Over the past twenty years or so, we've become accustomed to age old tale of the angry-turtle-thing Bowser kidnapping the pretty pink Princess Peach, perhaps for love, perhaps out of spite, or perhaps just because he really likes cake. And just as the traditional damsel in distress story goes, the knight in shining armour - or in this case, a fat Italian in overalls, always comes to her aid. Off Mario trots with nary a 'wahooo', across deserts, through volcanos and even out into space, bouncing on Bowser's colourful army's heads to defeat them and make it to his princess - making more than a few death-defying leaps in the process. While it's true that Princess Peach seriously needs to re-think her security - let's face it, an army of knee-high mushroom-headed people isn't going to scare anybody - it at least gives Mario and the crew something to do between their forays into various sports and giant board games.
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But just to turn tradition on its head, in Super Princess Peach, it isn't the pink princess who's been captured - the first time since 1990's Super Mario Land on the original Game Boy that it's been someone else (back then, it was the unfortunate Daisy) finding themselves in Bowser's clutches - and even then, it's purely down to luck. Happening to be out of her castle on a stroll when the nefarious Bowser turns up, the big green baddie, brandishing his shiny new Vibe Sceptre, decides to hold the two Mario Bros. hostage instead, before packing up a load of mushroom-headed Toads and heading off. Poor old Peach returns home from her walk to find her castle empty, and her best friends kidnapped - but Peach isn't about to sit and write a sad letter about how much she misses Mario. A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do, and so Peach sets out on an adventure of her own, to rescue the brothers Mario. After all, who'll eat all the cakes she bakes if Mario's busy being kidnapped?
The game takes place somewhere off the coast of the Mushroom Kingdom, on the mysterious Vibe Island - where the all powerful Vibe Sceptre was held before Bowser nicked off with it. With more adverse weather conditions than an English Summer, you'll be creeping past ghosts in the darkened rooms of Shriek Mansion, trawling through the sweltering heat of Fury Volcano and hopping along clouds in the Giddy Sky area - all without a single tear, smudge or crumple of her iconic pink dress.
If you've ever played a Mario game before, what follows will be immediately familiar - there's plenty of platforming, jumping on enemies heads and coin collecting to be found here, but Peach adds her own little, perhaps a touch controversial, twist. You see, being a woman and all, she has the ability to get overly emotional at the drop of a hat; or rather, a stab of the Touch Screen. These 'Vibes' as the game calls them, give Peach a set of unique powers, each with their own uses and effects.
There's Joy, which lets her float into the air inside a happy cyclone, letting her reach hard to get to platforms as well as clearing any dust clouds out the way; Rage, which sees the Princess stomping round, surrounded by flames, proving useful for burning bridges, melting ice and stomping on buttons; Gloom, which sees fountains erupt from the poor girl's eyes, although they too have their uses, letting you put out fires, spin waterwheels and help plants to grow; while the fourth and final power is Calm, which turns Peach into the picture of serenity and cheerfulness - although it's only use is to restore your lost HP. If you're anything like us, you'll be using this one a fair bit.
But Peach's mood swings aren't her only weapons against the big bad Bowser and co - she also has the help of her friendly parasol, Perry, who's perfect for smacking those Goombas about, gliding short distances and even turning into a makeshift boat. Perry also has the ability to swallow up some bad guys in order to regain some of your 'Vibe Gauge' - and as you'll need to keep the gauge replenished in order to unleash emotional turmoil, he comes in pretty handy.
Unlike your traditional Mario platformer, where you're just making your way from left to right, jumping over obstacles in your path, bonking bad guys on the head, and trying not to fall to your doom, Super Princess Peach takes a much more pedestrian, puzzle-filled approach. You'll often need to make use of her Vibe Powers to make your way through a level - like using your Joy cyclone to turn a windmill to open a door or crying all over a rogue sand-castley monster to flatten him and make way for Her Pinkness, much like the waves at the beach. Your Vibes also play an integral role in subduing each of the end-of-world bosses - the first boss, Petey Piranha, for example, requires you to bloom a series of plants to get Peach to a suitable height for crying straight into the plant's mouth - giving the poor thing a belly-ache, that ultimately becomes his undoing after you've stomped on it half a dozen times. Add in that there's a whole load of different paths you can take through levels, as well as loads of things to collect, and you'll need to do a whole lot of exploring and experimenting to reach Mario and Luigi - and ultimately - Bowser.
But unlike a lot of games, the hidden collectables actually prove to be integral in your quest - hidden in each level are three Toads, held captive in big pink boxes, which you'll need to locate before you can give Bowser the beating he deserves. There's also a veritable treasure trove of other random goodies - puzzle pieces, songs and mini-games all litter the levels, ready to be retrieved, unlocking little diversions from the main game in the menu, whether it's a Rage-Vibe-themed jigsaw puzzle, your favourite tune from the LaDiDah Plains levels or the microphone-powered Toad Jump game. The coins you collect in the levels also have a purpose too, letting you purchase incremental upgrades for Perry and Peach - like a shot of 'Tough Coffee' to up your health, or a chargeable attack that has Perry shoot a projectile at enemies - as well as tunes and puzzle pieces (seemingly for if you can't be bothered to track them down in the levels), and a few extra levels for the various mini-games.
Once you've trawled through the eight worlds the game has to offer, you've faced Bowser, reclaimed the Vibe Sceptre and got your loveable Plumber back, you may be forgiven for thinking you'd reached the end. In fact, you're actually only about half way through, as you can play through it all again to find even more collectables, and unlock some extra bonus levels.
In fact, about the only real gripe some may have it that it might prove a bit too easy for the more experienced player - with a difficulty level that's mostly comparable to the Kirby games, it feels about right to us. If you can stomach the piles of pink, like a simpler difficulty level and have a penchant for collectables and exploring, Super Princess Peach will prove to be a nifty little platformer.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS