Though not always deserved, mobile games have long since obtained a reputation for being rather shallow and money-grubbing affairs. And though the mobile space actually accounts for the lion’s share of the profits raked in by the game industry year over year, this monetary growth is seen by many to come at the cost of good game design. SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off was always going to be a tough sell to the Switch audience, then, as this is unmistakably a mobile game that adheres to all the stereotypical trappings. Believe it or not, it’s still an enjoyable game—especially considering that the microtransactions have been stripped out—but the shallow and repetitive design keeps it from having any real staying power.
SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off sees you taking control of various characters from the popular show and tasks you with getting behind the grill to serve up goods to an endless barrage of customers. There’s a story (sort of) stringing the levels together, but it’s nowhere near the quality of writing that the show was once known for. Characters basically just show up in stilted, voiceless dialogue scenes between levels and exchange some banal conversation that fits their personalities, then you move on to the next thing. Given the origins of this title, there’s only so much you can expect out of these cutscenes, but they still come across as being rather cheap and uninspired, and clearly not written by the show’s creators.
Gameplay is a straightforward management kind of game—vaguely calling to mind the style of Overcooked—wherein you constantly battle the timer to get food orders out. If you’re quick about it you’ll get an extra tip and some additional customer happiness, which incentivize you to work as efficiently as possible. The actual process of making the food is about as simple as possible, with each step in the process being mapped to a button on your controller. For example, you just tap ‘B’ to toss a Krabby Patty on the grill, and once it’s done you tap ‘A’ to toss it on a bun.
Things gain a little more depth with increasingly complicated orders, such as a customer asking for a burger with lettuce or Patrick taking forever to decide on what he wants to order. Prioritization is key here, as you have limited space on the grill and prep table and can only fit in so many orders at once. Once things get moving and you have four or more customers all lined up, each with rapidly decreasing timers, it can get quite tense as you scramble to toss more burgers on the grill while grabbing someone a soda. If you feel like you’re getting too buried, each character has a gadget (on a cooldown) that can help bail them out, such as letting RoboBob take over for a bit to speed things up.
This is all well and good, but it doesn’t take too long for the gameplay to get rather stale. Extra complications like side dishes and toppings are nice, but they don’t meaningfully alter the gameplay loop. Instead, they simply add another step to the process, which you repeat literally hundreds of times level to level. In short bursts this kind of gameplay can be fun, but playing for any longer than a half hour can quickly lead to diminished returns.
Another issue that hampers gameplay is the baffling approach to controls. Each action is mapped to a face button, but it doesn’t feel terribly intuitive in practice, and high-pressure situations easily lead to incidents where you forget that ‘X’ is the strawberry button, not the blueberry one. It’s not an awful control scheme, but it’s painfully evident that this release wasn’t intended to be played with a controller. Now, you’d think that this could be easily fixed in portable mode by just borrowing the control scheme of the mobile version and letting you tap things on the touch screen. The only issue is that there are no touch controls. Why a mobile game—played in landscape orientation, no less—left out the touch controls for the Switch port is anyone’s guess, but it was most definitely a poor decision.
Outside of traditional gameplay, the money you earn from completing orders can be spent on upgrades for your equipment, such as giving you extra space on the grill or raising the price you charge customers for ingredients. This adds a nice sense of meaningful progression to each kitchen, although it doesn’t take very long to max out everything. You can also spend the money on cosmetics like costumes and decorations, although this rings a little hollow considering you can’t see a character’s outfit during gameplay, and you’re too busy cooking to be paying much attention to how the restaurant is decorated. Still, being able to earn these things without being assaulted by ads and prompts to buy gems is a massive plus over the original release.
With about 400 levels to clear, hundreds of achievements to unlock, and plenty of extra cosmetics to purchase with coins, there’s a solid amount of content here to keep you entertained for around ten to fifteen hours if you really want to see everything through. As we said before, though, the gameplay loop does tend to get exceptionally repetitive the longer you sit with it. Whether the time investment is worth it to you is simply a matter of preference, then, but never let it be said that this is a short game.
In terms of presentation, SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off leaves a little bit to be desired. The art and animation all nicely matches the show, but there isn’t a whole lot of visual variety when you’re basically stuck in one place for several dozen levels before moving onto the next restaurant. Bizarrely enough, we also noticed performance issues somehow flaring up every now and then. It’s never enough to totally throw off your game, but the fact that there are any noticeable hiccups in a game as simplistic as this is frankly unacceptable.
Now, we feel it’s important to address the elephant in the room: that the mobile game still exists. Right now, you can pull out your phone and download SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off from your platform’s app store for free. And while, yes, it’s absolutely riddled with microtransactions and ads, that non-existent price tag is tempting for a game that you likely won’t stick with for hours on end anyways. Couple that with the fact that this Switch port is an eye-watering thirty dollars at launch, and we can’t even remotely recommend that you get the Switch version. We’ll repeat that in case it wasn’t clear enough: just download this game for your phone, and save yourself thirty bucks.
Though its gameplay can be entertaining enough in short bursts and its art looks nice, SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off proves to be a disappointing take on the beloved IP. Shallow gameplay, performance issues, and weird controls make for an experience that’s simply ‘ok’ at best. Considering that you can also access a version of this game on your phone for free, we can’t fully recommend that you spring for this one. There are much worse things you could buy off the eShop, but SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off simply doesn’t offer enough value for its asking price.
This post originally appeared on Nintendo Life | Reviews