Saturday, February 8, 2014

Diary Entry #6: In Your Face SpongeBob Point-And-Click Coverage

                My expectations were high while installing SpongeBob SquarePants: Employee of the Month. The adventure genre is the primo cartoon to game format, allowing plenty of story-driven interaction that really brings the show to life. Beavis and Butthead: Virtual Stupidity captures the essence of its subject matter. Duckman, the Harvey Birdman game, Stupid Invaders, Scooby-Doo Classic Creep Capers for GBC, and Scooby-Doo Mystery for Genesis are other great examples, but they're honestly few and far between.

                Scooby-Doo seems like a great candidate for an adventure game, offering up mysteries laden with clues, goofy traps, and vengeful janitors who dress as ghouls. Instead, most Scooby-Doo games are just goofy platformers starring a hippie and a talking dog. And that's really what most cartoon licensed games amount to: a stupid platform game for the kiddies. That's what kept me from continuing SpongeBob SquarePants: SuperSponge, with its dull design and non-existent challenge. Some aren't made for the kiddies but remain equally dull, such as the Beavis and Butthead, Ahh! Real Monsters!, and Rocko's Modern Life games for the SNES.

                Of course, a lot of adventure games are also plagued with dull design and non-existent challenge. Rather than a stupid platform game for the kiddies, you've got a stupid adventure game for the kiddies. Tiny Toon Adventures: The Great Beanstalk embodies this approach to game development, playing more like a hidden object game than anything else. Speaking of hidden object games, I bet the Three Stooges ones are the best.

Based on the screenshot, it looks like they're playing
rock, paper, scissors, punch to the face.

                With all of this in mind, I began my journey into SpongeBob SquarePants: Employee of the Month. Mr. Krabs feels obliged to give SpongeBob a gift since he's been Employee of the Month for the past year. Having just received two free tickets in the mail for Neptune's Paradise, a local theme park that no one seems to care for, Mr. Krabs gives them to SpongeBob. The cutscenes are fully 3D, if a little ugly.

                I start the game outside the Krusty Krab, where a customer offers to tell me how to get to Neptune's Paradise IF I feed him a hamburger, setting my first objective in the game. Check out the fun hand-drawn backgrounds.

                Right away, I can dig the script. Just like in all the old LucasArts adventure games, the dialogue's humorous and well-written throughout. The voice actors from the show reprise all their roles if you're into that sort of thing. As a non-SpongeBob fan, I still appreciate the effort.
SpongeBob reiterates the plot for those
gamers who have no attention span.

               You pick up stuff and use it on other stuff, too, making it a classic point-and-click adventure. For the first puzzle, I have to combine the Plain Patty with the Fixin's to create a Krabby Patty. After that, I need to wash a dirty plate and throw the burger on it. Not exactly the most difficult puzzle in the universe. It sort of reminds me of Humongous Entertainment adventures like Freddy Fish and Pajama Sam, which feature tons of no-brainer puzzles that young people can solve with little frustration.

                The customer then tells me a bus stop downtown goes straight to Neptune's Paradise. A new area opens on the map that I can visit. This becomes a recurring feature in the game: someone mentions a location and it opens up on the map. 

                Unfortunately, Patrick and I have no bus tokens or money to buy them. Patrick tells me to go to a beach and look for hidden treasure.

                In the parking lot, there's a random beach ball I can kick into a soccer net. This seems to have no significance other than being a diversion from random conversations with people.

                This conversational entity says the treasure is somewhere on the beach. The umbrella she holds becomes an important item later on.

                If there's any object sitting around, you know you're going to need it. This muscular dude says SpongeBob wears panties, but SpongeBob's too concerned about getting that toy shovel and bucket to listen. Muscular lobster guy mentions he has a sweet tooth for Grandma's homemade pie.

                Grandma's house opens and she tells me to go buy her some Sea Urchin chips, which opens up a grocery store area. I head over there, but having no money, the clerk says I need to wash his car if I hope to get my grubby hands on any chips. When I wash the car, the mouse turns into a SpongeBob icon that I have to wiggle all over the van. I get the Sea Urchin chips and mix them with one of Grandma's pies.

Imagine rubbing your body all over a car.

                Inside, Mr. Krabs is moonlighting as a guy who sells anything for cheap. He evidently sold his clothes to somebody, which explains the tactfully placed cans. He lets me take some cooking oil, which I give to somebody on the beach in exchange for suntan lotion. Why I need suntan lotion is unclear, but that's the adventure genre for yah.

                I start looking for buried treasure. I eventually find a treasure chest filled with tokens. The bus driver says we can go if I give him an umbrella, which I get from the aforepictured lady in exchange for my suntan lotion.

                Another 3D FMV cutscene later...

...and I'm trapped in a weird deep sea area. The driver refuses to take us back unless the weather conditions clear up, and with no obvious way to do this, I have to wander around aimlessly.  After hitting on a random eyeball creature, she tells me to buy her a candy bar. Accomplishing this task, I'm told to go to a TV station.

