[Cogitated Reviews] Super Princess peach (DS)
Name: Super Princess Peach
Genres: Platform / Action game
Mode: Single player
Media: 256-megabit DS card
Input methods: Buttons, D-pad, touchscreen, microphone
Released: February 2006 (US), March 2006 (AUS), May 2006 (EU)
Super Princess Peach was released only three months prior to New Super Mario Bros., which was to be the next "proper" installment in the Mario franchise on the Nintendo DS. Upon its release I quickly brushed it off as a cheap series spin- off, and although it was an official title, the videos and images I saw of its gameplay seemed too childish for my taste. That, and I was already waiting for NSMB, so it was even easier to brush it off as a children's version of a Mario game marketed towards girls. Was it a mistake to give it another chance three years later?
When you start the game you are greeted by the Nintendo logo pronounced by Peach's high-pithced voice, and it sets the tone of the game to lighthearted and fluffy. This is quickly confirmed by the start screen, displaying a map of the vibrant Vibe Island with Peach floating on a cloud underneat a large cutesy title. The worlds in Mario games have always been cartoony and often cutesy, but here it is taken a step further. The graphics instantly reminded me of Yoshi's Island without the crayon edges and with a warmer and brighter color palette. The sprites and environments are meticulously crafted, and the presentation oozes of the kind of quality you can expect from a proper Mario title. Visually it is a treat, and there is a stunning amount of variation in environments and enemies; everything from backdrops and platforms to coin boxes vary from area to area, and there are also variations in the environment from level to level in each of the eight respective areas. The game can look childish with all its smiling hills and clouds, strong and warm colours and cheery animations, but it does it with great attention to detail and style, and it fits the tone of the game perfectly.
Speaking of tones, the music in Super Princess Peach is pleasingly upbeat. And although it doesn't contain any of the good old Mario tunes, it manages to deliver a soundscape that fits the cheerful presentation very well. There are a few tunes that feel a bit uninspired, but that would be nitpicking. As for sound effects and voices, it's everything you would expect from a Mario game. From the plings to the stomps, it all sounds right.
The story is typical Mario fare with the usual twist to explain the unique quirks in the game; Bowser and his minions get their hands on a wand that can alter the moods of everyone in the vicinity of it, and they use this to cause panic in the castle and to abduct Mario, Luigi and a bunch of Toads to Vibe Island. Princess Peach herself is out on her afternoon walk, and returns to find the castle in a state of chaos. Since the heroes have now become the victims of Bowser's misdeeds, Peach volunteers to save the brothers and all the Toads from Vibe Island to restore order in the Mushroom Kingdom once again. Her old servant offers her a magic umbrella to protect her on her adventure: a functional sidekick that will prove essential for her success.
Super Princess Peach does what nearly all good Mario games do; it combines various elements from past games in the franchise and introduces new elements and gameplay twists to refresh the experience. Peach can jump on enemies, stomp them, whack them with her umbrella or attack them with one of her four available vibe powers. In many ways, SPP plays very much like a combination of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Yoshi's Island, but it's different enough to not be considered a copy of either one.
The aforementioned vibe powers come in four different flavours; Joy, Gloom, Rage and Calm. Joy will let Peach spin to create a small whirlwind, or fly upwards when holding the jump button; Gloom makes Peach cry waterfalls - literally - and makes her run faster than normal; Rage sees Peach engulfed in a huge flame that can dispatch of almost every kind of enemy, while pouting and walking at a slower pace; and finally Calm, which lets Peach recover hearts gradually unless interrupted by an attack. All of these powers are activated by icons on the bottom screen, and they drain vibe energy from the vibe bar visible in the top-left corner on the upper screen, at varying speeds. These powers are used to solve simple problems like burning wooden bridges so that you can access the areas underneath them, creating a whirlwind to dispatch of deep fog or to run over donut platforms that fall too quickly for normal movement. These puzzles are rarely challenging, but they're nevertheless amusing and help to create some diversity in the platforming.
