One day, SpongeBob wakes up and begins playing fetch with Gary, leading the snail to dig up a treasure chest. SpongeBob opens the chest and finds a magic bottle, which, upon rubbing it, releases doubloons all over Bikini Bottom and releases The Flying Dutchman. The Flying Dutchman tells SpongeBob that he will take Gary to work on his ship for all eternity; after briefly leaving to check on his ship, he makes good on this promise.
SpongeBob proceeds to travel across 7 different worlds to recover letter tiles; there are nine in each world, which spell out his name, and each set leads to a treasure. These treasures, as explained by one of Squidward's books on "How to Defeat Evil Spirits", are personal possessions from when the Dutchman was alive, which can apparently weaken him; according to the book, collecting all 7 will make SpongeBob immune to the Dutchman's hypnotizing spell, allowing him to put up a fight to save Bikini Bottom.
To collect the tiles, SpongeBob must complete a wide assortment of challenges and missions for other characters: delivering food for Mr. Krabs in Downtown, helping Sandy rid her Tree Dome of bees and wasps, winning a Jelly fishing contest, beating all the games at Plankton's new amusement park "Chum World" and defeating Larry the Lobster in a Karate Match are only a few.
As SpongeBob continues in his quest and becomes increasingly impervious to the Dutchman's power, the Dutchman kidnaps his friends (apparently extremely satisfied with Gary's hard work) and terrorizes Bikini Bottom; this culminates with attempting to murder SpongeBob by dropping heavy crates and barrels into his house, forcing him to flee. He winds up in the Dutchman's graveyard, where he assists the Dutchman's disgruntled pirates get their fair share of "booty" (i.e. doubloons) and collects the seventh and final treasure.
Believing himself to now be immune to the Dutchman, SpongeBob boards the Dutchman's ship and rescues his friends, but is confronted by the Dutchman; his cockiness is crushed by the omnipresent narrator, who informs him that Squidward's book was out of date, and that the new edition explains he is mostly immune to the Dutchman's magic, not completely. He proceeds to fight the Dutchman anyway, and his victory is cemented by sucking the Dutchman back into his bottle.
Afterwards, as the Dutchman's ship catches fire, SpongeBob escapes with his friends to celebrate at the Krusty Krab.Bikini Bottom, the main hub
Downtown Bikini Bottom
The Game Boy Advance version was released in North America on September 10, 2002. This version is a typical platforming game with five worlds: SpongeBob's Home, Jellyfish Fields, Krusty Krab, Tea at the Treedome, Doubloon Bonus World, and a final world on The Flying Dutchman's ship. It differs dramatically from the console versions and features a slightly different plot. SpongeBob is giving Gary the Snail a walk through Jellyfish Fields. Gary then smells Kelp Nip and runs off. After SpongeBob finds Gary with the help of Patrick Star, he finds a chest. Gary opens it, and SpongeBob finds a big sack of coins (which he tosses) and a bottle. SpongeBob then opens it. The Flying Dutchman appears, and is a boss enemy.
Once the player has almost beaten the Dutchman, he tells SpongeBob to find his dining sock and the coins that got scattered around Bikini Bottom. Then, Gary runs off again. While looking for Gary, SpongeBob runs over Plankton. Plankton later finds Gary. He sends a message to the Krusty Krab telling SpongeBob that he found Gary. After SpongeBob looks all over Bikini Bottom, he finds the Dutchman's Ship and climbs up to it. SpongeBob then falls down saying "I'll ask Patrick at Jellyfish Fields". When the cutscene is over, the player can choose between Jellyfish Fields, Krusty Krab, Tea at the Treedome, and replay SpongeBob's Home. All levels have SpongeBob looking for Gary, the Dining Sock, and the coins.
After the player beats all the levels (except The Flying Dutchman's Ship), the Dutchman takes Gary, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, and Plankton. The Dutchman then tells SpongeBob he has 9 minutes left to find it. After the player finds the last of the coins and the dining sock, SpongeBob fights waves of minions created by the Dutchman. After that, SpongeBob battles the Dutchman himself. After The Flying Dutchman is defeated, the player is given a list of wishes to choose from, one of them involving giving SpongeBob his own TV show. When chosen, a screenshot of the show's original logo appears. Then the player can replay all the levels and play as SpongeBob, Mr. Krabs, Gary, Sandy, Squidward, Patrick, and/or Plankton.
On Metacritic, the GameCube version holds a score of 66 out of 100, while the Game Boy Advance version holds a score of 71, both indicating "mixed or average reviews". The GameCube version has a 72% rating on GameRankings, while the Game Boy Advance version has 75% on GameRankings. Despite the GameCube version being fundamentally the same game as on the PlayStation 2 version, (with the exception of an inconvenient loading glitch) the PS2 version was met with mixed reviews. It has a 53% rating on GameRankings.
Anise Hollingshead of GameZone wrote a favorable review of the GameCube version, rating it 7.5 out of 10 and praising the use of a checklist, saying it was "motivating and keeps players on track." However, Hollingshead criticized the game's crude background designs and concluded that while it was a "great game" for children, "Older fans of SpongeBob may want to just rent." Steven Hopper of GameZone wrote a generally positive review of the Game Boy Advance version, rating it 7.3. Hopper said it was an excellent game for young children that could also appeal to people of all ages who were fans of the television series.
Mark Ryan Sallee of IGN wrote a rather harsh review, giving it a mere 4.0 "poor" rating and hardly saying anything redeeming about the game, criticizing it for its sluggish controls, annoying music tracks, Nintendo 64-style graphics, frequent and obnoxious loading screens, simplistic game play, somewhat tedious fetch quests, and the unnecessary use of a checklist which made the game feel like a chore. Sallee ended his review saying: "...Yes, pre-school-aged kids will probably get a kick out of the game, though they'd likely be more entertained mowing down prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto." Play magazine also wrote a generally negative review, giving the game 2 out of 5 stars, citing its mediocre and sparse levels, bad models, and the fact that there are loading times where there should not be any.
The Game Boy Advance version sold an estimated 740,000 copies; in August 2006, the game was ranked at number 31 on Edge magazine's list of "The Century's Top 50 Handheld Games," arranged by number of copies sold. Edge called it "yet another mediocre game that sold brilliantly because of the sponge on its cover," writing that, "Most major review outlets don’t even cover these games as they know their opinion won’t matter, and they’re right – this game knew exactly where its audience was, and delivered right to them."