The new Princess Peach game is high femme, low tech and good fun

Just after the year of Barbie, the first princess of video games is in a new title that definitively answers, “Yes, a woman can have it all.”

“Princess Peach: Showtime!,” out March 22 for the Nintendo Switch, is the first solo title in nearly 20 years for Princess Peach, an iconic character notoriously cast as gaming’s first damsel in distress. Maybe few are expecting a fictional royal to portray more than surface-level feminism and deconstruct the patriarchy. But “Showtime!” is notably leagues more progressive than her 2005 release, “Super Princess Peach,” which was a very fun Nintendo DS game with an outdated perspective on the kind of power a woman can wield (all of her powers revolved around “emotions”).

So it is heartwarming to see Peach finally “have it all” in 2024, especially after Anya Taylor-Joy’s wonderful portrayal in last year’s blockbuster film “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” The premise is simple: This theater full of magical beings that put on performances is overrun by a dark force, and Peach will take on each “stage” as the lead performer, becoming the hero of every story, whether she’s a sheriff of the Old West, a thief with a code of honor or a dancing pastry chef. It’s much like Mario and his different outfits for powers. But instead of red overalls to throw fireballs, Peach is a kung fu martial artist.

The controls for this game are alarmingly simple: There are two buttons. One of them jumps, and the other does an action specific to the role she plays, whether she’s swinging a sword in action-focused “swordmaster” stages or plopping whipped cream as she dances on a swing dangling over a giant cake. Nintendo makes games for all ages, but “Showtime!” is firmly in a suite of games that make greater allowances for children or less experienced players.

Veteran players will find little new here outside of Peach’s charming animations. Many of these levels are closer to minigames. The pastry chef levels about decorating cakes evoke “Mario Party” more than “Mario Bros.” The mechanical limitations do restrict the inventiveness of play possible. “Showtime!” is akin to the Kirby games, with more challenging levels tucked away at the end.

Good thing that some of these performances can be breathtaking. The weirder the job, the more interesting the play, and the most creative performances avoid straight action. You’d expect the superhero play to just be about punching bad guys, but Peach uses her superpowers to “act out” being a superhero, including ferrying people to safety. A detective portion turns the game into a rudimentary but lively point-and-click adventure. The ice skating portion needs to be seen to be believed.

The Switch console is showing its age as the frame-rate performance of “Showtime!” often hitches, even during the loading sequences. It’s jarring to see curtains flow like stop-motion photography, and Peach’s luxurious animations call for more horsepower. “Showtime!” is high femme, low tech.

“Showtime!” displays great promise for a Peach franchise. It’s too bad the project feels more like a dainty step toward more substantive gameplay opportunities. There’s plenty already here, but it leaves you wishing some of these concepts had more room to stretch their legs. Any game that earnestly places femininity on center stage deserves it.

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