Game review: SpongeBob SquarePants The Cosmic Shake

Review by John Perry

If you’re looking for a brand-new platforming adventure that comes complete with an intoxicating hit of nostalgia, look no further than The Cosmic Shake.

This single-player video game from publishers THQ Nordic encompasses classic platform gameplay, goofy but creative combat, feelgood comedy and SpongeBob’s signature dry wit in one amazingly animated package to delight fans young and old.

The story is simple, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. After all the key demographic for Cosmic Shake is mostly children, fans of the series and potential parents playing the game with their sprogs. It opens with SpongeBob causing a ruckus in Bikini Bottom after a good idea, in theory, ends up releasing an evil jelly cataclysm from King Neptune himself. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write.

This transports all the characters you know and love – Mr Krabs, Patrick, Sandy, Plankton and more – into bizarre alternative dimensions that you’re tasked with exploring, before rescuing them to save the day. There are seven of these distinct worlds you’ll encounter on your spongetastic travels, ranging from a western-like land, a movie set, a sea of pirates and more. Let’s not spoil all the surprises, as some of them are a joy to experience for the first time.

All the original voice actors return to lend their nuance comedic and childish whimsy to the narrative. And visually, the game is striking, to say the least, with great artistic styling to rival – if not better – most modern platformers available on the market. The cutscenes stand out in particular, and they would grace an actual SpongeBob movie.

Gameplay is simplistic but rewarding, with new abilities being unlocked world-to-world, so there’s always something to work towards with a fresh feel to each stage. You can even return to those worlds to uncover things you did not have access to before, which is a nice touch. Purple Lamp Studios, the developers have clearly been inspired by the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Astro Bot and other great platformers. Keeping the moment-to-moment gameplay enjoyable is the aim, and they hit the target:  you never know quite what is coming next. I didn’t expect to be using an empty pizza box to glide around, for example, nor did I anticipate a fish hook could prove quite so handy. It has an in-universe use for everything.

During your world-hopping adventures, you will have more than 30 distinct, memorable and hilarious costumes to kit out SpongeBob himself. The majority of them are unlocked via gameplay but some were downloadable content for an additional price or with the “BFF Collector’s Edition” that Is available to pre-order now. Hardcore fans with extra cash to splash … knock yourselves out.

The music is also worth a mention here as it takes you back to watching the cartoon all those years ago, with around 100 songs from the original series to enjoy.

Every aspect has been carefully crafted by designers who love everything that makes SpongeBob, SpongeBob. Even the loading screens use the “A Few Hours Later” transitions.

It’s just a pure-hearted, wholesome, comedic piece of fun for all the family to enjoy. It has strong themes of positivity, learning from mistakes and when to trust strangers. That will teach its younger audience an important lesson. And for the rest of us, there are the twists and broken fourth walls to relish.

I couldn’t fault it. It’s well worth your time and money.

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake lands on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch tomorrow (January 31) for the retail price of around £30, depending on the edition you buy.

From Philly to Leicester – an American fan’s perspective on supporting the Foxes

By Jayden Whitworth

For most, travelling to the football to watch their favourite football team entails a short train journey, or drive. But for Ben Ferree, he travelled into the future, and across the Atlantic to watch his favourite team, Leicester, take on Leeds United. Jayden Whitworth talks to Ben about what it’s like supporting from America and where he sees the game going.

THE FRESH PRINCE OF LEICESTER: Ben Ferree pictured outside the fanstore before the game against Leeds.

Leicester. The heart of the East Midlands. The creators of the Walkers Crisp. Gary Lineker. Red Leicester. Pork Pies. David Attenborough. Home to the Foxes and the Tigers. 

Leicester has produced some of England’s finest pleasures.

But few Americans would have been able to tell you exactly where Leicester is. They may not have heard of Leicester before. 

That changed in 2016.

Eden Hazard’s stunner for Chelsea meant Leicester City Premier League were crowned champions. An achievement that no-one thought possible. 

More than 3,000 miles away in Philadelphia, Leicester City were about to take on a new fan, among thousands of others, as a love and passion had been sparked for Philadelphian Ben Ferree.

Philly Cheesey-Grin: Fans gathered at a watchalong

Ben, 24, who lives in Philadelphia, has been following Leicester City since 2016. 

He journeyed across the Atlantic and through time zones to watch Leicester take on Leeds United. 

Supporting the Foxes from the USA proves to be difficult at times, but Ben loves it.

