BOSTON - Nostalgia is a very tricky thing. Was that game from a decade ago really great, or was it just the right experience at the right time? THQ Nordic is arguably tempting fate by remaking two fan-favorite games from the 2000s: Destroy All Humans and SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated. When these games first came out, fans and critics received them politely. But each game garnered passionate fans, who couldn’t be more excited to see the titles get a second chance.
I went hands-on with both games at PAX East 2020, and it was actually my first experience with either title. The good news is that both games look solid, whether or not you’re an existing fan. And the better news is that each game has a little bit of new content in addition to better graphics and tighter gameplay.
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Destroy All Humans
Of the two games I played, Destroy All Humans feels like the “bigger” title. This third-person action game made a splash back in 2005, thanks to its twisted sense of humor, varied gameplay and engaging art style.
For those who have never played it, Destroy All Humans puts you in control of Crypto 137: an alien who sets down on Earth to rescue one of his companions who’s been captured by humans. Unfortunately, Crypto touched down during the height of the Cold War, meaning that Earth is ready to throw everything in its arsenal at him, from mooing cows, to disgruntled farmers, to concerned police officers, to tank-driving army men.
Gameplay was pretty simple, at least during my demo. Crypto can pick up and hurl enemies with telekinesis, zap them with a ray gun, suck out their minds for DNA (which lets you upgrade abilities) and fly limited distances with a jetpack. Once in a while, he’ll also hop into his flying saucer to flash-fry foes with a laser. One big change from the original game is that you can now fight back against enemies while draining brains from downed foes; otherwise, gameplay is about the same as it was back in 2005. It’s simple and fun, and probably wouldn’t wear out its welcome over the course of the game’s 15-hour playtime.
In fact, not a whole lot has changed since the game’s original release. The graphics are much sharper, and the music and voice acting sound clearer. As stated above, the developers have rebalanced a few abilities. There will also be a brand-new mission, in which Crypto infiltrates the mysterious Area 42 (a parody of Area 51). This mission was supposed to be in the original game, but the developers didn’t have enough time to implement it. The THQ Nordic rep who showed me the game didn’t say much about the level, save that fans would probably get a kick out of it after all this time.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated
When THQ Nordic announced SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, I was a little surprised. When fans took to social media to express their excitement, I was nearly shocked. Licensed games from the early 2000s are usually lucky if they don’t show up on a “Worst of the Decade” list. What did Battle for Bikini Bottom do to earn such accolades?
Well, as it turns out, it’s simply a very good game. Battle for Bikini Bottom is a third-person platformer that pits the titular spongey hero against a variety of marine life and evil robots as he saves his beloved hometown. As SpongeBob, you can jump, swing a net, jump on bubbles – and not a whole lot else. The whole setup is extremely simple, and it’s largely the big, colorful levels and sharp writing that make the game a joy to play.
I played through the first level, in which SpongeBob’s hapless friend Squidward gets stung by a jellyfish, and requires an antidote from an enormous King Jellyfish. I leapt from platform to platform across fields, cliffs and waterways, collecting colorful tokens as I went. I needed some of these tokens to unlock parts of the level; otherwise, it was simply exploration for exploration’s sake. (You can also find extra health tokens, which take the form of underpants in floating bubbles. It’s not a very serious game.)
As far as I can tell, there’s no real secret to Battle for Bikini Bottom’s appeal; it’s just a well-made game that’s suitable for younger players, but contains some fairly funny one-liners for older ones. The cartoon’s whole cast reprises their roles for this game, making it seem like one long, action-packed episode.
There’s not too much new here, aside from redone graphics, which still look a bit dated, but much sharper than before. The devs promised a boss fight with an evil robot Squidward, which was apparently cut from the original game. Otherwise, it’s a prettier version of the same game you may have played in 2003.
What I found most interesting about both Destroy All Humans and SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is that neither one of these games was an unimpeachable classic of modern gaming. They were both pretty good games with pretty respectable fan bases – and that’s perhaps one of the reasons they still hold up so well. They were never meant to redefine the gaming space, only to be fun. And, fifteen years later, they’re still quite fun.
Destroy All Humans will retail for $40; SpongeBob will cost $30. Both games will be out later this year for PC and consoles.