Super Princess Peach
Chaos erupts once again in the Mushroom Kingdom when Bowser gets his claws on a magic rod that can manipulate the moods of others!
By Heidi Kemps
The concept of role reversal is nothing new - it's a fairly common device used to breathe new life into an old and familiar formula, be it in movies, books, or games. Nintendo's foray into the realm of turning tradition on its head comes in the form of Super Princess Peach, an original 2-D action game where the oft-abducted royal finds herself in a most unusual predicament...
Chaos erupts once again in the Mushroom Kingdom when Bowser gets his claws on a magic rod that can manipulate the moods of others. While Peach is away, the Koopa army attacks the royal palace, sending everyone into an emotional frenzy and taking Mario and Luigi captive in the process. Peach returns from a stroll through the kingdom to discover a castle in chaos and her valiant defenders in the hands of the enemy. Determined, Peach sets out on her own to rescue her friends, but not before she is given a magical, sentient umbrella named Kassa from one of her elder retainers. As it turns out, Kassa has his own reasons for fighting alongside Peach, and he tells her his story as they traverse together through 8 different worlds filled with various perils for the Princess.
Super Princess Peach has the traditional sidescrolling Mario formula at its core. (In fact, the game's general gameplay mechanics and level design will probably remind you more than a little of the Wario Land games, and I wouldn't be surprised if the same development team was behind SPP.) You have 8 different worlds to go through, each with 6 sub-stages. You progress through a stage by working towards the goal, defeating enemies, avoiding obstacles, and occasionally solving a simple puzzle along the way.
If Peach loses all of her health (represented by hearts in the top-left corner of the top screen), she will have to start the level over again. While Peach's abilities in Super Mario Bros. 2 were limited to plucking veggies from the ground and long, floaty jumps, she has grown far more adept in her combat skills for this outing. She can knock enemies over with a stomp, break blocks with her head, and pick up and throw various objects with Kassa's aid. She can also have Kassa learn new abilities and attacks to further aid her progress, such as a hovering jump and a charged, powerful strike. You'll even see him transform into a DS-microphone-powered submarine to cruise through the dangers of the deep ocean.
Super Princess Peach also makes use of the DS's touch screen by introducing an original new gameplay mechanic that allows you to alter Peach's mood. On the bottom screen is an image of Peach surrounded by four different colored hearts, each representing a different mood. By tapping a heart, Peach's mood changes, and she gains abilities specific to the mood: giddiness allows her to soar into the sky as a weightless whirlwind, anger turns her into a leaden weight engulfed by flames of rage, sadness causes her to cry a river of water while dashing at sonic speeds, and contentment refills her health grdually. You will need to use these abilities to solve puzzles, avoid obstacles, and defeat bosses.
There is a small gauge beneath her health that depletes as she uses her emotion abilities, which can be refilled by collecting jewels or having Kassa swallow enemies you have picked up. The emotions are an interesting and fun gameplay mechanic, and the ability to activate her powers with the quick touch of the finger integrates it into play very smoothly. Perhaps someone would argue that the concept is sexist in nature, but it's so funny and good-natured that I can't imagine anyone being offended by it.
As far as in-game rewards go, Peach collects coins and items by defeating enemies or finding them in the level itself. She also can find 3 kidnapped Toads in each sub-stage, along with other items such as pieces for a jigsaw puzzle mini-game and music for the sound test. These sort of items are generally a bit more difficult to obtain, but none are particularly tough to snag. Since Peach doesn't have "lives" and doesn't gain anything from picking up a certain number of coins, she instead uses them to buy things from a special store. Here she can purchase extra health, a longer emotion gauge, sound clips, puzzle pieces, new abilities for Kassa, and more.
As you would expect from a traditional Mario game, the sprite-based graphics are bright, colorful and well-drawn, giving Peach's fantasy world a rich and unique feel of its own. They're not really too much of a step up from Nintendo's GBA efforts, but they suit the game perfectly. The music is mostly forgettable - Koji Kondo, Nintendo's resident Mario maestro, wasn't involved with Super Princess Peach, and it shows. While there are some pleasant-sounding ditties playing in some of the stages, it lacks the melody, composition strength, and memorability of previous Mario music.
It has a solid foundation, but alas, Peach is far from perfect. While it's not a bad (or even a mediocre) game by any means, it simply isn't on the same level as previous Mario installments and spin-offs. Its biggest issue is that it lacks the sort of surprises and rewards for exploration and experimentation that previous Mario games featured in spades. Though you are given 3 Toads and various other bonuses to find in each level, it is very easy to figure out how to find them all by using simple logic. There's very little else of note to go exploring for, either - no bonus games (beyond a simple jigsaw puzzle), no particularly interesting or unique sub-sequences, no rare power-ups - just extra coins, hearts, and jewels. The offerings of Peach's stages cannot even come close to the clever puzzles of Yoshi's Island and the obscure surprises scattered about SMB3 and Super Mario World.
To confound this problem, Super Princess Peach is very easy. Though there's a few sequences that will take a bit of practice to get through completely, there's not much danger of losing all of Peach's health, as restoration is easily available. The stages are quite short, and the various "gimmicks" in each are a breeze to conquer. You'll most likely find yourself blazing through stages and collecting everything at a breakneck pace, with little need or desire to replay them except to collect extra coins. The only real challenges are the bosses, but even that is made simple - there's a hint outside of each encounter that tells you exactly what you need to do to defeat the boss!
On the other hand, the relative simplicity of the game and easy difficulty makes it an ideal title for both younger players and people who don't usually play games. In particular, I would recommend Super Princess Peach as an excellent title for young girls. I'd imagine this would have been my absolute favorite game if I had played it when I was 10 years old. I mean this in a very good way, of course. I'd much rather see a quality, well-made title like Super Princess Peach given to budding girl gamers than a shoddy, frustrating mess of a game based on a license like Bratz, Barbie, or what-have-you.
In the end, Super Princess Peach is a charming and fun little diversion. It's far from being in the classic pedigree of other Mario titles, but it is an enjoyable traditional platform game that is accessable to a wide variety of audiences. And to the guys... don't worry about it compromising your masculinity - give it a go and I'm sure you'll see its appeal, too.