“It is honestly a great experience supporting Leicester City from the USA,” he says.

“Premier League fanship is very different from here in the UK, in the sense that you’re not born into a team, it’s not based on where you live, so it’s a chance for people to pick teams to try and find a connection. A lot of people end up being ‘big six’ fans and it’s a little solace in that aspect.

“One of the best things about being a Leicester fan, even in the US, it does feel like a tight-knit community, it feels like a family as cliché as that is. When you get to the pub at 10am for a 3pm kick-off, we’re all talking to each other, we’re all discussing how everyone has been over the last week,’ he says.

In his time supporting the Foxes, he has joined the rollercoaster of emotions that being a Leicester fan entails, with Ben watching Leicester lift the FA Cup for the first time, from the States.

“So, for the FA Cup, I was in my senior year of college, and I decided that I wasn’t going to go to the pub, I don’t want to be around other people, I want to watch this alone in my living room,” he says.

“I was on the edge of my seat for all 90 minutes, and I will never forget Tielemans’ goal, it was incredible, but I’ll also never forget seeing Wes Morgan get subbed on and being so excited and thinking this is a great way to see out this game,” he says.

HopePhils: Ben (right) pictured with LCFC fans

“Seeing what it meant to everyone and how big of an accomplishment that was, is something that I will remember forever and honestly, even today, first day being like in Leicester itself, I think it put in perspective just how much that means,” he says.

The biggest problem that American fans have with watching Premier League football is the difference in time zones, early starts and late nights are sometimes on the agenda. 

“We’re on the East Coast, so I have to say it’s not the worst thing in the world 3pm kickoffs in England are 10am kick-offs in Philadelphia,” he says.

“The night games are a 3pm kick-off generally, so that’s not too bad, you can usually slide out of work a little early.”

“The ones that are not great are the 12.30pm kick-offs, that’s a 7.30am kick-off for us, but I will say on the West Coast they’re three hours behind the East Coast so 3pm kick-offs are at 7am for them,” he says.

Ben is part of a supporter group in Philadelphia called the Phillyfoxes, allowing he and other Leicester fans meet to watch the Leicester games. 

This is one of many supporter groups in the USA, with fan groups in New York and San Diego.

Rocky Horizons: LCFC fans in Tir na nOg Irish Pub

“The San Diego Foxes have a pub out on the west coast that opens up at 4:30 in the morning, there are always probably five to ten of them out there that early so honestly, it’s not the worst thing in the world,” he says.

“It’s kind of fun to go out at 10am, have a pint, see some friends, watch the match, and sing a few songs.”

There is much debate surrounding the idea of playing Premier League football overseas at the moment. Some suggest that it would bring in a huge amount of money that would help clubs, but some argue that it would lose the essence of the game. The NFL in America has begun branching out and playing matches in England as well. 

“So obviously football in America is a big topic at the moment, I don’t doubt that there will be competitive games played in America, it’s bound to happen,” he says.

“I think it will raise some issues, one of the great things about football is that you have 38 games, one home and one away, so it’s balanced in that sense.”

“If you play competitive games in America, that balance will get thrown off. I think money-wise it’s going to happen at some point I just hope we continue to respect where it came from, and the fans, and not sell out too much to it, but the game is growing rapidly in America, so we will see,” he says.

Some people find the Leicester City project hard to describe. Hard to put into words. Unbelievable. But Ben sums it up in just one word. 

“The simplest word I can give you, to sum up, Leicester City is a community,” he says.

“It’s something you just don’t get with other clubs, especially in the States. I feel that when I’m here as well, going to the pubs in town, everyone knows each other.

“There is just such a great, community feel here,” he says.

For Leicester fans, the rollercoaster will continue. There will be ups and downs. 

But that’s the thrill of it and American fans seem to love it too. 

Leicester is no longer an unknown, it is a city known for its never give up attitude.

VIDEO: Local litter picking group calls for people to act against littering

By Azim Saiyed

Leicestershire Litter Wombles, a group made up of more than 500 active volunteers, has demanded people take the initiative to help tackle the nation’s litter crisis, after a recent Parliamentary visit to raise their concerns.

Founder Bob Lee, 55, said: “There have been areas neglected for years but we are making progress by encouraging businesses to try and clean as well as use recycled products.”

Litter Wombles Bob (Left) and Scott (Right) give their thoughts on the litter problems.

