Spongebob vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook-Off
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-05-21 Nintendo DS Simulation E (Everyone) THQ

I've expressed my love for the Spongebob television show before, but where my devotion to the animated series is never-ending, my appreciation of the many games released under the brand has been a bit harder to earn. Where titles like the Spongebob Edition of Drawn to Life were addictive, creative offerings, others, like SuperSponge (on the original Playstation) did the character a disservice. Where does this newest offering wind up in the grand scheme of things? To put it simply, like so many others, it falls somewhere in the middle.

Spongebob vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook-Off is a sort of spiritual sequel to a recent episode of the Spongebob television show (appropriately titled "Spongebob vs. The Big One") which saw Spongebob and company stranded on a deserted island, forced to surf the biggest wave known to man, The Big One, back to Bikini Bottom's underwater shores.

In said episode, viewers were introduced to Jack Kahuna Laguna (JKL for short), then voiced by Johnny Depp, who makes a reappearance in Beach Party Cook-Off (sans the cameo from Captain Jack) by planning a massive beach party for all of Bikini Bottom, complete with catering. However, Bikini Bottom has two restaurateurs, Mr. Krabbs and Plankton, who each believe their food should be served at the party, so it is up to Spongebob and friends to work overtime preparing for an upcoming challenge between the two restaurants that will determine whose food will be served at the party.

Helping Spongebob on his quest for culinary supremacy are the usual suspects: Squidward, Patrick and Sandy, along with dozens of Plankton's cousins, who, after refusing to work for Plankton for free, decided to work for his arch nemesis, Mr. Krabbs, and therefore become part of your team.

The game itself plays a bit like Cooking Mama; however, where Cooking Mama progressed in a very linear fashion, asking you to construct one meal at a time, one step at a time, Beach Party Cook-Off instead throws you into a bustling kitchen where multiple dishes are being prepared at once, and it's anyone?s guess what steps in their preparation you'll perform next.

Each of the game's main characters mans a station. Patrick, ironically enough, controls the chopping and slicing station (am I the only one that sees that having "bad" written all over it?), while Squidward works the fryer and mixes batters for deserts. Sandy puts the finishing touches, or garnishes onto each dish, while Spongebob of course works the grill.

With the exception of Spongebob, these three main characters work in more of a supervisor's capacity, as Plankton's tiny cousins really do all of the work. Each of the four stations is housed in a tab on the bottom of the touch screen, with each tab flashing red when one of Plankton's cousins needs assistance.

After tapping on the appropriate tab, and the appropriate cousin, the camera will zoom into their workstation and task you with completing various duties ranging from slicing onions or bread, stirring batter or beating eggs, tenderizing meat before it goes onto the grill, flipping patties in a frying pan, removing fries from the fryer before they burn, assembling Krabby Patty's, adding whipped cream to pies and so on.

Each of these tasks utilizes the touch screen in a different way. As examples, any sort of cutting or chopping is achieved by sliding your stylus across a dotted line in order to cut loafs of bread or cheese, slice onions or tomatoes, etc., while mixing, beating, stirring and so on are achieved by moving your stylus in a rapid spiral pattern over the mixing vessel until a meter on the left side of the screen fills until your action reaches perfection.

Grilling food requires that you flick your stylus vertically on the screen to flip food over before it burns, while assembling sandwiches or removing items from the deep fryer requires nothing more than a simple tap and drag from fryer or counter to plate.

As there is so much variety in the tasks at hand, it's not surprising that some fall a bit short in terms of technical quality. While most stylus driven actions respond the way they should, the aforementioned stirring, beating and mixing portions are flawed to say the least, oftentimes causing your batter or other liquid substance to sit at a complete standstill no matter how furiously you spin your stylus on the screen.

Luckily, no matter which of the three difficulty settings you choose, each are skewed in such a way that failing one or even two steps won?t be enough to send your customer away hungry, as each food item comes equipped with a miniature pie chart that empties or fills depending on the quality of the item at each step of the cooking process. The only real thing that is affected by a poor quality dish is the tip left behind by the customer, which is often too small to matter in the first place.

After each shift (level), new recipes become available for you to purchase with that day's earnings, with most new recipes coming with a higher base price, allowing you to earn more money each time they are ordered. Other items such as chairs, rugs, and lighting fixtures are also unlocked throughout the game that allow you to change the look and feel of the Krusty Krabb.

Furthermore, at specific intervals throughout the game, challenges become available concerning JKL or Plankton and his never ending quest for discovering the Krabby Patty formula. These challenges ask you to prepare one dish while maintaining a certain quality rating throughout, and reward you with extra cash, and more unlockables for succeeding.

One last feature to keep in mind is the overall skill rating of Plankton's cousins, which increases as they continue to practice each task. Once they reach a certain level of proficiency in each, you will often find yourself simply watching the action, as dishes are prepared from start to finish without your help, a factor which understandably adds a bit of a boring quality to the title.

Likewise, where other games in the genre come equipped with high standards for your performance, Beach Party Cook-Off is instead more at a child-like level, with little challenge no matter which difficulty setting you choose, making it a nice introduction for children whose reflexes would obviously be lacking when compared to adults.

That being said however, there is one major factor that serves to pull adult fans of the show in, with that being the sheer amount of fan service contained throughout. While there is a great deal of text in the game, some cutscenes come with full character movement and dialogue performed by some of the original voice actors from the show, something that is still a rare commodity in DS gaming today. There are also multiple "cameo" appearances, if you will, from characters seen in other Spongebob episodes, like the food critic Gene Scallop, who serves as a judge throughout the game.

Additionally, the game's entire appearance stays incredibly true to the television show, complete with the forever-puzzled look fixed on Patrick's face or Squidward's overall demeanor of wishing he could be anywhere else but at work.

All in all, Spongebob vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook-Off is one of the better games released under the Spongebob name, but doesn't really compare to games like Cooking Mama, which excels at the genre. However, the game's lack of complexity and challenge create an experience more suited to younger players, who would be better able to meet the demands of this title than those of similar, more intricate offerings, making it worth at least a rental for those looking for a title to occupy their children this summer or beyond.

Special thanks to Kristina Kirk and THQ for providing a copy of this title.