If you grew up on Nintendo games like I did, then you probably rescued the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom at least a billion times (rounded down). I mean, that’s all princesses are good for, right? Someone evil kidnaps them, a brave man rescues them, and then the brave man is suitably rewarded with a kiss or a piece of cake or something. That formula was utilized so strongly that one could almost call it indoctrination – you save a girl from a bad guy, you’re gonna get SOMETHING out of it, right?
Princess Peach is no different, and her role in most Mario games (particularly those in the main series) is to shout “Oh no!” as Bowser whisks her away in his Koopa Clown Car and then wait patiently to be rescued by Mario.
When Peach DID get her own game, what she got was a bit of a mess. Specifically, her powers were based on her exaggerated emotional state. Using the amazing power of crying, getting angry, staying calm, and being happy, she defeats enemies and keeps herself healthy on a journey to save Mario from the evil Bowser. Nintendo tried to change things up and get her out of the damsel in distress bubble, but what we got instead was still a bit of a stereotypical slap-in-the-face: “girls aren’t emotionally stable enough to go on their own adventures.” Good concept, poor execution led to yet another title where Princess Peach isn’t as much as she could be.
What I find really odd about these situations is that Nintendo has demonstrated in some of their titles an ability to give Peach a solid in-game role, one that goes beyond stereotypes or pandering to actual character development. In particular, this aspect of her character stands out in the Paper Mario series.
I can’t say enough good things about Paper Mario. While the series has certainly encountered rough patches along the way (I’m looking at you, Sticker Star), these games have a fun sense of humor and quirky characters that really bring the Mario universe to life. And part of that “bringing the Mario universe to life” experience is the characterization of Princess Peach.
When Paper Peach gets kidnapped, she doesn’t just sit on her frilly pink fanny and wait for Mario to show up and rescue her. She does everything she can in order to escape on her own, or to at least inform Mario of here she is, whether she’s safe, and what he needs to do next. These missions involve everything from espionage to manipulation to chemistry, and this princess cleverly and resolutely overcomes any obstacle. When she’s trapped in her own castle, she uses her knowledge of the secret passages to stay one step ahead of Bowser. When she’s trapped in the X-Naut Base, she trusts in the guidance of TEC-XX and leads the computer to have a change of heart. And in Super Paper Mario, when the entire universe depends on the actions of four heroes, Peach enters the fray herself and adventures right alongside Mario, Luigi, and even Bowser!
Peach isn’t just a two-dimensional damsel in distress. She’s patient and intelligent, calmly thinking of solutions to her predicament. She’s determined, always willing to help in whatever small way she can. Rather than assume that all of her enemy’s servants are just as evil as their master, she sees the good in people and is willing to work with them in order to accomplish her goals. And when the time comes where she needs to throw down the gauntlet, she’s got just as much stomping power as Mario.
“But Ian,” you might say, “does it really matter if Princess Peach is two-dimensional? Mario is a kid’s game.” Well, skeptical reader, it’s precisely because Mario is aimed at children that a fully-explored, three-dimensional princess is so important. While complex and interesting female characters are rare in all forms of gaming, they are less so in games aimed at teenagers and adults, especially these days. We’ve got tough female protagonists like Samus Aran, Emily Caldwin, Lara Croft, and Ellie Whatever-Her-Last-Name-Is from The Last of Us. These characters are all strong in their own ways and stand out as positive examples of good character design and development. But when it comes to the titles available to kids, three-dimensional females are sorely lacking.
Young boys are growing up thinking that girls are the reward they get for being brave and good. And young girls are growing up thinking that they need a boy to keep them out of trouble. While I’m sure it would be an exaggeration to say that NO games have examples of strong females for young kids, they are few and far between. Right here, with the character of Princess Peach, Nintendo has an opportunity to introduce kids to the fact that no one is two-dimensional. Princesses aren’t just damsels: they are smart and courageous just like heroic young boys. And boys? They need help just as much as princesses do.
What do you think, adventurers? Do you think it would be worthwhile for Nintendo to put some more effort into make Princess Peach’s character three-dimensional and interesting? Or is there really no place for it in a Mario platformer? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to share any characters that you believe could stand to have some added depth.
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Not sure for Friday/Sunday. Maybe something FFXV related.
UPCOMING EVENTS: Slow week this week; next week sees multiple new releases!
Among these is the Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild!
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