Who’s got a great new puzzle game for Apple devices? SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!

I was eighteen when SpongeBob Squarepants debuted on television, so I never really saw much appeal in the guy. He seemed like a stupid, obnoxious, flash in the pan, and I’ve always been a little irritated at how popular he’s become. As a result, I never watched the cartoon, saw the movie, or played any of the tie-in games. However, after spending some time with SpongeBob Marbles & Slides on my iPhone and iPad, I’m starting to rethink my position on this strange little sea creature.

Let’s get this out of the way: this is a good game. In fact, I’m tempted to say that it’s a great one. The premise of the game is simple: players have to move a number of marbles (which wear animated faces of various SpongeBob characters) from one area of the screen to another. Of course, the game makes this rather challenging.

Sometimes you have to move all the marbles on the screen, sometimes you only have to move a certain amount. When the level starts, you have an opportunity to take the layout in before you hit a button to get the marbles moving. During this point of time, you can paint in lines that act as barriers and slides which guide the marbles and/or prevent them from touching goo that appears on the screen.

SpongeBob Marbles & Slides SpongeBob Marbles & Slides

If a marble touches the goo, the level ends and you have to start it over. This is often hard to avoid, since you’re are only given a limited amount of paint and your performance receives a higher grade if you use as little of the stuff as possible.

Controlling the marbles is challenging, but it never feels like it’s too hard so as to be frustrating. In addition to gravity, tilting your Apple device affects the direction of movement, and devices like magnets can be used to move them, too. Generally, the action is the same on both the iPad and the iPhone, though I did notice that the marbles responded faster when I tilted the phone than they did on the iPad.

Once or twice, I encountered a situation where marbles would get stuck and couldn’t get manipulated free, which meant I had to restart the level. However, in the thirty-odd levels I made it through (there are a total of 60 available right now, but more are promised soon), this wasn’t a common occurrence. As levels progress, new elements come into play too, such as force fields that have to be turned off or other marbles to be avoided.

The production values in SpongeBob Marbles & Slides are also really strong. Everything (and I mean everything – the level designs, the menus, the various design elements, and, obviously, the marbles) looks great, popping with cartoony vibrance. The soundtrack is equally charming and fun, featuring a lot of nice tropical-sounding music, too.

The only real drawback is that the dialogue between characters is portrayed via text boxes on the screen. While it’s well-written, the dialogue is a bit difficult to read on the iPhone’s screen due to the text’s size. On the iPad it’s fine, but you’re going to need either perfect sight or some decent reading glasses if you’re playing the game on your phone.

There’s a lot to like in SpongeBob Marbles & Slides, and there’s a lot to play. It’s charming and funny and challenging and it’s way better than a licensed game has any right to be. This is a great little physics puzzler, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better made title in the field.