Level Up’s monthly segment is back! Every last Friday, I will feature one digital starlette by profiling her importance in video game history.
Since February is the month of love, who is better to honor than the first girl we all chased after: Princess Peach.
Peach is an icon. She’s appeared in more games than any other female character in video game history. She’s the ultimate damsel-in-distress, but has transitioned into a playable character, usually seen in her crown and pink gown. Hailing from a mysterious Royal lineage, Peach is the Princess of Nintendo’s great Mushroom Kingdom. Neither of her parents have made appearances in the mainstream games, although her father is the Mushroom King. Interestingly, Peach also has one grandmother who is a Toad and another grandmother who is a human. Can you see the resemblance?
But let’s talk about the origins of Princess Peach and why I’m naming her Level Up’s “Ms. February”.
Over the holidays, I played Trivial Pursuit with family and got thrown a very easy question:
“What is the name of the fictional female in the video game Super Mario Bros. that Mario is trying to save?”
Smirks all around the table… She knows this one, they thought.
I hold back a moment, feigning apprehension… “Man, I don’t think I remember… uh… crap what’s her name?…” After a few moments of milking it, I finally blurted it out with utter confidence: “Princess Toadstool.” Duh. Without the need for confirmation, I ready my new roll.
“No no no!” says my boyfriend. “The answer is ‘Princess Peach’ “
“No… it’s Princess Toadstool.”
“Wrong, it’s Princess Peach.”
“No, Trivial Pursuit is wrong!! It was PRINCESS TOADSTOOL – are you kidding me?? No way… gimme that &*#$% card!”
This is how I felt:
I devoted hours of my childhood saving this Princess, so I was not willing to give up without a fight. A quick internet search validated my answer. IN YOUR FACE TRIVIAL PURSUIT!
So… what’s in a name?
Nintendo needed a hit game after the industry crashed in 1983 and actually called Super Mario Bros. their “Swan Song“. Serious business, right? So what’s more epic than an average plumber (hailing from his carpentry days in Donkey Kong) on a mission to save a Princess? Playing NES, *I* remember Peach as “Princess Toadstool”. Although always referred to as “Princess Peach” in Japan, executives from Nintendo of America renamed her “Princess Toadstool” in 1985 for the western release of Super Mario Bros.
I can’t find an official explanation as to why they did this, but I can say that America has always been obsessed with Royalty — and the 1980’s saw the HEIGHT of the world’s most prolific Princess, Diana. She was a feminine beauty to be admired and emulated. Millions of Americans woke up very early in the morning to watch her fairytale wedding on TV (‘member we didn’t have DVR back in 1981).
Did Nintendo have America’s obsession in mind when crowning their own Princess? I know we all casually referred to Diana as “Princess Diana”, but formally you would have addressed her as “Your Royal Highness”. By not knowing Princess Toadstool’s first name, did it make us feel our mission via Mario was more dignified and heroic?
I also find it interesting that when Diana got divorced in 1996, the media and public still lovingly referred to her as “Princess Diana”… so get this: it wasn’t until the release of Super Mario 64 in that same year – 1996 – that the name “Princess Peach” became her official name outside of Japan. Coincidence? Maybe. Just a thought.
Princess Peach keeps it pretty in pink. Almost always donning stereotypical “Royal” attire – crowns, gowns, petticoats and parasols – Peach has rarely shown much skin. The only time she really bares her midriff is in Super Mario Strikers (picture show above). And even then, she still looks cute. She isn’t hyper-sexualized like many of her female peers, and stands as a strong role model for young girls (usually). At the same time, from my recent talk with an eleven year old boy about Mario Kart, one of his favorite characters is Princess Peach. He likes her for her in-game abilities, not for her appearance.
One of the most important things to consider in talking about female video game characters is the role they play and their relationship with men in the game. Although constantly kidnapped, Peach is a playable character in many of the side Mario franchise games (like the Mario Kart series and Mario Party series) but she wasn’t the lead protagonist of a Nintendo game until 2006. Now, some may argue that she was a protagonist in Super Mario Bros. 2, however, she A) wasn’t the lead protagonist and B) the storyline revealed that this whole “game” happened in one of Mario’s dreams. Saying that, Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of my favorite games ever and Princess Toadstool was my preferred character. It was the first time I remember playing as another female outside of Ms. Pac-Man (Level Up’s “Ms. January”).
The first game Princess Peach officially starred in was called Super Princess Peach in 2006 for the Nintendo DS. Although this game was fairly well received, I personally found it to be sadly sexist. Some dumbass marketer thought this commercial was a funny / cute / ??? idea:
So here’s the rub. That “fire, wind and water” they’re referring to is Princess Peach’s wild emotions: Joy, Gloom, Rage, and Calm. Gloom actually summons Peach’s tears at will, making her cry – literally drowning her enemies in her own tears. Calm makes Peach “calm down” by putting a bubble around her. But if this bubble breaks, she loses health. This is a bummer of a game and it’s a clear ploy to seduce “Girl Gamers” (ugh) into believing that being overly emotional will make you win. It’s like they’re being primed for a future appearance on “The Bachelor”.
What’s frustrating is that Princess Peach has proved time and again (despite being kidnapped a lot) that she is perfectly capable of defending herself. If you’ve ever played Super Smash Bros. her Forward Aerial Crown Slap is awesome and she kicks ass.
If that’s too violent for you, she can also fly. Everyone wants to fly! So even though Princess Peach isn’t always “perfect”, I love her for being the main catalyst behind the first storyline of the first serious video game I grew up with.
So, congrats Princess Peach for being Level Up’s “Ms. February”.
Featured image via: Games Radar