For more information on group pickings or more details, visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/604107836721038

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Ignoring the hysteria: Qatar’s World Cup through the lens of an LGBT fan

Much has been made of Qatar’s awarding of the FIFA World Cup, specifically its record on LGBT issues. Ben Stevens speaks to David Lewis, a Welsh LGBT fan who went to Qatar, for his take on the most controversial World Cup in history.

Al Thumama Stadium, Qatar. Credit: Vecteezy.

Tapping his leg furiously as he sits in a departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, 26-year-old David Lewis feels a buzz.

He is excited and optimistic. The moment he has dreamed of since he was a boy is just around the corner. The moment for which he has saved up long and hard is about to begin.

David is about to jet off and watch his beloved Wales play at the FIFA World Cup, his nation’s first appearance at the tournament for 62 years. He travels alone but knows he can’t miss this moment for the world. 

“As soon as we won the play-off game against Ukraine in the summer, I immediately started looking at flights and hotels,” David says.

“I just knew at that point that nothing was going to stop me from getting to Qatar. I was just hell-bent on going.”

David says he is excited, but he knows deep down his words are somewhat of a charade. He flicks through the sports sites on his phone, seeing that the frenzy whipped up by the press about the Middle East country hosting the tournament is still in overdrive.

He feels his chest tighten with apprehension – as it would if you were a gay man travelling to a country where homosexuality is illegal.

David knows he probably shouldn’t be going, that he is taking a risk. He knows the safer option is to watch on at home with friends and family, with the Christmas tree up and the lights on in the background.

But he also knows that this is an experience he might not ever get to see again.

“Strangely enough, my first impression of Doha was that the place was incredible,” David says of the Qatari capital, a world away from his home in Tycroes, a small village 15 miles north of Swansea.

“I remember I was feeling a bit jittery but everyone was kind and welcoming. I don’t really know what I was expecting but I didn’t necessarily anticipate how blasé about the whole thing everyone would be.

“Everyone there, certainly the Qatari nationals anyway, seemed to be completely in their own bubble. They were either completely oblivious to the criticism by the Western media or just totally shutting it down and ignoring it.

“What I was seeing on the ground was different to the narrative being described back home.”

FINAL STEPS: Stadium 974 in Doha just before the tournament began. Credit: John Lacombe.

David has tickets for Wales’s first two group stage games against the United States and Iran and he plans to watch the final group game against England in a fan zone in the city.

Having explored Doha for a couple of days and begrudgingly watched the Three Lions get off to an emphatic start against Iran, it was nearly time for Wales’s first World Cup game since 1958 at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, a suburb of Doha.

After two carefree days of sightseeing however, that nervous feeling started to course through David’s body again – and it wasn’t just from the anticipation of the game.

He gets to the stadium a bit later than he originally had planned. The new metro system built in Doha specifically for the tournament is exceptionally busy, as fans try and get from one stadium to another. There are a few delays, but nothing major.

He starts to see some videos on his phone, some of which end up being shared hundreds of times across the social networks. He squints his eyes at his screen to get a better look, but he clearly sees some Welsh LGBT fans having some problems at the ticket gates.

“I don’t know what the exact nature of the trouble was but I assumed it stemmed from some of the fans wearing the rainbow bucket hats and rainbow tops underneath their Wales shirts,” David explains.

“I remember subconsciously pulling my phone towards my chest whilst I was still on the train. All of my preconceived thoughts from back home about what might happen came flooding back.

“I suddenly questioned whether they were going to allow me into the stadium. Maybe someone might think I look gay and not let me in.

“I was actually quite scared, not only for myself but for that group of fans too. As a gay man, I’m used to dealing with a few issues like this, but it’s an entirely different ball game when you’re in a nation that is oppressive towards our community.”

Now off the train and with increased angst and trepidation, David presents his ticket at the gate. He wonders if he was wearing a rainbow hat or top whether he would face the same problems as his fellow fans. He isn’t, and he is let in with a wide smile from the guard and with a minimum amount of fuss.

He moves through the stadium and sits with a group of Welsh fans. The last-minute ban on alcohol in the arena fails to diminish his now buoyant mood an iota. He hardly drinks anyway – and never at the football.

David’s ten-day stay in Doha ends as Wales crash out of the tournament with a whimper. Despite his country’s poor performance, he has no regrets about going.

“It’s a shame we went out so early, but despite everything I would do it again in a heartbeat,” he says.

