SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated Deaf Accessibility
Despite a few accessibility issues, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a joyful, funny experience out at a time when a lot of us could probably use a bit of silly, nostalgic fun, that Deaf and hard of hearing players will still be able to thoroughly enjoy.
Score8.3 out of 10
♫ Ohhhhhh! Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS! Absorbent and yellow and porous is he! SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS! ♫
I am an adult with two graduate degrees in English and literature. Two of them. And yet, here I am giddily reviewing SpongeBob, with the theme song having been stuck in my head for two days because that’s what SpongeBob does. SpongeBob and his SpongeBob laugh, along with Gary, Patrick, and the rest of the Bikini Bottom crew make me forget that I’m an adult with responsibilities in a horror show of a world, and just let me have some pure spongey action, some Nautical Nonsense, IN 3D!
Now, I never played the original (1999?) version of this game. I was 17 and very busy being a real adult with serious interests. Certainly no time for silly video games. So I can’t speak to how faithful a recreation Rehydrated is to the original. But I can tell you this is an amazing, lighthearted, fun game. Save for two accessibility hiccups.
You’ve got your simple subtitles on or off option with unfortunately no further options for subtitle customization. SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom also suffers from an annoyance that plagues far too many games, which Ben Bayliss discussed in his piece about Destroy All Humans.
The developers need to choose a subtitle presentation style and stick with it.
The above subtitles are the style for cinematics and some in-game dialogue. They’re fine. Could benefit from size options but the default is pretty OK.
And these subtitles are for interactive dialogue exchanges where SpongeBob is talking with other characters. Stylized but not so much so that they’re illegible (though, again, customization options are still necessary) and inside a box with a solid background. But these subtitles brought me to the most annoying, weird thing I’ve seen in quite a long time.
You know the JRPG style of dialogue boxes where all dialogue text is presented in a nice, easy-to-read box and players have to press a button to advance both the text and the spoken dialogue? SpongeBob is kind of like that, except where players have to press a button to advance the text but the spoken dialogue keeps on going, not waiting for that button press to advance. Is this an issue that makes the game unplayable? No, not by any stretch. But it feels a bit like a minigame in itself where you’re trying to match your reading speed to the speech speed and press the button appropriately and it’s kind of irritating and very strange.
SpongeBob also suffers from a problem most platformers don’t: enemy sneak attacks for Deaf/hoh players.
In most platformers, the levels are linear, not really fully explorable and open like they are here. Enemies are either in front of you or behind you and it’s very rare that players won’t see one unless the level is actually designed that way. There’s not really a need for any sort of visual cue that an enemy has spotted you because most of the time, it’s right there on the screen. But the various levels in SpongeBob feel very open-world. You can go most anywhere, fully rotate the camera, and you’re not constrained to a linear path. This makes enemies sneaking up on SpongeBob inevitable for Deaf and hoh players, which makes the fact that they have a sound paired with when they’ve spotted the player but no visual cue unless you’re looking at them a big problem. One hit from an enemy costs SpongeBob an entire pair of underwear (representative of your lives) which players have a limited amount of. Without that necessary visual cue of having been spotted, Deaf and hoh players may find themselves dying a lot more than players that hear the little blip of the enemy robots, making for an unbalanced play experience.
Despite these accessibility issues, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a joyful, funny experience out at a time when a lot of us could probably use a bit of silly, nostalgic fun, that Deaf and hard of hearing players will still be able to thoroughly enjoy.