♪ Ohhhh… Who has a city builder that’s on iOS?
That’s boring and slow and fun as dead fish?
SpongeBob SquarePants! ♪
And so it goes.
Following in the footsteps of such licensed titles as The Simpsons: Tapped Out and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, SpongeBob Moves In is a city-building game that admittedly provides a clever twist from the outset: Rather than razing the homes and surroundings of your favorite characters to a smouldering rubble and having you rebuild in the wake of catastrophe, this is more of an origin story for the nigh-immortal Nicktoon superstar.
From the outset, you’re treated to a cutscene that shows SpongeBob’s seldom-seen parents dropping him off in a very sparse Bikini Bottom, one with an easily-manageable population of eight. It seems that Mr. SquarePants has very high hopes for this middling burg, and so sets out to feed the townsfolk, expand its borders to add familiar locations from the show, and attract more people to turn it into a thriving landscape ripe for comic adventure.
Unfortunately, the game kind of rings hollow from the outset. That same opening cutscene just feels off, in no small part to the complete lack of any dialogue whatsoever. This is strange in itself, as the game features voices from the cartoon, Tom Kenny’s (SpongeBob) at the very least, though this seems reserved for more off-the-cuff soundbytes, such as if you try to perform an action you’re not equipped for.
As for the action, it’s a matter of SpongeBob collecting rent (he’s apparently a landlord), fulfilling wishes by feeding Bikini Bottomites Krabby Patties and toast, buying land with the profits of both, and building new establishments. Unlike other games in this genre, they just throw you right in, more than content to let you figure things out for yourself.
What to do becomes more apparent as you go along, but the going is incredibly slow as the small number of options available at the outset can take several minutes or longer to complete. This is generally okay when you’ve progressed a bit and have more things going on at once, but doing so at the start kills what little momentum the game has as it kicks off.
Then there’s the matter of the price. While we generally refrain from mentioning that here, as it’s subject to change, it’s worth noting that as of this writing, Nickelodeon is charging a hefty $3.99 just to download the game, and then readily has in-app purchases in wait, no doubt expecting people who soon hit the snail-like pacing of the game after starting to shell out some more clams to speed things along.
That, taken together with the fact the production feels somewhat slapped-together (long load times, little referential humor for a franchise that’s all about the laughter), and it feels like they’re pulling a Mr. Krabs are “out fer yer munee!” without offering a product that is on par with its (free) contemporaries in return.
In that regard, this almost feels like a collaboration between Mr. Krabs (publisher) and Squidward (developer) that they intend to foist on customers who they hope won’t know any better (SpongeBob and Patrick). Crazy how the more meta aspects of the game are more interesting and truer to the show than the actual game itself, isn’t it?