                This is where the handmade backgrounds really shine. It makes the game look a thousand times better than 2000s adventure games like Syberia or Runaway. Unfortunately, the exchange stuff for more stuff gameplay is starting to wear thin. I could go on and on telling you about these formulaic trades, but do you really care?

                If you do care, you're in luck. A tool man behind the TV station tells me to get him a can of Cola, which I need to get at the bar. A picture of Patrick and some guy burping is on the wall. Unfortunately, I can only get Diet Cola, so I need to steal an empty can from some guy back near the bus stop and fill that with the diet sludge. The tool guy takes the Cola and gives me his tools in exchange. 

                With the toolbox, this lady lets me into the studio...

               ...where Plankton tells the world that the Chum Bucket isn't nearly as bad as people claim. Some guy tells me I need to find Marlin the Wizard because he locked the door to the weather control room.

                At Marlin's cave, I play a slot machine...

                ...that eventually gives me directions through these catacombs.

                Marlin talks to me and releases his seal on the weather control machine, allowing me to fix the weather so the bus driver will take off again.

                The bus driver determines that he doesn't like SpongeBob, so he dumps me back off where I started instead of going to Neptune's Paradise. 

                I wind up at a diner. There's a dartboard here, but it's not fun or purposeful in any way. I got a high score anyway, as you can plainly see. The waitress, like any good diner employee, let's me take somebody else's carry out as long as I promise to deliver it promptly.

                I find the Jellyfish Fields, where Sandy takes the lunch and promises to drive me to Neptune's Paradise if I get my water helmet. The screenshot suggests that SpongeBob will get killed if stung, but he sort of just has a seizure and then continues on his merry way.

                I eventually find a video that details the making of the game. It's a really nice touch that shows quite a bit of love went into the development.

                This hippie tells me to come get some glasses that allow me to enter people's dreams. The location he's in has little of interest aside from the glasses...

...but when I use the glasses on Squidward...

...I enter this dreamworld where I turn into SpongeBob and Squidward's lovechild.

                In the dream, I find Squidward, take his clarinet, use it to charm the seasnake out of my water helmet, use that to enter Sandy's house where I need to find an air tank that's meticulously hidden behind an upturned picnic table. Sandy gets her rocket ship going and we're on our way to Neptune's Paradise! Another FMV sequence later...

SpongeBob and Patrick look like
they're tired of being in this game.

...we crash. Sandy tells me to get some oxygen...

...but the oxygen place requires that I wear a jacket. 

                Returning to Sandy, she tells me to seek out Walter, a man who may or may not own a jacket. There's a pressure plate in front of Walter's gated community, so I have to fill myself with water from this fountain to gain weight and get in. 

                Walter says I can have his golden coconut if I find a suitable paperweight to replace it. A normal coconut from the screenshot above suffices.

                I give the golden coconut to Walter's neighbor, who then gives me a quarter which I use to call Sublime Seafoods. They give me directions to their location, which I then quickly go to. Evidently, they give out free jackets if you come into the restaurant without one. A silly puzzle ensues where I need to get tickets to enter the restaurant, but it's so mundane that I won't bother describing it.

                At this point, I was so tired of the find object A to get object B formula that I stopped taking screenshots and almost stopped playing entirely. I felt like all the puzzles were so rudimentary and the decent production values were wasted on a crappy shell of a game. Thankfully, the conclusion was coming on fast. SpongeBob gets the jacket, but he can't leave with it, so he gets thrown out by asking for a Krabby Patty and makes off with the clothing. SpongeBob gets some air after finding Patrick his pants, and the game ends with another FMV that I didn't take a screenshot of. If you want to see it, play the damn game.

                Employee of the Month is obviously targeted towards children, but it's a far more competent game than anybody would expect. The cel-shaded cutscenes are a little ugly, but in game, the drawn and painted backgrounds mesh well with the 3D characters, although there's not a whole lot to most locales other than the NPCs and inventory items. The music, writing, and voice-acting feel like they're culled right from the show, and the puzzles are enough to keep you occupied for two hours.

                The question is, rent or buy this PC game? Buy it. I'm not a SpongeBob fan at all, but as an adventure gamer, any well-made two hour quickie is a definite must. Just keep in mind there's absolutely no challenge factor and you're good to go.

                In the process of trying to find more fun point-and-click adventure games based on cartoons, I discovered two games I need to play. Tiny Toon Adventure's: Buster's Bad Dream is a game by Treasure that looks almost exactly like their Astro Boy game for the Game Boy Advance. The other is Animaniacs: A Gigantic Adventure, a PC platformer that borrows the Jazz Jackrabbit 2 engine. Most action games based on Tiny Toons and Animaniacs have been great, but these look better than all of those combined.

                Also, I hate Choplifter games, but Super Army War for GBA and it's sequel Glory Days 2 for the Nintendo DS look amazing. I just got my new copy of Beyond: Two Souls though, so we'll see how that goes!

Screenshot courtesy of GameZone.
I'm not a big Choplifter fan, but
look at all that stuff blow up!


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