Come on, Miyamoto, where's Mario? The world clearly wants more, but it's been ages since gamers were treated to a true sequel that takes it to the next level. The wretched Super Mario Sunshine doesn't count since all parties involved have basically admitted it was a one-off, and all these random sports and party games do is remind people that one of the world's most recognized icons has yet to make the appearance that we're all waiting for.
To be fair, it's got to be an incredible amount of pressure to try to come up with something as fantastic and revolutionary as a Mario game usually is, but still… a man can hope, can't he? In the meantime, fans of the Italian plumber will have to content themselves with things that are almost like Mario. Case in point—Super Princess Peach.
Striking out on her own, Mario's squeeze Peach stars in an adventure that's a pale imitation of what one might expect from a 2D platformer riding the coattails of one of the greatest videogame legacies of all time. On the other hand, it's a 2D platformer from Nintendo and a nice change of pace to see the usually-helpless Princess doing the rescuing instead of vice versa this time around, so it's not all bad.
The story is typical throwaway stuff, no different than any other game in the pantheon (save for the fact that the object of this quest is recovering the oddly-named "Vibe Wand." Let's not think too much about this, shall we?) But, these games are not played for the story. No, the gameplay is what it's about and although the worlds, enemies, and general themes of Super Princess Peach are vaguely familiar and comfortable, the project lacks the spark and energy needed to carry a title like this; it's almost like Nintendo is phoning it in.
Peach can certainly run, jump, and bop enemies the way you'd expect, but there are two main additions to the standard Mario formula. The first is that Peach must find three captive Toad mushroom-men in each area, taking the focus away from simply navigating each level skillfully and instead making it important to search everywhere thoroughly. It feels a little tedious and I have to say that "finding X number of Y items" is almost as old as videogames itself. However, it's not very hard to find the Toads—it may not be thrilling to do so, but it's not exactly painful.
The second twist takes advantage of the DS's touchscreen. In politically incorrect, vaguely chauvinistic move, Peach has emotional "vibe" powers that are accessed by hitting four large buttons displayed on the lower half of the DS. Sadness (crying), joy (flying), anger (flames), and calm (healing) are used to manipulate environmental objects and give Peach various attributes that help her get the end of each stage.
These powers are used in very rudimentary fashion, such as using her angry flames to burn a wooden bridge or using her gushing tears to water a flower that needs to grow. Brain-busting conundrums these are not, but then again the overall difficulty of the game as a whole is quite low. It seems pretty clear that Super Princess Peach is aimed at a younger audience, and if taken from that standpoint, it all seems to fall into place.
(As a side note, it's interesting that the only effective way of activating these powers is to tap them with a thumb instead of the stylus since it's practically impossible to use the little plastic stick and stay in control of the cross key and buttons simultaneously. Another kid-friendly move?)
Although it basically gets the job done, there are no real highs or lows to the game. Everything moves along at a steady pace, and while Super Princess Peach has a relatively short time of completion (between four to six hours), it still manages to generate a little boredom before the credits roll. There are some minigames and extra levels to play around with after rescuing everyone from Bowser's clutches, but nothing noteworthy.
Although I suppose that Super Princess Peach is an example of Nintendo slumming for cash, it also proves that even when Nintendo is slumming, it churns out stuff that isn't really that bad. It may not be memorable or very exciting, but it's not bad. In the meantime, I guess Mario devotees will have to wait just a little bit longer for a hit of the good stuff.