For years video games have been accused of harboring misogynistic points of view and behavior. I would argue that this idea spawns from the overwhelming majority males hold in gaming culture, and that many times the depiction of females falls to those who cynically view gamers as sexually repressed pubescent boys who view women as if they’re in an eighties teen comedy. But this only excuses the majority of female game tropes, i.e. the sexy warrior with armor skimpier than lingerie models.
Other games aren’t meant to titillate male gamers, instead they offer up an unrealistic or ignorant view of women. Just look at every Bratz game, or dress-up social game. Hell, even the well meaning Cooking Mama had players questioning whether or not it was a modern day Easy Bake Oven, teaching girls their role in the kitchen.
Enter Super Princess Peach, this seemed like the obvious next step for Nintendo; Yoshi got his own game, and so did Luigi, all they really had left was Peach and Toad. And I don’t think Toad appeals to quite as many demographics as Peach does– what with being a near genderless mushroom with a face. Soon after the game’s release it was attacked for its negative portrayal of Peach. Many claimed that the game was merely a back-handed cash-in towards a female audience. But this is Nintendo. People must be blowing things out of proportion – right?
Near the Mushroom Kingdom lies Vibe Island, making the geography of the Mario universe which seems more and more like an archipelago, with Yoshi’s Island and Isle Del Fino scattered about, that much more convoluted. This island, however, is home to the mythical Vibe Scepter, said to be capable to controlling the minds of whoever is close to it, and Bowser has his eyes on it. After a lucky goomba happens upon the scepter and brings it to his master, Bowser puts his plan into action and for the first time ever, attacks and captures Mario and Luigi.
Returning to her castle, Peach is witness to exactly what the Vibe Scepter can do, namely, render anyone into an emotionally crazed wreck. Being the only one emotionally stable -- which is questionable – she sets off with her magical magoffin umbrella, Perry, to save the seized brothers.
Mario games have always had a “Bowser kidnaps/takes _____. So _____ must defeat him and save _____.” story-line, and it does serve the gameplay well, but this time it just seems stale. Normally this simple story is given to the audience either quickly using flashcards or short cinematics like in New Super Mario Bros. or Mario Galaxy, or drawn out as a story driven onslaught of dialogue like in Paper Mario or Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga. Super Princess Peach attempts to bridge the two doling out information through short dialogue sequences while maintaining a flash card-like means of conveyance. Ultimately the plot is has the traditional quirk and charm of other Mario games yet is delivered haphazardly between bouts of gameplay and ultimately come off as story tutorials.
Remember Yoshi’s Island or WarioLand? TOSE, the developer behind Super Princess Peach sure does! Their platformer plays like a combination of the two, having the floaty platforming of Yoshi and elemental powerups of Wario. Perry the umbrella has an array of abilities, from ground pounds, floating on water, and the traditional hovering for longer jumps. His abilities mimic Yoshi’s closely, even having the ability to eat enemies – yes the umbrella does that. As far as controls go, Peach moves well and is satisfyingly responsive.
However, her hit box feels a bit off; some enemies would glide by leaving Peach unscathed while others appear to cause damage without ever colliding, leaving the player constantly guessing whether or not an attack will hit its target or not. Another downside is Peach’s heels, which by my understanding are made entirely of ice, causing her to scoot along whatever surface she is standing on when coming to a stop. While platforming, this sliding motion will be your biggest foe, causing many falls and impacts on its behalf. The DS is fragile by the way; try not to throw it too hard.
Super Princess Peach’s main gameplay mechanic has to be her emotions. Joy, gloom, rage and calm are all abilities that Peach can use to aid her in her quest and to get out of sticky situations. Joy surrounds her in a gust of wind as she is happily lifted off her feet and floats about. Gloom causes Peach to burst into a crying fit giving her the ability to water plants and move mechanical objects. Rage envelops the Princess in a ball of fire allowing her to burn through scenery and enemies alike. And lastly, calm, where Peach utilizes her emotion meter to heal herself.
So unlike the enemies around her that aren’t in control of their emotions due to the scepter, Peach can switch in and out of tantrums on a whim. Reading between the lines it isn’t hard to see why the word “sexist” gets thrown around this game. In Warioland, Wario is set on fire before he begins running around in flames. Peach just gets mad at the push of a button. Mario needs a cape before he can fly.
Peach just becomes so happy and oblivious to the world that she floats away. And the fact that these powers are in no way regulated, spare a meter so you don’t always use them, takes away any puzzle aspect they may have been able to accomplish. Seeing a female lose control of herself and be unstoppable whenever she pleases gives the gameplay an eerily masochistic vibe that permeates throughout every other aspect the game implements and overshadows many of the genuinely well thought out mechanics it has to offer.
There are eight stages each with six levels and a boss battle, as well as a few additional unlockable levels. In each level Peach can save three Toads hidden throughout, and even a few secrets such as music tracks and puzzle pieces. Although every stage has a particular theme (forest, ice, lava), they all feel the same. There are very few unique game mechanics found in each stage. Most items, objects and scenery are either the same throughout the game or function the same, albeit with different sprites. Even enemies are just recycled clones or versions of other Mario game enemies. You have your goombas, your koopas, and cheep cheeps.
You know, the same enemies you’ve seen for almost thirty years now. Aside from a few bosses I don’t think there is even one unique enemy, even though this has a different setting than other titles. The only key difference being that these enemies can be sad, happy, or mad, changing their behavior slightly.
Peach’s first foray into solo adventuring was a wise choice on her part. Mario has gotten all the difficult adventuring out of the way, so her mission’s a cake walk. Besides dying due to the shitty slide mechanic I don’t think I ever actually died. It’s that easy. And the aforementioned calm mood which heals her only makes the game easier. Perry even deliberately tells you the solutions to puzzles, guides you through new obstacles, and even explains how to defeat bosses. On the very first boss he says, “There's a huge plant over there! Watch out for the little ones that sprout up... When its mouth is open, make it swallow a wave of water! Its weak spot? Maybe that big belly button...” Kind of ruins the thrill of the fight right? Remember the film saying, “Show don’t tell”? Well TOSE sure didn’t. The game is clearly made to bring a new demographic into the Nintendo marketplace; but dumbing down the game to this point leans on pandering.
Being a game clearly developed for girls, by men, Super Princess Peach is bright and vibrant; evoking a daytime children’s show aesthetic. The influence of Yoshi’s Island is even more prevalent in this case and one can definitely come to the conclusion that TOSE was trying to replicate the SNES classic.
The bottom touch screen features the four moods represented as hearts. Once pushed, Peach will switch into the selected emotion. Between each of the moods Peach stands glaring at the player, reacting to stimulus from the top screen. If she gets hurt, her bottom avatar reacts. But due to the games non-existent difficulty she spends the majority of her time staring blankly into your eyes, swaying from side to side.
If you’re holding your breath for a catchy Nintendo soundtrack you can let that thought go now. Peach is accompanied by a cliché repetitive assembly of what I can only imagine being titled “adventure game soundtrack.” The music is upbeat and fits the mood and look of the game but only matches it, making for a mediocre track listing that isn’t exactly memorable.
Super Princess Peach comes across as an attempt to pander to an audience the developers know nothing about. It’s like the way an adult who never had children sees them; as dumb snot machines. But in this case it’s adult men making a game for who they think little girls are. And it’s downright insulting.