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RELEASE DATE (NA): February 27, 2006 GENRE: Action/Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Peach impediment.

The princess isn't in another castle today because she's on her very own quest! After her first outing as a playable character in Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES (even though that was merely a dream sequence in Mario's sleep), the skillset of Princess Peach, also known as Princess Toadstool, has been largely dormant, with her role having been reduced to either token damsel in distress or sports/party game participant. Finally, almost two decades after her last action experience, Princess Peach came back in her very own platformer. And it's... moderately pleasing. In a reversal of fates, Bowser decided not to try and kidnap Princess Peach, probably because that wasn't working out too well for him. It's always a good idea to tackle the cause of a problem rather than merely the symptoms, much as it's a better idea to get that oversized bloated appendix taken out rather than chugging a few ciders to make the pain temporarily subside so you can enjoy that extra episode of Fawlty Towers on DVD. Instead, Bowser abducted Mario, Luigi, and Toad all in one fell swoop! Why couldn't he have done this before? And why are the Mario Bros. so easy to capture? I hope they at least put up a fight beforehand!

Well, the story's a little more complicated than this. Imagine that Bowser has a LOT of money. He's like Wario but with a more rebellious hairstyle. Hearing about a cool vay-cay spot called Vibe Island, he immediately founds a summer home there, as if the winters in his region are too cold. (You never see the lava freezing.) Once there, he discovers the Vibe Scepter, which can change anyone's emotional state. He overrides all of the Mushroom Kingdom's Toad population with the scepter, leaving the Mario Bros. much more vulnerable to a kidnapping. This still fails to explain how they couldn't defend themselves. A Toad manages to escape Bowser's grasp and returns to tell Princess Peach about all the bad stuff going down. Peach makes it her mission to rescue the brothers, but not before she is given full access to Perry, a parasol that can speak. Little is known about Perry, but don't you worry: between worlds, we get to watch really dull and uninteresting cutscenes that slowly reveal where Perry came from. I wish I could have skipped these.

The main game is very much like a typical platformer. Each world has six stages and a boss battle and typically has a theme that goes with them, such as a volcano, a glacier, a beach... you know, the standard tropes. On a positive note, Peach is kept away from underwater areas for the most part, and when she IS underwater, she somehow has earned herself a submarine. Too bad it wasn't the sandwich. Peach primarily uses her parasol to attack basic enemies, which actually aren't as big of a problem as I would have expected. In fact, there really isn't much that will bring you to your knees, aside from your own personal ineptitude, because most enemies and obstacles barely cause a scratch on you. Even if they do, there are multiple ways to replenish your health. I'll get to that in a moment.

The game couldn't stand up on simply the merit of being a run-of-the-mill platformer. Peach doesn't have that kind of brand power flying solo. She needed a gimmick. So the creative bigwigs at Nintendo all sat at a table, thinking not very hard, until someone stood up in excitement, upending that very table. "She's a woman! Why not have her use her feelings?" Eyes opened wide, and jaws dropped to the floor before being politely picked up. No one objected. And so it was. Princess Peach uses her emotions to help her survive. At the top of the screen is a squiggly line, her Vibe Meter. By tapping any of four coloured hearts on the touch screen, Peach can activate one of four emotions at will, each with its own special powers. Using them causes the Vibe Meter to slowly decrease. You can refill the vibe meter by snagging blue jewels scattered about or by engulfing enemies with your parasol.

Me soul on fire... me dress on fire, dang, it's burnt, burnt, burnt...

Tapping the yellow heart fills Peach with joy: she can fly through the air or make a tornado happen around her as she descends. Blue represents gloom: she'll cry like someone just stabbed a family of cats in front of her, and those showers of tears can water plants or extinguish fires; she also runs quickly when she's upset. Red is rage, and it sets her ablaze; she can also cause earthquakes. Finally, we have the green heart, representing calmness. When this is activated, she'll slowly regain health, unless she is hurt by something. It's a novel idea, and the emotions can be fun to use, but there are still sexist undertones. Actually, they're not undertones if they're shoved right in your face.

Throughout each stage, there are many things to find. Three Toads are hidden in each stage, and finding them will yield better results at the end of the game; that is, you can't even fight the final boss without locating each and every one. There are also hearts for health restoration and plenty of coins around. These coins can be spent in Toad's shop, where you can buy upgrades for your health and vibe meters, new parasol moves, and the hippest music for the jukebox this side of Yoshi's Island. Finishing the game can be rewarding as well, as doing so unlocks three new stages in every world, essentially increasing the game's length by a whopping fifty percent. And, for those who just can't get enough Peachy goodness, there are mini-games to whittle away your precious DS battery life if the pressures of jabbing Goombas with your umbrella prove too taxing.

One question still stands, however: if Princess Peach is able to successfully defeat Bowser at the end of the game and rescue her friends, why is she so damn helpless in every other game? You hear her scream, "Marioooooo—", and have to trek your way to Bowser's castle to save her. Yet, as Super Princess Peach clearly shows us, she is fully capable of protecting herself! She didn't need the aid of a couple of bumbling irresponsible plumbers who, as far as I know, left a job unfinished back in Brooklyn about three decades ago. This point isn't really answered, as future games in the Mario series plunk her back into the stereotypical role of helpless female and as the "end goal". It's ridiculous; she's proven herself to be so much more. Nintendo's just too lazy to come up with new ideas and motivation for Mario to be out questing. At least they tried in Super Mario Galaxy by having you rescue all the stars and help Princess Rosalina. ...No, wait, the ultimate goal there was to save Peach from Bowser in space. Then my words still ring true: Peach is underused, underappreciated, and mistreated by Nintendo staffers as just a defenseless meek creature that pushes a recycled plot forward.

Once I had completed Super Princess Peach, I didn't feel a strong sense of satisfaction. My final vibe was simply "Okay, this is done. Meh." The game just felt boring at times, as though it was dragging on much longer than necessary without adding anything new. Most of the stages are easy to navigate with a low difficulty level. The presentation is cute, with a ton of laidback island jams and pretty scenery to check out, but the atmosphere simply wasn't enough to overshadow the game's inherent yawn factor. I wanted the game to be over about halfway through, as I wasn't getting much more satisfaction at that point. As a platformer, it's rather competent, but it's probably more suitable for a younger audience or for those gamers that are visiting this genre for the first time. Super Princess Peach may be a decent addition to your collection, but it's not one I could see myself going back to in the future for a second go.

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