Experienced gamers will probably think the adventure is too easy, but Peach’s first solo quest can please anyone with a love for leisurely platformers; it may never be brilliant, but it is very competent, stunningly charming, as well as finely produced
For some strange reason, Nintendo was pretty shy about releasing brand new sidescrollers during the Game Boy Advance era. Case in point, the entirety of the series known as Super Mario Advance – which had a whopping four installments – was exclusively made up of remakes; moreover, the incredibly prolific Wario Land franchise, which had seen a total of three entries in the previous generation, just got one fresh chapter for the handheld and the same applies to Donkey Kong, who only took the spotlight on King of Swing. It was an oddly conservative approach for a system whose 32-bit hardware could produce adventures visually on par with what the Super Nintendo had achieved, but whatever reasoning contributed to that business decision, it was certainly gone by the time the Nintendo DS came out.
Whether inspired by the new possibilities brought in by two screens and touch commands or motivated by completely different causes, the Nintendo DS was a system with plenty of new sidescrollers carrying first-party properties, even if their quality was not always high. Wario had yet another quest in Master of Disguise; Yoshi took on two adventures heavily inspired by the 1995 classic Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island; and, of course, the mustachioed plumber himself got to star in a new 2-D platformer for the first time in more than a decade when New Super Mario Bros. came out to meet astonishing commercial success. Out of the entire bunch, however, there is no game that best exemplifies Nintendo’s sudden urge to revive sidescrollers than Super Princess Peach.
The reasoning behind that evaluation is pretty simple. Mario, Wario, and Yoshi were – by the time – pretty recurrent figures in the field since each one essentially had an entire platforming saga associated with their name. Princess Peach, on the other hand, was often relegated to the role of being kidnapped so that Mario would have an excuse to go out and stomp on Goombas and Koopas alike. Sure, anyone who had gone through Super Mario RPG knew the girl could handle enemies as well as her usual rescuer; and those who had played the plumber’s sporting endeavors were aware she was athletically gifted. Yet, having her be the sole hero and protagonist of a journey was an entirely new concept; one that was enough to intrigue Nintendo fans whilst offering the company’s developers some pretty interesting design opportunities.
The surprising quest is initiated by an odd series of events. Word of a fabled location known as Vibe Island spreads around the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser hears of it and learns the place is rumored to be the home of an artifact called the Vibe Scepter, which can control people’s emotions. Planning to use it for evil, naturally, he sets up a villa on the island and sends his minions out to find the object. In a rare display of competence, they succeed, and the villain proceeds to use the scepter to unleash chaos in the Mushroom Kingdom, kidnapping Mario, Luigi, and lots of Toads in the process. Peach escapes his clutches on account of being out for a walk at the time of the attack, and when she returns to find the whole place in disarray, she decides to play the role of hero and save her captured friends. Therefore, she sets out on an adventure, but not before a worried Toadsworth handles her a sentient umbrella.
As it turns out, Peach and her umbrella make up quite a malleable platforming duo. If she stomps most enemies, they will be stunned and vulnerable to being picked up, hence allowing her to throw them around. However, when either dealing with foes that cannot be jumped on – like Piranha Plants – or looking to get rid of the bad guys with a single hit, attacking with the umbrella is the best option. Peach’s main weapon, though, goes a little beyond being a glorified stick. Once they have accumulated enough coins, players can visit a shop to buy a trio of extra skills that let Peach use her umbrella to: float in the air for a short while; perform a ground pound; and even shoot a laser beam. These moves are not necessary to beat the game, but they can be rather helpful nonetheless, especially the additional airtime, which makes it easier to land trickier jumps.
The most unique abilities carried by Peach, however, are related to her emotions. At all times, on the bottom screen, four differently colored hearts are visible and tapping those will activate feelings that grant the character additional powers until the heart is either tapped again or Peach’s Vibe Gauge (which can be restored by picking up crystals or consuming stunned foes) is depleted. With joy, she can twirl around and even float. With rage, she becomes engulfed in fire and her jumps land with a force that makes it seem the princess is composed of solid rock. With gloom, she starts crying and also achieves pretty notable speeds when running. And with calm she can recover health. Some may be bothered it is necessary to quickly remove one’s fingers from the buttons to trigger these skills – especially during boss battles, when reactions need to be faster – but for the most part the setup works really well.
There is a comment to be made about the somewhat sexist notion that exists in implying a female character’s main sources of power are her emotions. But from a pure gameplay standpoint, it is a mechanic that yields good results as far as design goes. There are platforms that fall down so fast they can only be traversed if Peach is crying and plants that grow when touched by her tears. There are lanterns to be lit and bridges to be burned by the fire of her anger. There are obstacles that are overcome solely by her twirls of joy and elevated structures exclusively reachable if she floats. And the list goes on. In the end, like it happens with Wario and his transformations, Yoshi and his eggs and tongue, and Donkey Kong and his simian skills and animal buddies, Peach’s feelings are key in giving her platforming adventure a nature that is considerably different from that of Mario’s quests.
If in terms of skills Peach is rather distinct from her savior, the same cannot be said about the framework of her adventure. Super Princess Peach is broken into eight uniquely themed worlds, each containing five stages and ending with a boss battle. The sole difference is that these closing encounters against big baddies are all preceded by brief decent mini-games that have players using touch screen commands to guide the heroine through a series of obstacles, like when they have to scare away boos by tapping the lower screen before they can make it to the top and hit Peach. The title’s almost complete overlap in structure with Super Mario sidescrollers, however, is far from being negative; after all, it is a setup that has repeatedly proved it works well, and here it does that again.
