plating. When the globules need help, though, it's up to SpongeBob to jump in and demonstrate the proper technique. The possibility of chaos breaking out definitely exists. At full capacity, twelve orders could be in production simultaneously!
Each technique is linked to a specific touch screen mini-game. They're all routine stylus activities, even if the ingredients are a little weird. Trace a line to slice up some kelp. Tap quickly to pound out a Krabby Patty. Rotate frantically to mix up some seaweed pasta. Slingshot deep fried flotsam out of hot oil. Okay, maybe they're not all ordinary culinary arts. The game advertises 25 maneuvers, but several tend to be different in name only. A back and forth motion takes care of sawing dry ingredients as well as melting butter in a pan. Quick spinning covers grinding up meat and whisking together a sauce. These activities grow tiresome with their intense repetition.
But repetition is the core of the Beach Party Cook-Off. Progress between the game's levels is measured with several individual challenges, where each step of a given recipe must be manually completed according to a mystery judge's standard. A challenge only takes a minute, so 99% of the time is spent toiling on the line at the restaurant; at least three shifts must be executed between each challenge. So it's not just discrete actions, the same situations are presented over and over again.
Even when opportunities arise to add variety to the menu, the game counters with incentives to keep it static. A new dish becomes available after seemingly every shift; the back of the box boasts over 100 recipes in total. Special bonuses are given for mastering a plate, like a higher price, but that reward can only be reaped by leaving the meal on the menu. It takes dozens of preparations to reach that level of proficiency. With only eight active item slots, there's not room to try out many new things without sacrificing progress. Most of the food ends up in the display case; it will be unlocked but never prepared.
Speaking of window dressing, many of the show's characters make an appearance. Patrick the rotund starfish, Squidward the cranky squid, and Sandy the genius squirrel all oversee one of the prep stations. Even SpongeBob's pet snail Gary hangs out by the order queue. However, they generally just stand around like cardboard cutouts, rarely changing expression. Plankton's cousins provide more entertainment, riding the mixers like unicycles and hopping joyfully around a finished dish. None of these creatures ever speak, though, leaving SpongeBob as the only voice. He fills the airtime as soon as the game boots up, sarcastically commenting about the multitude of legal disclaimers. And his mouth never stops, offering cheerful quips anytime anything happens in the kitchen.
His antics are enough to make the game palatable to fans. Those supporters of the big-eyed yellow guy should enjoy a cursory glimpse into his wacky world of cuisine. There's no avoiding the ordinary, steady gameplay of SpongeBob vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook-Off, though. Without any new or interesting wrinkles, this is another entry in a perishable genre quickly going stale.
Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (March 30, 2009)
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