Like SMB2 you have hearts that indicate your health, but loosing all of your hearts does not deduct a life - it only means you have to restart at the beginning of the level. In fact, lives are not present in Super Princess Peach, and this is logical as there is neither any checkpoints in any of the levels, rendering the need to punish the player by deducting lives meaningless. Falling in a pit, for example, will only deduct from your hearts, and you will restart at the beginning of that room or area in the level. You only ever have to restart the level if you loose all your hearts. It is a very forgiving system, and it reflects that the game is marketed towards children and meant to be accessible by everyone. I didn't really notice the lack of lives until I actually lost all my hearts after over an hour of play or more; only then did I look for the life icon. But it is also an interesting and bold move from a designer perspective; it means that you will actually never see a Game Over screen. The game is intent on keeping up its happy and cheerful tempo even if you should happen to fail.
This brings us to one of the shortcomings in the game, especially if you're an experienced platform player; Super Princess Peach is almost too easy. It is very generous with items to replenish your hearts and vibe meter, and by collecting coins you can increase both the amount of hearts and the vibe meter, reducing the challenge even further. Puzzles are relatively easy and only the last levels really pose any challenge; the rest is literally a walk in the park for any player who has any considerable skill in platform games. But the fascinating thing is that even if it is a bit on the easy side, it just doesn't get boring, because it constantly keeps impressing in visuals and situations. Every new level is a treat both to play and to see, and although not much challenging, the stream of new gameplay elements introduced all the time make it a joy to unlock the next level all the way to the last. And then, when you complete the last one, and the credits have rolled and The End is shown, you are treated to three bonus levels for each area, unlocked by revisiting the old levels and finding all the hidden items on each of them. Suddenly the difficulty increases a little, and it becomes very apparent that the level designers could have created a much more challenging game if that was the goal. When you play through these bonus levels, and you see the way enemies and gameplay elements are mixed in new and interesting ways, it's obvious that this is a game specifically and meticulously developed to be easy and yet enjoyable by everyone. It is almost as if Nintendo created it to experiment with some new internal ideas: less punishment, a return to more varied locations and an increased focus on fun rather than challenge - and suddenly, it sinks in that you've spent a good few hours playing a platform game that was easy but still very much enjoyable!
The game can also be extended even further if you want to complete all the unlockable mini games and jigsaw puzzles, hunt down every bit of musical score you can collect and then unlock the final power that will give you the option to have an infinite vibe meter, enabling you to play with the game mechanics with nothing to gain from it other than pure play. But this is not necessary for the game to be worth its price, especially now that you can probably buy it for a nice discount at your local games shop. The game is a testament to Nintendo's ability to create a solid and enjoyable platformer that actually feels fresh after all these years, and that even if the character it sells is a princess clad in a frilly pink dress with a smiling umbrella in her hand, even a grown-up man can enjoy it for what it is; a great platformer that can hold its own even against the core games in the franchise of which it is arguably a spin-off of.
+ Excellent presentation with vibrant graphics and animations
+ Solid soundtrack
+ Many different enemies, and variations of each depending on their moods
+ Enjoyable boss fights
+ Good replayability if you can accept it for what it is
- Could make better use of game mechanics for more elaborate puzzles
- Can be completed in only a few hours
All in all I really enjoyed Super Princess Peach. It felt almost wrong to like it so much when it didn't challenge my zomg awexome platforming skills, but it was a great experience nevertheless. I'd recommend it to anyone who's getting a bit bored of replaying Yoshi's Island yet another time, or for those of us who want a little vacation from playing games where we have to prove how awesome we are at every turn. The game is just that; a nifty and polished platforming vacation.
(PS: If you want to comment on any grammatical hickups, my style of writing or whatnot, I welcome that as well; this is the first video game review I've ever written, so I'm looking for any and all good tips!)