Princess Peach: Showtime! – She’s Everything, He’s Just Mario

When I was young, I didn’t really care for Princess Peach. Despite her being the only (human) female character available to me in several childhood staples like Mario Kart 64 or the original Mario Party games, and the fact that I was desperate for any kind of playable female character at all, she was never my character of choice. Princess Peach used to represent every stereotype that bothered me about femininity; another example of the only type of “girl” allowed being the one who was pretty, prissy, and doomed to be a damsel in distress. But we don’t live in the early 2000s anymore. Peach is one of many characters showing that being a woman doesn’t mean being one thing alone – something we’ve obviously always known. In Princess Peach: Showtime! our heroine gets to be centre stage playing more roles than I ever dreamed of, and it makes for a masterpiece – one where Mario doesn’t even get a mention. 

The premise of Princess Peach: Showtime! is a simple but effective one that sets the stage for what is essentially an elaborate game of dress-up (with some magical help to make it all a little more real). A day out to visit the Sparkle Theatre prompted by one of her Toad besties turns into a different kind of spectacle when the theatre is overtaken by the nefarious Grape and the Sour Bunch. In an attempt to literally ‘steal the show’, Grape and her gang kidnap the lead actors from the theatre’s many plays, leaving the cast and crew in a tizzy and the shows in shambles. Enter Peach, stage left: here to save the day. 

It’s a perfect premise for the type of atmosphere that Princess Peach: Showtime! aims to create. Each level centres on a different set of scenes, all of which are missing their leading star. With the help of the theatre’s guardian Stella, it quickly becomes Peach’s job to jump in and take their place, a job which she honestly seems born for despite having (to my knowledge, at least) little to no stage training. As is apparently normal for theatres in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Sparkle Theatre has ten different plays running at once, all of which are separated into different sections and hosted across different levels of the building. This seems like the sort of set-up that’s one minor hiccup away from becoming a logistical nightmare even without the help of a masked villain, but hey – who am I to criticise their business model? 

With each new level, Peach is dropped into the middle of the production and asked to calm the cast as she steps into the role of protagonist. After a brief dramatic introduction to set the scene, the princess undergoes a magical girl transformation that gives her the powers of the relevant missing actor of the moment. (In this world, actors have real magical powers? Go with it.) There are ten in total, each of which comes with its own set of skills that offer variety to the gameplay. Some are combat-focused, turning Peach into an action hero – like Swordfighter Peach, Kung Fu Peach, or Mighty Peach, all of whom have unique fighting styles to take on foes. Others rely on stealth (Ninja Peach and Dashing Thief Peach), attention to detail and deductive reasoning (Detective Peach), or even introduce their own mini-game style mechanics, like Patissiere Peach’s quest to make and decorate baked goods, or Mermaid Peach’s rhythm game-style mini operas. Cowgirl Peach (my personal favourite) and Figure Skater Peach (aka Ice Princess Peach in my heart) add a fun mix of autoscroller and timing-based mechanics to the mix, and also involve some of the best props (obviously I love Cowgirl Peach’s horse).

None of the levels pose a particular challenge to complete, even those with boss encounters, but it can be tricky to gather all the collectibles on the first run. There’s an option to give Peach some extra hearts to make the game easier, but I’d wager most players – even younger ones – won’t need it. It’s obvious that the levels are designed to be replayed, and for the most part I was happy to do so – even if some of the collectibles I missed felt a little cheaply finicky. If I was ten years old again and had all the time in the world, I’d be happy to go back and play these levels over and over again, even if only to gather coins to allow me to unlock different outfits for Peach and Stella. 

Everything about this game feels like it celebrates the kind of femininity that I had such a complex relationship with when I was young. It’s bold, and pink, and sparkly, and entirely unapologetic about being so – and that in itself feels empowering. It’s empowering in the way that last year’s Barbie film was, or (for a slightly more niche reference) the 2017 film Unicorn Store. It celebrates dazzle and sparkle and bright colours, and is a reminder of just how fun it can be to dress up and play pretend without feeling embarrassed. It’s whimsy and glamour and spectacle. Is it simplistic? Sure – it’s clearly aimed at children. But if you can put preconceived notions about what that might mean aside, it’s fun to just lose yourself in the childlike glee and wonder that the game facilitates. 

I experienced moments of frustration with this game, but if I hadn’t been looking at it so critically for review, I’m not sure I would have noticed them. Checkpoints are a little unforgiving, and there were moments where I wished exploration could have been better rewarded, but in the end, none of that mattered. Princess Peach: Showtime! is just bombastic feminine fun that can be enjoyed by anyone. I hope it encourages children to believe that they can be anything, no matter their gender, in the way games didn’t when I was young. I think it will. 

Player 2 reviewed Princess Peach on Nintendo Switch using a code kindly provided by Nintendo. 

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