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A decade ago, Nintendo fans were celebrating the Year of Luigi.
Some of them may have been enjoying the publisher-led festivities with their tongue lodged firmly in their cheek, but the concept – a year spent acknowledging and giving the spotlight to a character known for usually playing second fiddle – was a welcome one nonetheless.
If 2013 was the Year of Luigi, there’s an argument to be made that, unofficially, 2023 was the Year of Peach. Although there’s never a year that goes by without the Mushroom Kingdom’s most prominent royal making some sort of appearance in one of Nintendo’s latest games, this year she’s enjoyed centre stage more often.
For most people, the key example of this was in this past summer’s blockbuster The Super Mario Bros Movie, in which Peach – in a complete 180 from the Damsel in Distress trope she played such a large part in establishing in video games in the 20th century – became one of the strongest characters in the film.
It’s Peach who teaches Mario the ropes, Peach who has one of the coolest scenes in the film (where she speeds through the Mushroom Kingdom in a motorbike) and Peach who comes up with the fake wedding plan to save the day. And, in the final action in the movie – delivering the ultimate irony for long-term fans of the series – it’s Peach who traps Bowser in her castle, for once.
Her presence in video games has been more active than usual this year too. One of the best games of the year – the astounding Super Mario Bros Wonder – puts Peach in a co-starring role, putting her on equal footing to the likes of Mario, Luigi and Toad. If you wanted to play as Peach for the entirety of the game and essentially consider it a Peach platformer, this was absolutely possible.
The remaster of Super Mario RPG also marks another co-starring role for Peach, albeit one that comes late in the game when she becomes the last person to join the player’s party. With her defensive and healing abilities, she provides much-needed support in the game’s final, more difficult battles.
As prominent as Peach has been this year, however, her biggest moment came during the June 2023 Nintendo Direct, when it was announced that she would be getting the sole starring role in her own game, Princess Peach: Showtime, due for release in 2024.
Long-time Nintendo players will know that this isn’t the first time Peach has been given top billing in a game, but many will also recall that the last time it happened, the results were somewhat tepid. The Nintendo DS platformer Super Princess Peach was supposed to be a turning point for the character, with the pitch being that for once Mario had been kidnapped and it was up to Peach to rescue him.
“It appeared that Princess Peach’s first time in the spotlight would also be her last. Now, 19 years later, she’s getting another crack at it.”
What could have been a proud moment for female video game players, however, ended up being an average platformer with a questionable central mechanic – Peach can use her emotions as a special power to perform certain moves. When she’s happy she can float, when she’s angry she sets things on fire, and when she’s sad her tears can make plants grow and spin water wheels.
The notion that one of video games’ most popular female characters was getting her first starring role, and it revolved around her getting emotional, didn’t provide the best optics, and so it appeared that Princess Peach’s first time in the spotlight would also be her last. Now, 19 years later, she’s getting another crack at it.
So far, not much has been shown about the game, but appears that it won’t be lacking in creativity. The plot has Peach attending a theatre which is then taken over by a witch called Grape. Peach teams up with Stella, the star-shaped guardian of the theatre, to take on Grape and her gang of minions.
Ditching her crown in favour of a ponytail, this is a more active Peach than we’d even seen in Super Mario Bros Wonder. The game’s stage play gimmick lets her transform into a variety of costumes, leading to different gameplay possibilities from non-violent ones (she can turn into a detective or a cake-maker for some stages) to notably less pacifistic ones.
Seeing Peach turning into a swordfighter and engaging in duels, then transforming into Kung Fu Peach and literally kicking someone’s head in is such a far cry from the “help me Mario” days, and given that it’s following on from her role in The Super Mario Bros Movie, followed by a new Super Mario Bros game that put a bunch of flower people in the ‘In Distress™’ role instead, it’s clear this new, stronger Peach is here to stay.
Peach has made huge strides as a character in recent years – from her funny, modern reaction during the ending to Super Mario Odyssey, to her newfound independence in her post-game excursions in the same game, to the brave, confident Peach in the movie – and, if handled properly, Showtime could be the final step in her most important transformation of all.