Super Princess Peach – DS
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date (NA): February 27th, 2006
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
After 21 years of playing the damsel in distress, Princess Peach finally gets a starring role in…Super Princess Peach! Ok, so maybe the title isn’t too original, but the idea is to hearken back to “Super Mario.” Super Princess Peach strives hard to be its own game, and while it has a few flaws (mainly its almost non-existent difficulty and mildly repetitive gameplay), overall it’s a solid game. I think it would’ve been a great beginning to Peach’s own series of games, though the gimmick here – Peach and her “feelings” – needs a touch of refinement before going prime-time.
The story here is a straight up role reversal of what we typically see in Mario games. Bowser gets a hold of this “Vibe Scepter” which has the ability to affect people’s moods, and in order to full exploit its power (we’re never really sure what this ultimate power is…), he needs to be proactive in getting our heroes out of the way. Mario, Luigi, and a few dozen Toads are captured by Bowser’s gang. Meanwhile, Peach and Toadsworth, who were out on a walk during the commotion, return to Peach’s castle only to be alerted to the disaster by an escaped Toad. Peach sets off to free our heroes, but not before being given a magical, talking parasol named Perry, who’d been in the possession of Toadsworth.
One noteworthy aspect of the plot is the setting. We’re actually not in the Mushroom Kingdom, but rather on the “not too far off” island known as “Vibe Island.” Bowser apparently keeps up a nice villa in the area, where he’s holding the Mario Brothers hostage. The Toads have been scattered across other parts of the island. Perry also has his own little interesting story that unfolds, but I won’t spoil it…though I will say I have no idea why it was even included unless Nintendo wanted a place for a potential sequel to pick up from.
Super Princess Peach is divided into 8 worlds with 6 stages in each, 1 of which includes a boss battle. Each stage, apart from the boss, contains 3 hidden Toads as well as either a Puzzle Piece or Musical Score. The levels are very Mario-esque except easier – far less bottomless pits and fewer “crazy jumps.” The main difference is how compartmentalized each level is. It’s less noticeable in early worlds, but as one moves forward in the game, the structure of the levels can get a little confusing. While ultimately linear, there are often both many ways in and out of a “room” (or screen) leading to some some circular paths and leaving it up to the player when it comes to which route to take. I actually enjoyed this format; it lends itself well to the exploratory nature of Super Princess Peach. It’s not too difficult to take what seems to be the easiest route and push forward to the end of the level, but the real fun – and objective – is to explore these areas and find each of the 4 hidden-ish items.
The mechanics are much more involved than those of an average Mario game. Peach can run and jump, but her jumps are limited in their offensive power and she relies mostly on her umbrella (‘scuse me – parasol) “Perry” to ward off baddies. Perry has a few functions. First, he can simply hit enemies. He can also pick up enemies and then either throw them forcefully to cause damage to other enemies or drop them uneventfully, or Perry can absorb the enemy to help fill up Peach’s “Vibe Meter.”
Besides Perry, Peach is also armed with certain emotions: Joy, Sadness, Calm, and Rage. These are controlled from the lower touchscreen of the DS and act as a temporary status change. Peach can use one ability at a time, and as she does, her Vibe Meter slowly drains. It can be refilled by picking up refill items or absorbing the bad guys. These emotions can be used as attack techniques, but mostly they’re used for traversing the environment, especially when it comes to getting to hard to reach areas. Crying Peach can water plants which will grow and allow one to reach new areas; her tears can also move water wheels, knock down sand barriers, freeze solid on surfaces during icy levels to make for a slick surface, and during a crying spell, she can run quite fast. Others have similar uses; Joy allows Peach to fly and creates a gust of wind, Rage lets her burn through some objects and melt ice, and Calm allows her to restore health at the expense of the Vibe Meter. I’m probably leaving out a few features but you get the idea. I think it’s pretty clever how they worked in so many little obstacles that could be overcome with the emotions, however, one will quickly find that having the ability to fly, even if for only a short period of time, is of the utmost importance, followed closely by the ability to regenerate health.
The challenge, at least early on, is balancing one’s Vibe Meter and usage of Peach’s hyper-emotional states. This can be a bit tricky, particularly since rescuing the Toads will often require the use of these feelings. Although not perfect, it works well enough and it’s great to be able to turn them off and on at will.
The combination of Perry and Peach’s emotions works fairly well and I never felt like the touchscreen got in the way as it tends to in other games where it’s frequently used along with the buttons. Most importantly, the player can augment some of these abilities by purchasing items from the in-game shop. The shop carries maximum health and maximum Vibe Meter upgrades, new abilities for Perry such as a ground pound or Peach’s trademark “float,” and other peripheral material such as puzzle pieces and music from the game. One of the most interesting items is one which allows Peach to refill her Vibe Meter by idling for a few seconds. Combined with the ability of Calm to restore one’s health and Joy to rescue Peach from bottomless pits at the last second, she can be rendered almost invulnerable provided she has a place to stand still for a few seconds while the Vibe Meter replenishes.
