Princess Peach's boyfriend is missing, so she heads out in search of a Vibe Wand.

No seriously, that's what this 2006 Nintendo game exclusively for the Nintendo DS is about. Bowser's back again and this time he's managed to capture not only a bunch of Mushroom people, but also Mario and Luigi, with the help of the powerful emotion-controlling Vibe Wand. The only one left to save everyone is perennial damsel in distress, Princess Peach.

They say Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. Well if you thought it was tough saving the Mushroom Kingdom in workboots and overalls, try it in fashionable pumps and a prom dress.

Granted, Princess Peach has spent most of her career waiting in dungeons for Mario to rescue her, but let's not forget her heroic debut in Super Mario Brothers 2 (AKA Super Mario USA), in which she wasn't the strongest or the fastest (in fact, she was the slowest and weakest), but had a floating jump that gave her some serious air time. Since then she's had an active role in a few other games, like the Super Mario RPG, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and the various Mario themed sports games.

But this is Peach's first starring role as the central hero, and she breaks her way into the limelight with a wide variety of abilities, and a magical parasol named Perry who acts as an advisor and her primary weapon. Since the action takes place on the magical Vibe Island, off the coast of the Mushroom Kingdom, her highness also has four cartoonishly exaggerated emotion-based powers at her disposal.

Joy lets her fly in a cyclone, which also clears smoke and dust. Sadness unleashes a flood of tears that can make plants grow and has interesting effects in the ice world, and also makes her run faster. Rage envelops her in a flaming aura capable of defeating most enemies and also makes her stomp the ground hard enough to shake when she lands. Calm slowly recharges her health. These "vibe" powers are fueled with Peach's vibe meter, which can be refilled by absorbing enemies with Perry or by collecting vibe crystals.

Despite the addition of extra abilities and the SMB2-style health system, most of the trappings of the traditional Mario platformer series are here. From familiar enemies like goombas and piranha plants to the layout of themed worlds divided into several levels, this is very much a Mario game. The ubiquitous coins are not, however, used to collect extra lives this time around (you have infinite lives, merely continuing from the beginning of the level if you die). Instead, Peach uses them to take time out from her rescue mission to go shopping. Unfortunately, more appropriate adventuring clothes aren't in stock in her size (can't she borrow something from Princess Zelda?), so she has to make do with additional abilities for Perry, extra health, and an extended vibe meter. You can also buy additional levels for the three mini-games you can unlock.

Level design

While traditional Mario platformers tend to be pretty linear, Super Princess Peach levels are labyrinthine. Each level is divided into several sections, and there are multiple entrances and exits in the form of pipes or doors in many of the sections. The layout is similar to the Ghost Houses that premiered in Super Mario World, except with less of an emphasis on going around in circles or finding the false exit.

Although it's easy to get lost, finding the exit isn't difficult. Finding all three captured Toads and other hidden bonuses, however, is something of a challenge. Fortunately Peach lets you know if there is a Toad or a secret item in a particular section of a level by displaying an exclamation point on the touchscreen when she enters the section. Unfortunately, sometimes the section itself is hard to find, and sometimes the item in that level's section isn't reachable from that particular entrance.

This can happen either because there is a wall dividing the section into two parts, or because there are one-way paths in the level. There are some platforms that you can jump up to from below, but not climb down from if you are above. Likewise there are a few places where you can go down but not up by standing on falling blocks. Finally there are occasional puzzle doors that you can only unlock from one side and not the other. None of this is too frustrating though, because it's usually not too difficult to eventually get back around to where you want to be. And unlike a traditional Mario game, this game has no time limit.

Nintendo DS features used in the game

The Mario games were always willing to experiment with their format to some extent, but this Nintendo DS game pulled out all the stops when it came to incorporating gimmicks. It seems as though the goal here was to build a game which used all of the DS's features. Fortunately, most of them work well. Dual screen action, touchscreen toys, and even the microphone are all part of the game.

The majority of the game is played on the top, normal screen with the four vibe power icons available at the touch of a thumb on the touchscreen. This works out pretty well, actually. With a little practice, it's possible to save yourself from falling into a bottomless pit by quickly moving your thumb from the D-pad to the Joy icon on the touchscreen to fly out. The touchscreen is also used in several minigames that immediately precede the boss fights.

Although the X, Y, A, and B buttons are all used, Y and B do the same thing (parasol attack). The L and R buttons are used mainly to navigate menus but they can also be used to slow Peach down to walking speed (her default setting is run), to sneak past sleeping enemies or tread carefully over fragile platforms. This ability is so seldom used, however, that you will often forget about it. A jumps, and X picks things up so they can be thrown or absorbed by Perry.

The microphone, on the other hand, seems to be shoehorned in to the game. In underwater levels you have to blow into the microphone in order to fire shots at enemies. The same blowing technique is used in a minigame to make Toad jump over obstacles. After a few minutes of this you can get pretty light-headed and dizzy, not to mention the fact that this is a portable game system and blowing at it is a rather weird thing to be doing in public. Fortunately, this isn't used very much in the game.

Reviews by other critics

(you know, people who get paid to do this stuff)

Critics generally give Super Princess Peach high marks for fun, but comment that the game is just way too easy. Rotten Tomatoes (what, you thought they only did movie ratings?) shows a composite 50% (rotten), and based on the comments it seems the challenge was the killer. I suppose for a serious gamer this might be right but for a guy who only owns a Nintendo DS for something to do on long plane trips, this is just about the skill level I'm looking for. Oh yeah, and for its target audience of little kids, I suppose it's a good skill level, too.

A few critics have gone so far as to say the game is little sexist, due to Peach adventuring in a pink dress and using PMS as a superpower. I'm no 12 year old girl, nor have I ever been, but I somehow doubt a more Lara Croft-esque warrior princess would have had the same appeal, or even fit into the established Mario universe in the first place.

My review

Judged on what it is intended to be, Princess Peach's breakout starring role, the only complaint I've got against the game is the microphone aspect, and even that is a minor issue considering how seldom it's actually used.

Obviously, this game is marketed toward pre-teen girls. Change the sprites though and this can be as manly a game as any other, so if you can ignore all the pink you'll see that Super Princess Peach is actually a whole lot of fun. While the challenge level really isn't there (a careful and experienced gamer could probably make it through most of the levels without getting hurt), the number and variety of abilities Peach has at her disposal keeps the game more fresh and fun than if you were simply stomping heads and throwing fireballs. It's easy to get lost in the maze-like levels, but a thorough exploration is necessary to rescue all three Toads in each level, and find the puzzle pieces and juke box songs, which gives each level pretty decent replay value.

Bottom Line

A serious gamer probably won't enjoy the game due to its lack of a real challenge, but casual gamers will probably find it lots of fun.

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