SpongeBob's Truth or Square
I'm Sure I Can Answer The Question In Everyone's Mind --- Why?
Call it a quest for nostalgia or something else, but I felt like playing some SpongeBob. Not just any SpongeBob, but SpongeBob's Truth or Square. I never had a chance to play it when it came out, but I was familiar with Heavy Iron Studios' previous magic. The year 2009 was the year that licensed games were at their peak.
Players would be hard-pressed to find any family-friendly movie without a video game tie-in. If a show was successful, a lackluster game would follow suit. Heavy Iron Studios is best known for their SpongeBob title, specifically Battle For Bikini Bottom. That game was such a success that it was given a recent remake from a different developer, no doubt capitalizing on that gaming nostalgia.
The current "Games For Gold" included this title among some others and a lightbulb turned on in my head. Why not play some SpongeBob? It wouldn't cost me a penny plus I can see what else Heavy Iron Studios developed following BFBB. In the past, Battle For Bikini Bottom was a big deal for many who played it because it broke a common stigma.
Licensed games didn't just have to be cash grabs. It had enough references both subtle and obvious to hook the average SpongeBob fan while also offering a solid gameplay experience. It was a game for fans, by fans, and everyone in between. The resurgence of the game's popularity tied with the speedrunning community. So why doesn't anyone talk about SpongeBob's Truth or Square as much?
Truth or Square? I Prefer Truth
After two successful SpongeBob titles back to back in 2003 and 2004, 2009's Truth or Square was an interesting point in Heavy Iron Studios' career. This would be the last SpongeBob title developed by the studio and the second-to-last licensed title preluding 2012's Family Guy Back To The Multiverse. Unlike Battle for Bikini Bottom, Truth or Square is loosely based on a TV special that aired around the same time. The game's plot differs from the 10th Anniversary special in a way that made it better suited as a video game.
As the citizens of Bikini Bottom celebrate the anniversary of the Krusty Krab, Mr. Krabs entrusts SpongeBob with the care of the secret formula. In typical SpongeBob fashion, SpongeBob loses the formula seconds after he places it in his back pocket. Plankton offers to "help" SpongeBob by knocking him unconscious, entering his brain, and altering his memories to pinpoint the moment he stashed the formula. To jump-start SpongeBob's memory, SpongeBob goes through several instances of his path to incite a "happy" emotion out of him.
Okay, So SpongeBob's Plot Isn't Winning Any Awards
It becomes obvious to the player that the plot is set up as an excuse to give the player a reason to travel through the various levels. The first level of the game, Jellyfish Fields, sets the tone for Truth or Square and what players can expect the rest of the game. SpongeBob's house acts as a HUB world of sorts. Players can decorate the house with items found in their memories as well as access new memories. It's an interesting concept, which is a shame because the game is so boring otherwise. SpongeBob's controls are simplistic enough. He can jump, double jump, and attack by slamming into his enemies in the form of a spatula. As SpongeBob defeats Plankton's robots and frees the jellyfish, more parts of the level open, introducing basic platforming elements.
I understand this was the first level but I never got hit once much less lost a life. What I was greeted to was SpongeBob one-liners on repeat. Everything he did he had a quip to say. If he attacks, he said something. Jumping? He says something about being happy. If I heard him saying how "happy" he was I was going to lose my mind. Not even the power-ups did much to break the monotony as one powerup makes him invincible for a short period of time. Another power-up beefs him up, increasing his attack and causing him to destroy previous indestructible environments. The last power-up players will access in this level calls in Patrick, using SpongeBob as a hammer almost like it was Super Smash Bros.
This SpongeBob Episode Is A Hard Pass, But It's Free
Every time I wanted to say how much of a waste of money Truth or Square was, I had to remind myself this was "free." Considering the other game that was a part of March's GWG was Sacred 2, I'd say that was the better bargain. I think what became Heavy Iron Studios' undoing was burnout. The chase to recreate the magic of two highly successful SpongeBob titles was too much. One can only follow a formula until it becomes stale.
For achievement hunters, SpongeBob Truth or Square is an easy 1000/1000 I'd imagine. For those who grew up with this title and had fond memories, that's perfectly fine. Maybe my opinion of the game would change if I played it on release. As someone playing it for the first time, I wasn't impressed.
SpongeBob Truth or Square is available as a part of March's Xbox Games With Gold.