IGN Review of Nicktoons: Battle for Volcano Island
Licensed games have famously not fared very well in the past. Games like E.T. for the Atari 2600 have been fodder for jokes for the last 25 years. Regardless of the fact that the vast majority of licensed games turn out to be utter garbage, companies seem hell-bent on releasing branded games as long as consumers keep eating them up. From a publisher's perspective, a licensed game is often a sure bet. By tying a sub-par game into an already famous franchise, a publisher can be assured to make some money regardless of the game's quality. This idea seems to be the major impetus driving the development of Nicktoons: Battle for Volcano Island.
Nicktoons: Battle for Volcano Island puts players in charge of several beloved Nickelodeon cartoon characters. A number of Nickelodeon's popular animated series are represented in the game. From SpongeBob SquarePants, gamers are offered the titular character himself, as well as fan favorites like Patrick, and Sandy Cheeks. Danny Fenton and Sam Manson from Danny Phantom are represented, as is Timmy Turner from the Fairly Oddparents.
Several of these characters will tackle a mission at the same time, and the player can cycle through them at will. Unfortunately, there is almost no discernible difference between any of the characters whatsoever. Players will find themselves blindly switching through their "party" unable to find a character who doesn't control exactly the same as everyone else. Sure, some of the characters have their own idiosyncrasies (Patrick and Timmy are slightly stronger than other characters), but for the most part, everyone plays exactly the same. It's all up to personal preference to determine whether gamers want to play as an anthropomorphic sea sponge or a squirrel in a space suit.
The basic premise of this game is so laughable that it hardly deserves mention, but here it is for those paying attention: On a magical island called Volcano Island, a hodgepodge race of hermit crabs finds themselves being terrorized by an ancient faceless evil, known as the Mawgu. Their only hope is to summon the nine fabled heroes to come to their rescue. Of course, those fabled heroes turn out to be characters from some of Nickelodeon's most profitable franchises. These heroes must embark on a journey that defies all logic or notions of linear storytelling as they magically warp through space and time, completing one nonsensical task after another.
The gameplay is even more hackneyed and moronic than the game's storyline. As players progress through the game, they move through brightly-hued environments fighting endless swarms of birds, goo-monsters, and... more goo-monsters. There is so little variety in the enemies that it will without a doubt leave players feeling sick after only 10-20 minutes of play time. There are platforming-based challenges throughout the game in order to break up the monotony of the combat. Unfortunately, the platforming and puzzle solving in this game is so inanely simple, that it does very little to distract you from the tedium that is Battle for Volcano Island.
The most aggravating aspect of all of this is that it seems obvious that developer Blue Tongue knew just how derivative and uninspired their game was while they were making it. SpongeBob and friends constantly make offhand remarks referring to the insipid nature of the game. Just when we found ourselves rolling our eyes at the game's endless jumping puzzles, SpongeBob took the words right out of our mouths. Early on in the game, Danny Phantom also references the boring structure of the game when he says what all of us here were thinking as soon as we booted the game up: "Hit the trees, smash the shells; how typical." These words couldn't be closer to the truth, as Battle for Volcano Island is a tired rehash of gameplay mechanics which we have seen in countless games and which were honestly not all that fun to begin with.
Visually, the game is not the worst thing to ever hit the PS2, but it's not a whole lot better than that. The colors are bright, and the characters are fairly well-animated. Unfortunately, the environments themselves are completely bland and lack any sort of detail whatsoever. All of the textures are flat and blurry, and all of the areas basically look exactly the same. The action is always confined to small areas in which SpongeBob and crew must bash away at anything and everything they see. There is hardly ever more than one thing going on at a time. The game runs at a solid framerate throughout, but honestly, considering how little there is going on on-screen at one time, we would have been more surprised to see slowdown in the game than we were to not see it.
The only marginally redeeming factor of the game is that it honestly has a fairly decent vocal track. Each of the game's characters is voiced by his cartoon voice actor, and is of a pretty high quality. There was a lot of dialogue recorded in the game, and it actually was not nearly as grating as we had come to expect from previous games of this ilk. There were a lot of contextual based sound bites which the characters would utter, but they rarely grew tiresome because of their sheer variety. The music was also pleasant to listen to, creating a whimsical mood which made the game slightly more tolerable than it may have been otherwise.
The game features a whole mass of unlockable content, but hardly any of it is worth the effort players must exert in order to scour the levels for the crucial hidden items. Each of the characters has an alternate costume, which can be unlocked by collecting hundreds of various trinkets and doodads. There are also bonus levels and art galleries, but these are hardly worthy of a second glance, even after players have put in the necessary effort to unlock them.
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