While I would consider the mechanics in Super Princess Peach solid overall, I do take issue with some of the controls. They could use a fair bit of “tightening up,” and Peach could really use a dose of Mario’s trademark precision. Peach has a bad habit of simply slipping off a ledge when tackling the game’s few tough jumps or when trying to do something quickly. It’s a little too easy to walk her right off an edge; she seems to take about 2 steps per one small tap on the D-pad (or Circle Pad). I eventually adjusted to this, but I also felt like it led to way too many deaths early on. It can also be difficult to gauge the aim of Perry in crowded or quick circumstances, particularly when attacking foes in the air or in mid-jump, a situation where accuracy is most important of all. Perry actually connects a little bit lower than it looks like, and though it doesn’t much matter on the ground, it becomes immediately apparent when you’re trying to whack a flying Koopa out of the air and end up slamming into it instead. Although minor, some sections of the game see Peach travel underwater in a small submarine (somehow) made out of Perry, and to attack (by shooting bubbles), one must blow into the microphone of the DS. Easier said than done. This was a feature that was extremely difficult to use accurately and consistently, and most of the time I found myself just trying to avoid adversaries rather than confront them.
Earlier I mentioned that one of the game’s major shortcomings is its relative lack of difficulty. I’m not sure if Nintendo intended Super Princess Peach for younger audiences or just wanted to give players an easy game in which to acclimate to Peach’s new means of attacking and advancement. The first couple of worlds are laughably easy, even when it comes to gathering up all of the collectibles and beating the bosses. Things do get a little more challenging, but mostly from the perspective of navigating through the puzzle-like levels and not so much when it comes to combat or platforming. At times it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to defeat the bosses (despite the prompts) but once you do, even they won’t take more than a couple of tries to defeat.
Another contributor to the low difficulty is how Super Princess Peach handles death and checkpoints. If Peach falls in a hole, she doesn’t die, she just loses half of a heart and then starts back whenever she entered the room with any achievements (hidden items, coins, etc.) intact. Should Peach actually die (as in run out of hearts), she has to start at the beginning of the level, but again, all previous finds are still credited to her. Essentially once you rescue a Toad or find a puzzle piece, even if by chance it was maddeningly difficult to do so, you won’t ever have to worry about doing it again. On the one hand it’s kind of nice and cuts down on any potential monotony; on the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily encourage the player to play at his or her best.
Apart from the main game, Super Princess Peach has a reasonable amount of supplemental content (the jigsaw puzzles and minigames), though it seems geared exclusively towards younger players. The best bit of extra content kicks in after the game has been beaten. This time the player must go back through all the levels and collect puzzle pieces for even larger puzzles, though regrettably the pieces are “hidden” in the same places that the Toads were previously. However, the boss battles are amped up in difficulty and 3 extra stages per world are tacked on.
Graphically, Super Princess Peach is done in the simple and cartoonish but adequately detailed style that many of the original DS games sport. They aren’t anything spectacular, but they get the job done and work well on small screens, jus like they should. It’s got bright colors and distinguishable objects, and that’s what really counts. Many of the best animations are saved for the final world taking place in Bowser’s villa, including Bowser himself and the darkness-themed surroundings.
The casual and lighthearted flow of Super Princess Peach won’t appeal to everyone, and it doesn’t contain the amount of depth or variety that your average Mario game does. It probably doesn’t even stand out against the dozens of other awesome titles for the DS, yet I enjoyed this leisurely romp across Vibe Island, if only because it’s Peach’s first (and so far only) starring role in a game. Although not overtly “girlish,” this’ll be a tough sell for younger boys, but it may also be a good vehicle for getting younger girls interested in gaming. It doesn’t specifically pander to either sex, though younger girls may be more apt to take on the role of a Princess who gets to do all the same fun stuff that boy characters do. I suppose there are some mildly sexist themes going on, such as a girl using her emotional extremes as a major gameplay element….whether it’s all in good fun or further perpetuation of outdated gender roles will be up to the individual player.
Ultimately I enjoyed Super Princess Peach but it only gets a soft recommendation from me. Some gamers won’t want to waste their time on something so easy (I’d say it’s about a half notch easier than the average Kirby game) while other games will enjoy being able to reach 100% completion after playing a level only once or twice rather than having to repeat it again and again. I sincerely hope Nintendo gives Peach another chance one day. I’d be happy enough with a new approach, but I’d be really thrilled if they took the ideas in Super Princess Peach and built on them. Oh well…until then!
Reviewed by The Cubist
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