Get ready to serve up some Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab -- the lovable sea sponge makes his PC debut in SpongeBob SquarePants: Employee of the Month. Join SpongeBob and the gang in a puzzling adventure to reach Neptune's Pacific Paradise. Destroy a Weather Controlling Thingamajig, explore caves of a powerful "Marlin," and hang out at the local diner -- all in a day's work for the pineapple dwelling SpongeBob and his friends.
The game is pretty true to the TV show in terms of humor and presentation, even down to employing the same TV voice actors for the game's main characters. However, the game's animation is markedly different than the show's. I don't know the right terminology, but the show is just your standard, run-of-the-mill medium-grade 2D cartoon animation, two or three steps below the efforts of Disney or Don Bluth but about 20 steps above, for instance, a Pokemon episode. The game retains the exact same style of scenery, probably even drawn by the same artist(s), but the characters and some other objects are 3D superimposed on these 2D backgrounds. Which is fine. But weird. In the cutscenes, however, the characters appear to have been rather hastily drawn by someone new to computer animation. The lines are choppy and sloppy, and these scenes are far below the quality of the TV SpongeBob cartoons, visually speaking.
No matter, though, Employee of the Month is still a lot better than I had expected. Gameplay is standard point-and-click, third-person inventory puzzles. The game plays out over the course of four chapters, and each chapter takes place in its own little world - there is no traversing back and forth between them. Each chapter has four or five locations that are unlocked on a map as you uncover the necessary information.
Basically, you talk to a character to find out what he/she wants in exchange for the item you want, then you go to another location and get that item, then you carry the new item to a different character, until you have satisfied everyone and move on to the next chapter. Instead of 20 or 30 steps a la Monkey Island, though, at most you will be faced with two or three steps for any given puzzle.
Employee of the Month is not at all a difficult game, which is to be expected given that it is aimed at kids. But I don't think it would even be overly challenging for your average eight-year-old. The only other Nickelodeon cartoon-based game I've played is the Rugrats Adventure Game, and although it was no Schizm that one gave this adult adventurer a run for her money in terms of brain-busting puzzles. I wish this SpongeBob game had been of that caliber; the Rugrats game was such that playing it could be enjoyed by both kids and their parents. Not so with Employee of the Month - I didn't even get a little bit stuck, not once, ever.
This is not to say I didn't enjoy it - I did - but I think only because I am a fan of the show. If you don't like SpongeBob, you will not like this game. And if you've never heard of SpongeBob, you probably won't appreciate this game's charming weirdness that requires some degree of familiarity with the show's overarching premise, the life of a fry cook in a small-town undersea world that eerily mirrors its overland counterparts.
Most of the show's recurring characters put in an appearance in the game: Plankton, Patrick, Sandy Cheeks, Mr. Krabs, and of course Squidward, among others. Plus there are several new characters that were fun to see. And thank God there was no Patchy the Pirate outside of the opening sequence! I just loathe Patchy the Pirate!
Anyway, I do recommend Employee of the Month to parents who are hoping to mold their children into future adventure gamers and, of course, to the SpongeBob aficionado of any age.
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