Drilling down to the levels themselves, Super Princess Peach is more Yoshi’s Island than it is Super Mario World. In other words, rather than being a game of left-to-right obstacle courses filled with bottomless pits, its stages are a bit more intricate, being composed of multiple segments connected by warp pipes and featuring plenty of instances when they branch out into alternative nigh labyrinthine paths. It is a design choice that allows levels to be formed by individual pieces of diverging natures (such as joining a small room, a tall climb, a flat platforming challenge, and an auto-scrolling portion into the same course), and the game uses that variety well, since it goes along with Peach’s nature as a versatile protagonist who can not only jump, but also solve small puzzles via her emotional skills.
Despite its more complex level design, the fact of the matter is that the game drinks heavily from the Super Mario source. Consequently, it is inevitable that Super Princess Peach be measured against the sidescrolling entries of that franchise, and – in that sense – it accumulates both losses and victories. Its defeats are in design and difficulty. Regarding the first, Super Princess Peach does come up with pleasant stages that are quite polished, but that is truly all that they are. The quest is enjoyable, undoubtedly, and it has nice ideas, like its usage of emotions to create new obstacles and even change the behavior of signature enemies (Green Koopas are rather different from Mad Green Koopas, for instance). Yet, there is no blatantly remarkable creative spark to be seen in its levels, since they never really rise above the threshold of very competent.
As for challenge, most Super Mario games – especially those that came out from the Super Nintendo era onward – have been very good at making their main quest hard but manageable, while reserving truly tough extra content to platforming aficionados who want to go for full completion. Super Princess Peach could easily have done the same, but it simply does not. Even if the difficulty goes up as the game progresses, reaching a good level in the last couple of worlds, it rarely feels like a test, perhaps because the heroine has a health bar made up of three hearts – which usually means six hits – that can not just be expanded by buying some relatively pricey upgrades at the shop, but also healed via the calm emotion provided she has enough vibe to use it.
Additionally, the game’s extra collectibles are not that hard to find. By holding three Star Coins in each of its stages, New Super Mario Bros. – which would come out one year later – managed to infuse some optional challenge in its otherwise excessively easy levels. Super Princess Peach anticipates the trend, scattering three kidnapped Toads on all courses, and as a nice touch, whenever entering an area where one of them can be found, the Princess Peach on the bottom screen will react via an exclamation mark. However, while some Toads are nicely hidden, others are in plain sight, which undermines the challenge a little bit. And the same applies to the equally collectible puzzle pieces.
Truth be told, easily found or not, both Toads and jigsaws are fun to collect, even if the second can be troublesome to track down completely due to how the game has no indication to let players know in which levels the missing puzzle pieces are. Still, together with the coins, which gain purpose since they can be exchanged for useful assets at the shop, these items do wonders in pushing Peach to fully explore stages and look for secrets, which plays right into the hands of the intricate Yoshi’s-Island-style course design employed in the game. To top it all off, rescuing all Toads unlocks a whopping twenty-four new levels (three in each world) after the game is beaten and every boss is defeated again in a slightly tougher battle, which should be enough motivation for nearly everyone to look for the little dudes. Sure, given they are optional, these extra courses are not as tough as they could ideally have been; however, it is hard to complain about an abundance of extra content that almost amounts to a whole new game.
If it loses to other Super Mario sidescrollers in design and challenge, Super Princess Peach comes out on top in matters of charm and boss battles. In relation to the former, the game is quite simply a visual joy. While the New Super Mario Bros. franchise opted for a look that verged on generic, Super Princess Peach is an utter delight of colors and animation, both in gameplay and in a surprisingly polished story presentation. The themes of its worlds may be pretty standard for the Super Mario property (forest, beach, icy mountain, clouds, and so on), but save for in Yoshi’s Island they had never been so bright, colorful, and alive. Meanwhile, its animations and models are beautifully smooth, and the way different emotions affect how Peach and foes look is particularly noteworthy. When it comes to bosses, the battles might be generally easy, but they are varied, visually great, and make great use of Peach’s skills.
Super Princess Peach ends up landing on a bit of an awkward spot. It is, by all means, a solid platformer with a good deal of content: its main quest ought to last around eight hours, with more to come for those who want to fully complete it; and save for the fact there is, for some reason, a total lack of checkpoints in the levels although some can be relatively long, nothing about it is frustrating. Furthermore, it oozes charm in its graphics; it finds, in Peach’s emotions, unique mechanics to call its own; and it even manages to use touch commands in a clever way, be it in the triggering of those feelings, in the small challenges that precede boss battles, and in a few extra mini-games it contains. But it is, perhaps, squeezed too tightly between two other sidecrolling series (Super Mario and Yoshi’s Island) from which it borrows a few ideas, which may sadly explain why Nintendo did not keep exploring the format.
The bottom line is that people looking for accessible and enjoyable sidescrollers made by Nintendo are likely to first venture into the Super Mario series, which is perfectly understandable given the strength of its name and the quality of its design. On most fronts, Super Princess Peach cannot compare, making it – therefore – an option only for those seeking something slightly different. Yet, there is plenty of value to be found here. Experienced gamers will probably think the adventure is too easy, but Peach’s first solo quest can please anyone with a love for leisurely platformers. It may never be brilliant, but it is very competent, stunningly charming, as well as finely produced. And thanks to the unique abilities of its protagonist, the existence of Super Princess Peach is more than justified, even if it might be overshadowed by its more acclaimed peers.