It's not easy to see the attraction of SpongeBob SquarePants as far as we're concerned. His jaundiced complexion and freakish giant goggle-eyed head are just too weird and frightening, and not in a good way. And besides, when we were kids cartoons were based around cool things, like robots that could turn into trucks, cat people with magic swords and mysterious cities of gold. Who cares about a talking sponge?
Well, quite a lot of children around the globe, judging by the success of the SpongeBob TV series and feature films - not to mention the fact that more than 10 million SpongeBob videogames have been sold, according to publisher THQ.
And now its coffers are being boosted even further with the release of SpongeBob SquarePants: Lights, Camera, PANTS!, which is basically a collection of mini-games in the Mario Party vein.
Except it doesn't feature quite such a wide selection of mini-games (a paltry 30 versus more than 75 in Mario Party 6). At least they're reasonably varied, however. There's a BMX race, and a burger flipping contest, a fishing game and one where you have to try and bump your opponents out of the ring - in other words, there's a lot of stuff you've probably seen before if you're a party game aficionado. The lowlight is undoubtedly the "rock, paper, scissors" game - surely PS2s were invented so children didn't have to entertain themselves with such nonsense any more?
Unfortunately, Lights, Camera, PANTS! isn't likely to entertain them too much either. It looks very polished - lots of bright colours, detailed environments and cartoony cutscenes, and all the SpongeBob characters are present and correct - but there are also a few too many flaws.
For one thing, the controls just don't work properly in a couple of the games, such as the burger flipping competition. All you have to do is press left or right, basically, but the characters are frequently too slow to respond - and occasionally they don't seem to respond at all. As you might imagine, this makes for a lot of frustration.
Then there's the fact that the on-screen instructions you see before each game aren't always clear enough. It's usually possible to work out what's going on once the game's begun and you've faffed about for a bit, but young or especially stupid children could definitely struggle.
Another problem is that almost all of the mini-games are over far too quickly. It feels like you spend more time looking at loading screens and "Do you want to save the game?" messages than actually playing. At least there aren't any of the tedious game boards you'll find in the Mario Party series, however.
All in all, it's hard to see how even the most ardent SpongeBob fan could get a lot out of this game, even with three friends and four controllers on hand. There's just not a big enough selection of games, fundamentally, and too many niggles. If it's a kids' party game you're after, you're probably better off with an EyeToy title. And if you're buying for a SpongeBob fan, consider SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom instead - it's a platformer rather than a party game, but it's a lot more fun than this.
Children's titles are rated out of five to differentiate them from the standard Eurogamer scoring system.
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