Super Princess Peach
For several decades now, Princess Peach has been stuck on the sidelines, serving not only as the Princess of Mushroom Kingdom and the love interest of Mario, but also as a simple plot device for countless Mario games. We as gamers have been saving Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser since the 1980s. The poor lass has only been out of the clutches of evil for a few brief moments in her lengthy existence and has never officially starred in her own, unique game until last year with the release of Super Princess Peach on the DS. It was a long time coming, considering Luigi has been featured in a couple of titles as the main character. However, the wait was well worth it, as the Princess’ game is much better than any game that Mario’s lanky brother has led (I personally disliked Luigi’s Mansion). But though it stars Princess Peach, it’s not a “girl’s game.” Yes, the box is girly. Yes, the game features lots of bright pastel colors, enough to nauseate even the Easter Bunny at times. But who the hell cares? The bottom line is that while this is a cute game, it’s also an addictive platformer with a ton of levels that you will enjoy.
The plot is simple and effective. You’re Princess Peach, and it’s your turn to save the day. Armed with a talking umbrella that serves as both a guide and a weapon, you must travel through Vibe Island, a strange island off the coast of the Mushroom Kingdom and rescue Mario, Luigi and several loyal Toads that were captured during Bowser’s attack on the Princess’ castle. Princess Peach escaped the assault and now must travel through eight different environments, from sandy lagoons to lava-filled volcanoes to rescue her friends and defeat Bowser. Along the way, she’ll also figure out some of the secrets behind her incredible umbrella and also stomp out several of Bowser’s most devious allies. After battling her way through more than forty stages, Princess Peach will face a final confrontation that will determine the life of her love.
The first thing I noticed while playing Super Princess Peach is how different it was from traditional Mario platformers. Your time in each stage is no longer limited by a timer in the corner of the screen, which leaves you free to explore impressively large stages to your heart’s content. No longer do you need to worry about continues and lives, as both have been eliminated in favor of a health system more in line with The Legend of Zelda than Super Mario Bros. Also eliminated are the mushrooms, flowers, and stars that have super-powered Mario for years. Instead, you use Princess Peach’s Vibe powers, or really, emotional powers, to conquer your foes and solve puzzles.
I must admit that these “emotional powers” are completely sexist. I was honestly a little appalled at the very idea of them. The whole concept is that, on a whim, Princess Peach can drastically alter her mood. She can instantly begin crying, which not only causes ridiculous torrents of water to pour out of her eyes, but also causes her to run incredibly fast. Or, she can get incredibly angry, during which she’ll stomp around with a scowl on her face sheathed in a ball of fire that can kill any enemy that dares threaten her. She can also enter a state of elation, where she soars into the heavens and spins fast enough to cause a mini-tornado to form around her girlish figure. Her final emotion allows her to replenish her health while she grins like a giddy schoolgirl. To prevent overuse of these powers, a power meter, similar to a magic meter, is included that must be replenished either through crystals found scattered through stages or by killing foes in a certain fashion with Princess Peach’s umbrella.
Princess Peach must use these powers not only to vanquish your typical goombas and turtles, but also solve a variety of puzzles that allow her to explore her environments more in-depth. You can get through a stage, generally, without really needing to rely on your Vibe Powers, but if you want to really explore it, unlock all of a stage’s secrets; you’re going to need to activate her powers. Maybe you’ll need to fly up to a hidden ledge or make Princess Peach cry in order to run over a quickly collapsing bridge. Activating these powers is simply as they are large buttons on the touch pad, clearly intended to be hit with a thumb while your hands are firmly wrapped around your DS and your stylus stowed away in its holder.
Most of the time, you’re going to be wandering through the stages defeating enemies with Princess Peach’s umbrella. The umbrella is particularly effective. Not only can you whack enemies with it, but you can also use it to pick them up and heave them at another group of enemies. It really doesn’t make much sense, but all in all, it’s pretty fun to pick up a goomba and toss it at an unsuspecting turtle. I just wish the developers had thought about it a bit more, the animation looks silly. Princess Peach will scoop up her victim, but instead of being stowed away in her umbrella, it simply stands on her head, looking bewildered.
The stages themselves are eclectic and varied. Most of your time will be spent on dry land, wandering through forests and beaches, working your way through the stage, collecting coins and other odd extras scattered about, like musical notes that unlock musical scores that can be played on the main menu. Coins are used not only to increase your health and vibe meters, but also improve the powers of your umbrella. A war-profiting Toad will give you the ability to float for a few seconds extra midair or shoot energy out of your umbrella, provided you give the greedy bastard enough gold.
There are a number of features and challenges that I encountered in this game that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Underwater levels put Princess Peach in a submarine-type contraption and you can blow into the built-in microphone on the DS to shoot energy at fish and octopi. One particular stage, late in the game, requires that you exactly mimic statues of Princess Peach whenever massive eyes in the back of the room open up or else you must restart. This begins easily with just simply having to stand in a certain direction, but ultimately gets more complex when you have to time jumps perfectly to match the moment that his eyes open to scan his home.
Sadly, this was one of the only moments that held me up in the game. Without lives or continues and with health-regenerative (and eventually vibe-regenerative) super-powers, I died only a couple of times. The boss battles were intimidating initially, but once the trick was discovered, rarely did the battles require that you do anything but time a few jumps or activate a vibe power at the precise moment. I also thought that each world was a level or so too long. With each world consisting of six stages, counting the boss stage, they don’t seem that intense when compared to Super Mario World. The difference here is that the stages are much bigger than Mario’s stages and exploration is essential to unlocking all of the features of the game. After spending so much time on four levels, it’s kind of challenging to get excited about the fifth, which looks nearly identical in colors and enemies. It also makes each level less memorable. As I got to the fifth stage, I often caught myself rushing as quickly as possible so that I could get to the boss, defeat him, and move on to a new world that might be more exciting and fresh.
Super Princess Peach is still a fun game to play, despite some poor choices on the developer’s part. It’s easy, the stages kind of mush together, and I think I’ve already said enough about the vibe powers, but it’s also inventive and creative. There’s an addictive quality to the game and because of my fondness for the Princess, I couldn’t help but press on and help her save her man and Kingdom. Super Princess Peach tries new things and that’s definitely something that should be recognized. Some of those things worked and others didn’t, but those mistakes didn’t hurt the final package too much. Could Super Princess Peach have been a better game? Yes, it most certainly could have. But is this still a fun game that you should give a shot? Definitely.