Now that Princess Peach has spent two decades in near-constant peril, the tables have finally turned. Like some kind of Yakov Smirnoff routine come to life, Super Princess Peach sees the perennial damsel in distress fighting through goombas and koopa troopers to rescue Mario and Luigi from Bowser's evil, turtle-y clutches. Despite its familiar cast and plenty of nods to well-worn Super Mario Bros. concepts, Super Princess Peach establishes a more laid-back gameplay style while also offering a sunny look and feel that still manages to fits into the world of the Mushroom Kingdom. It's not really a substitute for a real Super Mario Bros. experience, and the gameplay is much too forgiving, which keeps the experience from being engaging. Still, the game is put together well and it's charming and fairly fun, even if it is a bit too easy.
Not far from the Mushroom Kingdom there is, apparently, this place called Vibe Island, which is where, according to legend, the powerful Vibe Scepter is hidden. Hearing of this legend, Bowser seeks out and acquires the Vibe Scepter and uses its bizarre and rather ill-defined powers to bum-rush Mario and Luigi, taking them, and a number of toads, captive. Luckily, Princess Peach was out for a stroll when Bowser made his offensive, leaving her and her incredibly versatile talking umbrella, Perry, to venture to Vibe Island and save the day. Oddly, after the initial setup, the rest of the narrative concerns itself solely with Perry's backstory. It's all done with black-and-white dream sequences between levels and in such a way that seems purposely muddled, but it's not very involving and it eventually peters out.
Like any good 2D platforming hero, Princess Peach can run, jump, and hop on top of enemies. She can also use Perry in a number of rather versatile ways--he can be swung at enemies, used to glide through the air short distances, used as a boat, and, in some situations, used to slide along lengthy sets of rails or as a submarine. Additional abilities can be purchased in the game's between-level shop, such as ground-pound attack and the ability to charge up and throw energy attacks at enemies. But Peach's greatest powers are her emotions. Along with her heart-based health meter, Peach has a vibe meter, which you can draw from with one of the four heart icons present on the lower screen. The icons correspond to four different moods--joy, rage, gloom, and calm. Joy will cause Peach to float through the air in a rather happy cyclone. Rage causes her to become engulfed in flames and makes her really heavy. Gloom causes huge gouts of tears to pour from Peach's eyes, and it also gives her the ability to run really fast. Lastly, calm restores lost health.
Save for calm, which is useful only when you're low on hearts, the vibe powers are vital for getting through each level and solving some simple environmental puzzles. Joy can obviously make it possible to fly up to hard-to-reach platforms, while you can use rage to burn through wooden bridges to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, and gloom can be used to put out fires, make plants grow, or traipse across delicate platforms that would otherwise break away under your feet.
It can take you a minute to figure out which vibe power to use the first few times you hit a roadblock, but eventually the obstacles become pretty apparent. Each of the game's eight levels is also punctuated with a boss fight that will require liberal use of one or more of your vibe powers, and if you can't figure out which one to use, the game will provide you with some not-so-subtle hints right before you enter the fracas. The boss fights always revolve around some kind of giant, angry animal and will quickly become predictable. Also, there's something rather sexist about the idea that Princess Peach's big secret weapon is that she can get really overly emotional at the drop of a hat.
In each level you'll find various items to collect, such as puzzle pieces, music tests, and minigames, but most importantly, in each level there are three toads that have been locked up in cages. Thought it's not necessary to free all three toads in each level to advance, once you reach the end of all eight levels and are ready to face Bowser, you won't be allowed to advance until you've freed all the toads leading up to the final battle. Even if you make sure you free all the toads before that point, you'll find yourself doing a little bit of backtracking, due to the kind of circular, serpentine design of most levels, which contain loads of side paths, hidden areas, and green warp pipes that will loop back to an earlier point in the level.
But the adventure doesn't end once you've bested Bowser and liberated the Mushroom Kingdom. Additional collectible items are placed in the levels that you've already played through, and new, much more challenging levels are added. All told, there's easily a good 10-plus hours of playtime in Super Princess Peach, but the real question is whether you'll feel compelled to keep playing. The post-Bowser stages definitely offer a much more challenging experience, but by that point, Peach has become so much more powerful than when she started that it's almost a zero-sum, which is indicative of the game's biggest problem: lack of challenge.
Except for your final encounter with Bowser, the game is too easy and too forgiving for its own good. Peach starts out with three heart containers, which means she can get hit six times in a row before dying. However, if she has any vibe meter available, she can use the calm vibe power to restore her own health, though random health pickups are plentiful, too, and as you advance through the game you can give Peach up to a total of five heart containers. Even if you do die, the only consequence is that you'll have to go through the level you died in over again. It's kind of a shame, because there are some really clever platforming designs in Super Princess Peach, but the experience is undercut by lackadaisical difficulty.
It may not be particularly tough, but Super Princess Peach makes up for it, somewhat, by being really easy on the eyes. As you would expect from a quasi-Mario game, the 2D, sprite-based graphics are vibrant and colorful. Though there aren't many original characters in Super Princess Peach, you'll see lots of familiar faces redrawn to create a look that is familiarly sunny and playful, but in its own unique way. Each of the eight stages you'll go through might hit kind of predictable themes--there's the haunted house level, the cloud level, the volcano level, the forest level, and so on--but lots of layered effects and nice use of parallax scrolling help imbue them with depth and some unique character. The sound avoids being overly derivative by creating its own set of upbeat musical themes, many of which are rife with plucked strings and steel drum sounds.
Those looking for the next great Super Mario Bros. experience will undoubtedly be let down by Super Princess Peach and will have to wait for New Super Mario Bros. for their next opportunity. Super Princess Peach is still a fun platformer with a fair amount of cutesy charm, one that takes great steps to differentiate itself from the series it's derived from. The competence with which Super Princess Peach is made makes it a wonderful introduction to 2D platformers for the young, the casual, or the uninitiated, but experienced platform players won't find enough challenge to sink their teeth into.