Of Princesses and Mood Swings
Considered by some to be the "worst Mario game", Super Princess Peach is well deserving of the critique; Indeed, her only adventure as the protagonist flips the Mario formula on its head, and then stomps on it. Angrily. People looking for a simple palette swap need look the other way, because the bold directions in which Nintendo took this platformer, leaves you with more than just a game catering to a niche audience that want Peach to save Mario for a change.
That is of course the goal of the game - Bowser finally figured out that locking away Mario and Luigi would be the more effective way to do things. After all, they're the one's who keep saving our damsel in distress, so whatever could go wrong with this, most masterful, of plans?
Well, it turns out Super Princess Peach must've been set in a timeline after she started kicking butt in Smash Bros, because she's certainly no pushover, and it begs the question: How come she has, so frequently, succumbed to the kidnapping of the already mentioned King Koopa? While the game fails to touch on the absurdity that such a capable person keeps getting kidnapped over and over again, it does make you wonder. What if all those traps in Bowser's castle were never actually intended to keep Mario out, but to keep the, incredibly dangerous, Princess Peach inside?
It becomes apparent, during your pleasant stroll through the mushroom kingdom, that Super Princess Peach is not afraid to break the Mario formula any chance it gets. No longer are you limited to jumping on enemies to dispose of them - instead, Peach has access to an umbrella that is so efficient at beating up enemies that it could've come from within castle Dracula itself. And it doesn't end there.
For the first time in the Mario franchise you actually have a reason to collect all those coins scattered around the various levels. These can be used in the over-world shop, giving you access to upgraded abilities, such as giving Peach the ability to float like in Super Mario Bros. 2.
Collecting coins, exploring the levels and rescuing Toads (this game's equivalent to gathering stars in a Mario level) is a more pleasant experience due to no longer having time pressure to complete the stages. Usually, to find or reach, one of the Toads you utilize the main gameplay hook of the game - four intuitively placed buttons on the stylus screen that represent different moods. Each of these moods further break the Mario formula people have come to know and love over the years.
Did you fail a platforming section? No worries! When Peach is happy, she's literally flies. These abilities, when activated, drain your "vibe meter" which is refilled by letting your umbrella consume the inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom - so they're not something you can use indefinitely - but it's still interesting to have access to what is basically a P-Wing whenever you want.
Are the ghosts in the spooky castle giving you trouble? If Peach gets really angry with them, they will simply fly away - and if you got hurt you can always calm down and refill your hearts.
You do not turn into baby Peach or lose your abilities when you get hit by an enemy, instead you have three hearts representing your health. The amount of hearts you have may also be upgraded in the over-world shop, and the concept of 1 ups has been removed. If you succumb to instant death in a level, so long as you had more than half a heart, you will simply start from a checkpoint at the start of that section, with half a heart less than before you died. Only when you are completely out of hearts do you end up in the over-world, and even then it's not a huge deal as the game remembers what Toads you've saved, so you don't need to go find the same one's again.
This is a philosophy that also stretches to the few "stylus sections" of the game that usually occur before a boss fight. They're fun in their own right, but should you fall to the boss and end up on the over-world again, you need not re-do them.
That said, if it isn't apparent, people looking for a hardcore experience should look elsewhere. Super Princess Peach is super easy, and is better suited for those looking for relaxation rather than an actual challenge - or for a younger audience.
Super Princess Peach may very well be a terrible Mario game; but it's still a fantastic platformer in its own right, with sharp, responsive controls that discards tired mechanics in favor of introducing new ones. I picked this up for the 3DS and it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. We may not ever see another one of these, as the game's reception seemed rather poor, but if this stuff sounds interesting to you, don't hesitate to at least give it a shot.