Carrying on with my delve into the Nintendo DS range of games, I came across the rather controversial Super Princess Peach, which I actually first made aware of its existence while browsing a bundle of loose carts for sale on Facebook Marketplace and it’s beautiful Peach designed label caught my eye.
I sniffed myself out a boxed complete version and set myself up to play it.
It’s a 2D platformer, with the twist in that Mario & Luigi have been captured and Peach sets out to save them.
There was quite a bit of hubbub around this when it was released in 2004/5, as it was potentially marketed towards girls – with Nintendo it seems getting both lauded and criticised for their approach.
Other than a quick look on Wikipedia, I ignored any reviews or scores and dove in.
I played on a N3DS-XL.
**No spoilers below, just things that I thought were interesting, would make good discussion and perhaps encourage people to give it a try.
The basis of the game is that it’s a 2D platformer, based primary in the Mario universe with Mario lore and physics.
However, Peach has a handheld tool/weapon in the guise of a parasol caller Perry.
Perry can be swung to hit enemies, scooped to flip enemies and used as a mobility device as you progress through the game.
Peach also has four unique powers, or abilities, kind of like magic that uses a deplete-able bar called Vibe.
As you progress through the game you collect coins, which accumulate and can be spent in a shop outside of the levels in the world map.
You can buy things like extra heart containers, extra Vibe bar and other speciality items that give permanent affects to Peach that help her through the game.
You can also purchase abilities for Perry too, as I mentioned earlier this will either help with mobility through the game or will add attack moves for Peach to defeat enemies.
There are also various vehicles that Peach can use, a hot air balloon that is powered by one of her special powers and a submarine that shoots bubbles, if you blow into the microphone on the 3DS.
The initial 5 worlds levels are rather linear, with their depth gained in verticality. World 3 (Shriek Mansion) is the Ghost House of the game and those levels offer up a more mixed level progression but again - it’s not really that hard, apart from one puzzle that I thought was a bit long and convoluted.
Each level has three Toad’s that are hidden within it for you to find and free from their box prison, these offer some re-playability to the levels and offer a tease to back to missed toads to get the lovely star filled in on the world map identifying the course.
Sadly, too often the toad puzzles are just about having enough Vibe bar to activate a power, to clear a way or make an otherwise impossible route, accessible via a power. This does change up later in the game after world 6 – but I feel this would have benefited from being brought in earlier in the game.
The game I feel tries to place itself as a sort of platform puzzler, but like the Toads the obstacle puzzles are as simple as hitting a key block that is on the way to an obstacle to clear it. If the key block was hidden it would make for such a more engaging and rewarding mechanism, as it is it simply feels pointless in the first three quarters of the game.
Going back into the previous worlds to start to search for the other Toads that you will have missed will start to throw up more exploration and back tracking and it’s very welcome. You really have to start looking at odd things in the environment and use your special skills to affect them in ways which change the level - it does that thing that makes you feel smart when you crack it. Sadly, I can count on one hand the game offers this mechanic.
The game is much better played with the D-Pad, although the circle pad is perfectly useable it tends to be too easy to use the diagonal down motion, resulting in Peach doing a crouch-slide, which often results in sliding off platforms - so when the action gets tetchy, I would often slide off by mistake. Or when placed on a diagonal surface, a slight misjudged crouch will result in you sliding down the course and off an edge to your doom.
An interesting touch is that Peach runs by default, and you need to make her tip toe by holding what would normally be a sprint button in Mario games. So due to this she will hop over single block gaps when normally traversing the scenery. The tip-toe mechanic is used on delicate surfaces to stop them falling as fast, or to creep up on sleeping enemies – very good, I liked this and would have liked it to be present more in the game.
The action buttons are flipped, A is jump and B swing Perry, it feels unnatural and there’s no way to change it either. Too many times I swiped instead of jumped and jumped instead of swiped.
There is some mild stylus use, you’re often prompted to use the stylus to explore the map and select levels, although it’s drawn out and a pointless exercise when it’s simpler to just press A.
Prior to each worlds Boss fight is a precursor mission that uses both the top and bottom screens of the DS, then, use the stylus to either control of Peach moves, or protect Peach by carrying out tasks to clear her path.
It’s a nice touch and one that feels short enough to be fun and different enough to be a welcome break from the regular platforming.
Generally, it’s a bit of cake walk for the first three quarters of the game. There are no lives, so in effect you can be as careless as you please and just keep going.
Another aspect of difficulty being a little light is that you can actively back out of any course at any time, even if you’ve not finished that course before and still leave with all of the coins and toads that you have collected in that level. Which is great for mop up but as there’s no lives anyway or danger of losing anything upon death it feels strange I suppose.
Then, at World 6 (Gleam Glacier) there is spike in difficulty. It even got me sitting forward ! The World is tricky and has some well-designed levels. Things ramp up in terms of pits, enemies movement and jumps – it feels fair, it feels fun.
Some of the exploration starts to become more varied with multiple paths and branching directions.
World 7 (Giddy Sky) is a nightmare. I disliked this world a lot.
Think motorised vines, trampolines, floating Bob-omb’s and vanishing clouds.
The knock back on this game is big, old school big. So when you’re on a tight platforming level with drops a plenty - it hits hard. Peach’s hit box feels huge, like crazy big, you simply have to think that you might be timing that jump a bit tight to pass that enemy and pow, you’ve been hit and knocked back.
It’s fair, I must say, but is brutal at times. I nearly snapped my DS on several occasions in this world. There’s a section, right at the end of 7-4 where you need to land horizontal trampoline jumps onto more trampolines, two blocks wide, below you - OFF SCREEN. Just the thought of it now makes me itch.
Visually it reminds me of a GameBoy Advance game, lovely spirit art, great colours, very vibrant and wonderful aesthetic all round.
It sort of sits half way between Super Mario World and the Mario & Luigi games on the DS for me.
The way that Peach is animated is delightful, she exudes a lot of character in the way she traverses the land and moves around, if perhaps a little too much gender characteristic put into her actions – more on that in a bit. The way she tip toes about, lifts her bustle dress a touch and floats about is very very well done.
Peach’s idle animation, sees her twirl her faithful aid Perry over her should in a very feminine Victorian way, to which then after a few more seconds, she holds it above her head and Perry appears to trap her inside him - very odd !!
Interestingly, there are the Rex enemies from Super Mario World which aren’t often represented in Mario games and a new version of Boo’s that I don’t seem to remember coming up in other Mario universe games that will only approach if you look at them.
To be fair, all the of the sprite work in this game is very good, very joyful.
Boss fights generally enjoyable and are preceded by a little stylus mini game I mentioned previously. If you die during the Boss fight you can choose to skip the stylus mini game although doing the stage again will result in more coins - which do become valuable as you get through to the latter part of the game. The Boss fights are you taking on a large enemy representative of the level you have worked through and more often than not rely on an aspect of Peach’s powers to get past it.
Once you approach the final battle, you receive a message saying that you must save all the toads from the previous levels before you can enter, something that I though was a bit of a shame if you just wanted to cruise through the game and see the story. However, due to my video game-ness obsession, I had already gone back at about World 7 to collect any missed Toads and had saved them all – nice.
The final battle is decent, it takes place over three separate stages and reminds me in a way of a Streets of Rage final battle, it has some great characters in it and one of the main antagonists is one of my favourites of the Mario universe, someone who doesn’t really get much screen time in the mainline games.
The last fight, however, did take me 2 hours to beat, the whole length of the Arsenal Leicester game in fact – which was a little testing to be honest but once I did beat it, it gave me the wonderful feeling, so was worth it in the end.
The music is generally good too I feel, with some decent tracks, the usual competent Nintendo stuff with World 4 Fury Volcano having the stand out tune, it’s pretty funky and I flopped a version of it in the Sound Of Play thread.
There’s also a rather competent set of extras outside of the game. There’s a music player that as you play and collect music notes you unlock music from the game, relating to this you also unlock characters that all make up the band that play the song on stage – delightful. There’s also a slew of mini games that make use of the stylus, although they felt kind of lame, especially after playing the recent Wario Ware Gold. There is however a glossary of Characters and enemies – which is really cool. I liked this a lot and they unlock as you play through the game.
Now, unfortunately, onto perhaps the most controversial part of the game, or rather an aspect of it that stood out to me quite a bit.
I’m rather chill in my approach to things like this and often tend to give things/people the benefit of the doubt but do understand the impact it can have on the group its representing.
From the very start the game opens with Peach shouting out the Nintendo pop screen, which is a nice touch I feel. Then a lovely pink and bright menu screen. Nice.
Once you start the game you’re introduced to Perry, who is Peach’s parasol umbrella, which again feels fine in isolation.
Then you are introduced to Peaches powers (emotions) which are as such;
- She has a flying power that sees her twirl into the air while whistling a tune that seems to make out she is daydreaming and floating off into space.
- She has a rage power, that see’s her stiffen her arms to her side, stomp her foot, grit her teeth and seemingly engulf herself in flame.
- She has a water power, which see’s Peach burst into tears and sprint around in the direction you choose, soaking everything in her path with her tears.
- Finally, she has a protect power, that she simply activates by smiling and gives out a shield protecting her.
It could be an East vs West approach to woman, or I may be alone on this but either way I think it something that could have had a much better impact if handled differently and is a missed opportunity in that regard.
There’s plenty of other actions that could have been utilised other than silly stereotypical female emotions. It does feel odd and sort of short sighted in its design.
It’s more the sum of a series of things that gives it this feeling, which is more frustrating in a way as its not a single action gone wrong by a number of design choices that appear to have been specifically chosen to give off this impression. They paint a very overly feminine approach and one that I feel a lot of girls, ladies and women may feel a little too over stereotypical and perhaps insulting.
A number of times, without any sort of suggested inclination I would show my Wife my 3DS and some of the actions Peach would do, she’d look at it, take it in and sort of screw her face up without comment. That for me was a clear sign that this was perhaps falling wide of the mark.
Despite the sexist issues I had above, I overall think that this is a good video game. It has etchings of a time past with the difficulty spike that crops up in World 6 which boarder lines on the unfair, or so it feels until you finish it – so it’s perfect in that regard.
The end game is vast, once you beat the final scenario, you unlock some extra levels in World 1 and an additional two or three items to collect on EVERY level in each world. Something that felt a little overwhelming at the time and offered little excitement to be perfectly honest.
By this time, I’d already saved all the Toads, purchased all of the powerups from the shop, maxed out my hearts and fulfilled my Vibe meter to full.
To then be told that there were another 60+ items to collect across the whole game, was a little off putting – that said, I may well systematically dip in and out to see what the final reward is for getting it all.
I can’t get the sense that this was once perhaps a GBA game, held back for whatever reason and brought back out of the dark, touched up, new format unique features added and released.
It’s a pretty, disjointedly difficult in places, fun, platformer. One that I think is more interesting due to its odd representation of Peach as a character and one that didn’t fit in with how I perceived her. One that I also think I will try to forget when seeing her in games to come.
If you get the chance, give it a look.