Pros: Very cute. Fun, non-violent games.
Cons: The games may not be as entertaining for adults.
My just-turned 3 year old LOVES SpongeBob SquarePants. We're really not sure why, as we rarely let him watch the television show (he's a bit too young to understand that Patrick is an idiot or that Squidward really isn't very nice, and I don't want him emulating any of the characters). Still, he's crazy about the SpongeBob character so we don't mind getting him SpongeBob-themed items.
Ever since I got my husband the Namco 5-in-1 Games joystick/game system from Toymax, my son, husband, and I have spent valuable (and fun) bonding time playing the games together. When I saw that the same company had put out a SpongeBob-shaped controller with 5 fun-yet-simple SpongeBob games, I knew that I had found a great gift for my son's 3rd birthday.
The SpongeBob SquarePants TV Games system is a portable joystick that contains 5 SpongeBob-themed videogames. The games are all contained in the joystick itself (so there are no cartridges to keep up with -- but no ability to add additional games later). To hook it up you simply plug the 2 RCA jacks into your television/VCR/whatever.
The controller is simple and quite adorable -- it is actually SpongeBob's face! His nose is the joystick proper, with the fire-button in the upper left-hand corner of his square head. On the front-side panel there is a reset button for switching between the various games, and an on/off switch complete with a little LED light to tell you whether the unit is off or on (handy for when you don't have it plugged up to a tv-screen). SpongeBob's likeness is quite good, with his features molded into the plastic. The boxy shape is very similar to the Atari joystick put out by the same manufacturer.
After plugging in the audio/video jacks you are presented with a menu screen that lets you choose between the 5 games using the joystick and the fire button. To get back to the menu you can press the "reset" button (or say "No" at the end of a came when it asks if you want to continue).
Four "AA" batteries (not included) are required. The manufacturer recommends this console for children ages 6 and up.
The Game: - This one is similar to "Breakout". The top of the screen is filled with bubbles (of various colors and patterns). You control SpongeBob, who runs around the bottom of the screen and throws a bubble up to pop the other bubbles. There are lots of little extra bonus items you can get to make the game more interesting (such as one that makes SpongeBob wider, spatulas that you can fire, or one that makes the popping-bubble go slower).
Our Experiences: - My son loves this game because he like bubbles (especially popping bubbles), but it is a bit too difficult for him. Mom and Dad both like to play it though, particularly because of the little extras that make it more interesting and the unique patterns of the bubbles (like a fish, like a crab, etc).
Sandy's Surf Adventure:
The Game: - Sandy rides her surfboard through Bikini Bottom (their hometown) to save it from a giant bull worm. You have to dodge various baddies (jellyfish, sea urchins, etc) and you can shoot acorns as you make your way through the city. It is basically one of those side-scrolling cityscape type games where you dodge and shoot.
Our Experiences: - We haven't played this game very much. My son hasn't mastered the skill of dodging and shooting, and it starts off too slow for my husband and I to be entertained for very long.
Invasion of the Hooks:
The Game: - People on the water's surface are fishing, and the hooks are dropping down into Bikini Bottom. You play SpongeBob and you must save your friends Sandy, Squidward, and Patrick as the hooks snag them and attempt to pull them up to the surface. You throw Krabby Patties at the hooks (different hooks take a different number of hits before they'll release their victims).
Our Experiences: - My son really enjoys this game, and we've actually seen quite a bit of improvement in his hand/eye coordination since he started playing it. You've got to really line SpongeBob up right under the hook to hit it, and my son is getting quite good at it. The game is simple enough that he can play it, but interesting enough that he doesn't tire of it too quickly. It does end abruptly though - as soon as one of your friends goes off the screen the game is over.
Patrick and the Maze:
The Game: - This game is a huge maze where you, as Patrick, must search for your friends. There are electric barriers as well as jellyfish and spiky sea urchins you must avoid. Every time you find a friend you must complete a mini-game twice to open some of the electric barriers (complete it 4 times to win a star/life).
Our Experiences: - This is one of my son's favorite games. It is simple enough that he can play it for a while without the game ending (and because you get 8 "lives" he can even mess up quite a bit and still keep going). I must admit that this one is rather fun -- the maze is huge, and you can catch the jellyfish in your net and throw them to keep them from harming you. My son loves the sea urchins (he calls them "bees", we're not sure why) and gets very excited whenever he sees one. The mini-games are pretty simple (one is Simon-like where you copy the pattern, another is a find-the-pearl/cup-shuffling game, etc). My son can't really do the mini-games, but he can do everything else.
The Super Chum Bucket:
The Game: - Plankton has kidnapped Sandy and wants the Krabby Patty recipe in exchange for her return. You play SpongeBob, who is trying to save her. The game is quite Donkey-Kong-esque -- with Sandy held at an upper corner of the screen, and SpongeBob must climb ladders and jump ledges while avoiding a variety of obstacles.
Our Experiences: - This one is definitely too hard for my little guy, so we rarely play it with him. My hubby and I play it occasionally, and it is quite challenging. In particular, the controls don't work well whenever you want to climb a ladder, so if seconds count you will probably kick the proverbial chum-bucket.
Our Thoughts & Experiences:
This joystick has been a big hit with my 3 year old boy. Some of the games are too hard for him, but this toy isn't really geared toward his age group. That being said, there's nothing "bad" in the game -- no blood & guts, no horrible deaths. The worst that happens is that your character falls down and loses a "star", or a hook pulls a character off of the screen. There's no real violence, so I don't mind him playing it.
My husband and I do have fun as well, but I'll admit that it isn't quite as fun for us as the Namco 5-in-1 Games one. The Namco one has the added bonus of being nostalgic and reminding us of our former video arcade glory-days. The SpongeBob games are fun and are quite similar to other games that we like (Donkey Kong, Breakout, etc), but it still isn't quite as cool as the real thing, at least for us. The graphics are okay -- not as good as most games released today, but superior to the older gaming systems.
I do love the look of the joystick -- it is VERY cute and an excellent likeness. I like the fact that I can throw it in an overnight bag and take it anywhere with us. What I DON'T like is that, as cute and portable as these joystick-games are, they aren't expandable. We already have 2 of them, and the Ms. Pac-Man/Namco 2 one is in stores now and I must admit that I would like to have it. It really doesn't matter how small they are if you keep buying them and end up with 10-20 of them scattered around your house. I also wish that they came with AC-jacks for at-home play. Unlike our Namco joystick, this one does save high scores on the games that keep them (which isn't every game).
My son, the big SpongeBob fan in our house, really loves this joystick. The games are cute and while some are above his skill level, I've seen definite improvement in his hand-eye coordination playing the easier ones. Even I find many of the games to be fun, and it gives our family something to do together. We like it!