“I think most people within the LGBT community appreciate the concern set out for us in advance of the tournament, although I would be a hypocrite to say that Qatar shouldn’t have hosted the World Cup, having attended it myself.

“The fact of the matter is that gay people are still looking over their shoulder in lots of places, not just Qatar, and until we feel entirely safe in our own countries, how can we expect to feel safe in others?”

Review: The Wizard of Oz at Curve, Leicester. ‘Over the Rainbow, and above my expectations’

By John Perry

The Wizard of Oz has seen many iterations since its conception into a novel by L. Frank Baum, most notably the 1939 Hollywood classic starring the late Judy Garland. Moving forward the best part of a century, Andrew Lloyd Webber redefined the classic into a stage production in 2011. Now in 2022, Curve Theatre has once again redefined what The Wizard of Oz is with their contemporary take on the tale involving deviations in characters and story to create an important version involving environmentalism.

Stepping into the Curve is an experience of its own, a modern building near the heart of Leicester, but I was still not expecting the sheer scale of production, talent, and technological achievement once I took my seat to view this fantastical performance.

The Wizard of Oz creative director Nikolai Foster brought his vision to the Curve theatre and it’s simply breathtaking. Inspired by Route 66 and the American dream, this is a new rendition of a classic that is a must-see. We all are aware of Dorothy’s adventure through Oz, her meeting characters representing her family, friends and learning to understand the importance of home through a magical experience. Here, we still get that core story but with modern twists, comedy, and heart.

You are not merely transported there; you are part of Oz for the next two hours.

The boldest surprise to me was that in the blink of an eye, set pieces meld into the stage with brilliant light shows and 3D effects. Flashes of light, dazzling special effects and environments on stage evolving. You are not pulled into the world; you are immersed into it. You are not merely transported there; you are part of Oz and Dorothy’s adventure for the next two hours.

The cast of the Wizard of Oz at Curve, Leicester. Photograph by Marc Brenner

The acting and vocal talent of the entire cast is brilliant but particularly in Dorothy (Georgina Onuorah), Scarecrow (Jonny Fines) and Glinda (Christina Bianco), phenomenal voices reverberate around the theatre space. They truly know how to pick artists here; the production team is a character of their own too. As is the band hidden beneath the stage – a live orchestra that many wouldn’t even believe was there. To the naked eye it’s simply a musical track playing unless you have the opportunity during the interval or a lucky seat at the front to peer below the stage into a pit of experienced musicians bringing Oz to life.

West End quality without the need for a trip to London is how best to describe it what is witnessed here. It features genuinely funny moments. Hearing a cast member saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – we all know the connotations – made the adults erupt in laughter, while Scarecrow simply leaping, falling, and rolling around the set during his introduction had the kids giggling like a pack of hyenas. An addition I did not expect was a puppet version of Toto that was handled entirely by a single crew member on stage, practical to avoid a real dog.

Aesthetically, it deviates heavily from the original to be in line more with its environmentalist take and contemporary vision, which includes Munchkin land being an industrial and dilapidated town, Emerald City representing a New York landscape and the witches of Oz riding motorcycles instead of brooms. It could have done more in terms of altering the narrative to fit this, but I expect it was a creative choice to stay truer to the original in its script.

Ben Thompson (Toto) and Georgina Onuorah (Dorothy). Photograph by Marc Brenner
Charlotte Jaconelli (The Wicked Witch of the West). Photograph by Marc Brenner

As the second half began it truly showcased more of the time and money that went into this daring new take on the classic. The production value and realism they went for was breathtaking: Emerald City having small Easter eggs on the large LED screen at the back, parodies of McDonald’s, Starbucks and even a nod to Garland herself in a Times Square-like billboard. The little things were not ignored.

The pinnacle of the entire performance must be Onuorah’s rendition of Over the Rainbow as Dorothy. A bright, positive, and soulful take on the theme to the original movie. It gave us goosebumps, and earned a standing ovation from many of the audience.

It’s for everyone. A modern take on a classical tale. A fantastic musical, with amazing vocal talent, technical expertise, music that just engulfs the audience in the moment. It was also wholesome to see a sign language interpreter present on stage for accessibility of disabled audience members. Inclusivity is important to Curve.

This production is incredible. After a pandemic delay, to find its feet like this and still be a powerhouse of entertainment. It is special. A true five-star experience and a must see for all the family this Christmas. It certainly went over the rainbow and above my expectations.

The Wizard of Oz runs at the Curve Theatre in Leicester until January 8.