It has taken two decades, but Princess Peach has finally joined the women's lib movement and seized a starring role in her first game, Super Princess Peach for the Nintendo DS. The endearingly quirky platformer just hit the streets in Japan, and we snatched up a copy immediately to find out how Peach's role reversal will play out on the DS's small screens. The story begins with the nefarious Bowser and his koopa horde plotting a diabolical scheme to capture the famous defenders of the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario and Luigi. The plan is successful, and with Mario and Luigi out of the picture, who else is going to save the day but Peach? After a lengthy intro cutscene depicting the ill goings-on at the castle, you'll take control of Peach as she makes her way to a showdown with Bowser and the rescue of the plumbing pair.
Super Princess Peach is essentially a standard platformer with some unique gameplay mechanics that make use of the DS's touch screen. When you start out, you've already got a pretty good repertoire of moves at your disposal: you can jump, slide, attack with your umbrella, and scoop up enemies to either throw them at other enemies or obstacles, or eat them (for lack of a better word) to replenish your emotion bar. You'll collect coins throughout the levels in classic Mario style, but they won't add up to bonus lives as you'd expect. Instead, you'll keep the coins when you finish a stage, and you can visit Toad's shop between levels to buy all kinds of useful new moves and items. In the first few levels, we were able to purchase a floating move just like the princess had in Super Mario Bros. 2, as well as a typical platformer-style butt-stomp. But the princess, prim and proper as she is, doesn't use her derriere--she lands umbrella-first, of course.
So what's this emotion thing all about? Peach has four emotion-based powers that you can access by tapping the appropriate face icon on the lower screen. The four powers are happy, which replenishes your health over time; sad, which makes Peach cry a geyser of tears; angry, which surrounds you with a massive flame; and what appears to be something like content, which allows you to hover and fly for a short time. All these powers drain your emotion bar while it's in use, and you'll have to pick up enemies and then consume them to replenish it. You'll also find blue crystals scattered around each level that will give you back even more emotion power, and the game isn't stingy at all about letting you get your power back.
That's a good thing, too, since you'll need to use these powers to get past many of the levels' obstacles. The flying power naturally comes in handy whenever you need to get over a high barrier or cross a big gap, but we've seen some creative uses of the other powers just in the first few levels. For instance, we've crossed a couple of wooden bridges under which were some tasty collectible items. We used the anger power to light the bridge on fire, and once it burned to ash we were able to descend and grab our items. In other areas, we encountered some sprouts in the ground that we used the sad power on to water and made them grow into full vines that we then climbed up. These puzzles have done a great job so far of mixing up the platforming and combat action, which has been typical of what you'd expect from a Mario-themed platformer.
Also in classic Mario style, your quest is broken up into worlds, and each world has its own visual theme, which is then subdivided into a number of different stages. If the first world is any indication, each world will have a boss fight at the end that's preceded by a nifty, offbeat action stage involving the DS's special hardware. In the first world, we had to navigate a series of platforms that had some flying enemies moving back and forth between them. The catch here is that you can't control Peach at all; you can only use the stylus to pull down the springy platforms she's standing on. Doing this will show you a dotted line indicating her exact trajectory if you let go of the platform. It's a little hard to visualize, but it looks really neat in action. After we got through this short section, we had to face off against a giant piranha plant that kept spitting enemies and sending shock waves at us. Without spoiling anything for you eager importers, all we'll say is that you'll have to make creative use of your emotional powers to beat this boss, which we expect will be the case with all of the game's boss enemies.
Super Princess Peach has a really appealing, simplistic 2D graphical style that's a little reminiscent of Yoshi's Island for the Super NES and Game Boy Advance. It has a brightly colored, storybook quality to it that kids should especially appreciate and which really brings the various worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom--not to mention tons of classic Mario enemies--to life. It's also nice simply to see Nintendo keeping 2D gaming alive, despite the DS's respectable 3D capabilities. We've seen nary a polygon during our first experience with the game, although you do get plenty of sprite effects. Hooray for nostalgia!
So far, Super Princess Peach has been exceedingly easy to play through--the puzzles are pretty easy to figure out, the enemies don't present any serious challenge, and the ability to recharge your life with the happiness power makes it kind of hard to actually die. But we'd say based on initial impressions that the joy of this game isn't in besting its challenge so much as it is simply experiencing its lushly rendered worlds and playing through its innovative scenarios. For you would-be importers, the game is surprisingly text-heavy--all of the dialogue, tutorials, and story text are in Japanese--but you can puzzle through everything after some trial and error. You may have to if you're interested in the game, since a US release hasn't currently been announced. In any event, we'll bring you more on this unique and endearing action game as it happens.