When I was younger (the very early 1990’s), I spent many hours rescuing princesses from different castles. I often found that they were no longer in that castle or were never in that castle to begin with, and very often became angry at them for not being able to take care of themselves (I was young, very lazy, and playing through 100 levels without knowing any of the shortcuts was daunting). Perhaps this is because they were off becoming independent princesses who didn’t need the help of a male protagonist. As I grew older, more female protagonists were introduced. I am happy to note that the portrayal of female characters has changed. Not only are there playable female characters, but non playable female characters are significantly less passive and kidnap-able.
Let’s start at the beginning with the first female character I can remember: Princess Peach. In my opinion, the most notoriously kidnapped princess in the history of… well… ever. Peach is an iconic part of Nintendo’s Super Mario series and is kidnapped in almost every single game in which she appears. Why does Bowser constantly kidnap Peach?
In the original Mario Bros. game, Peach had a special power to stop Bowser from taking over the Mushroom Kingdom. Now, however, I think he might have a crush on her and hopes she gets Stockholm syndrome and they make a bunch of baby koopas together.
This is the first female I remember in gaming in my life time. Her special power is being kidnapped all the time. Unless it’s Mario Bros. 2 in which Peach can fly, making her the best character in the game as far as I’m concerned. The only other games in which Peach is not kidnapped are her own game Super Princess Peach (which I’ll get to momentarily) and the Player vrs. Player (PvP) games such as Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, and the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games series of games.
So let’s talk about Super Princess Peach. Mario is kidnapped and Princess Peach must save the day. Finally, the tables have turned and the Super Mario series’s first heroine ever is going to save her true love through… oddly euphoric happiness… fits of mass hysteria… and periods of uncontrollable rage…?
Calm: “Once you press the Calm icon on the bottom, Peach will become calm, restoring her HP.” (source)
Joy: “Once you press the Joy icon, Peach will become extremely happy, and sing, allowing her to float in the air.” (source)
Gloom: “Once you press the icon that shows Peach crying, she will start running around sobbing, causing plants to grow out of the ground that she will be able to climb.” (source)
Rage: “Once you press the rage icon, she will start burning on fire. This ability will not only make her invincible, but it will also allow her to ram into enemies, killing them all.” (source)
Surely without the explanation you can see my issue. On harder levels the player switches Peach’s moods constantly. This game should have been called Princess Peach’s Bipolar Adventure. What does this say about how a female acts in a time of crisis? Why couldn’t Peach have just been a female Mario figure? Would her game have been any less bad (and it was awful) if she had just been able to glide along, jump really high, eat mushrooms to heal and stars to be invincible? Honestly, it might have made the game better if Peach’s main role wasn’t that of a manic depressive.
But Peach isn’t like this in all of the games. Although she is portrayed in very feminine colors, namely the all pink outfits, she is a force to be reckoned with in the PvP games. I can’t begin to tell you how many times Princess Peach, as a medium weight character, in Mario Kart Wii has knocked me off the level or run me over only to turn around and wave at me. She is also an athlete and not excluded from racing, tennis, basketball, or even brawling. In more recent games, Peach is hardly the constantly kidnapped princess that she is in the past representations, although only when competition is involved.
Peach has special powers in the sports games. In Mario Power Tennis her offensive shot is called the Super Peach Spin (SPS), a very curved fast ball that sends opposing players to the net; her defensive shot is called the Sweet Kiss Return (SKR), a lob shot which can be used effectively after SPS to succeed against the opponent. Peach made her Super Smash Bros. debut in Melee. Although she is easy to send flying, being the weak female that she is, she also has a great Smash Attack (a very powerful ability that all characters have in the Super Smash Bros. series) and can float from her parasol giving her extra time in the air and more accurate landings for jumping longer distances. Peach’s outfits have changed now too. Once an adventuress in a heavy pink gown she now dresses for the occasion, showing a more practical side of the princess.
Despite being the occasional power house, Peach is never mean. Her personality is the epitome of feminine. She is sweet, kind hearted, and well mannered. She is often portrayed as a selfless leader, always putting the residents of mushroom kingdom and others before herself. You would assume Princess Peach harbors many feelings of ill will toward Bowser, considering the amount of times he has kidnapped her, but this does not appear so.
Princess Peach is a middle ground character for me. She is not 100% positive because she is dependent on her prince…well, her plumber… to come and rescue her, she rarely takes care of herself, and in the one instance when she did take care of herself she was on an emotional roller coaster so out of control even Disney doesn’t want it in the park. BUT, she is also kind, selfless, and polite, which is behavior every one should model regardless of gender.
So where does Princess Peach fall for you? Is she a good role model to follow or is she too much of a stereotype? Is she only a good model in certain situations, like the sports games, or can she not be redeemed at all?