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At last, after years in Mario’s portly shadow, Princess Peach gets a turn in the spotlight.

Literally. In Princess Peach: Showtime!, she can’t go anywhere without an overhead stage lamp beaming a pool of light around her person. Quite right, too, given her status as a star. The game casts her as a clothes horse, galloping through the sets of a theatre. Each new outfit signals a fresh performance: ninja, lassoing cowgirl, trenchcoated thief. Every turn is tricked out with gestures of winning verve, but none of the roles is a real peach; if you long to see the stony heart of her character, beneath all the fuzz, you will be disappointed.

The developer is Good-Feel, a Japanese studio that made its name with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which took the gummy pliability of Kirby and spooled it into a scratchy crochet look. It took all of ten seconds to get its hooks into you, partly because it made sense. If Kirby could already stretch and stuff himself to improbable dimensions, then why not loop and thread instead? Then came Yoshi’s Woolly World, which went for much the same thing. The charm was halved, not just because the aesthetic had no narrative groundwork (a wizard was responsible for Kirby’s quilted makeover, whereas Yoshi started out looking stitched up) but because it was a repeated flourish. By the time of Yoshi’s Crafted World, wherein the poor lizard went trash diving and capered through levels of cardboard and thrown-out bottles, Good-Feel’s style had been recycled into a shtick.

Princess Peach: Showtime! gameplay

Princess Peach: Showtime! creaks with similarly bendy artifice. Owing to the setup, the backdrops of each level are just that: painted slats of wood, clouds hung on wires, and flat houses that flip up from their foundations and swivel around Peach as she enters them, revealing makeshift interiors. The villain is Madame Grape, who, with her puffed-out purple dress and top hat, resembles an upturned glass of wine. She floats around the place, sprinkling discord, and brings to mind the weird sleep-invader of Nights into Dreams. Add the fake scenery, and there’s enough here to make you wonder if the entire adventure isn’t being held in quote marks – maybe the evening’s misfortunes will snap into daylit realisation, as Peach wakes up back at the palace.

As easy as it is to be swept up by the notion of our heroine in chef’s whites, with a giant piping bag under her arm, primed to squeeze dollops of creamy decoration onto a procession of baked goods; or to see her grip a pair kunai, shawled in shadowy garb, and creep through shafts of bamboo, the trouble is that the result isn’t much fun to play. When Kirby performed similar transformations – embodying a car, for example, in Kirby and the Forgotten Land – you felt as if the imaginative mileage of that change had been exhausted, and that HAL Laboratory, far from offering a mere diversion, had insured that the payoff felt good in the hands. Here, as you hold one button and wiggle an analogue stick, the better to squirt a river of frosting down the length of a roulade, you’re semi-charmed by the spectacle but left eager for the main course to arrive.

None of which is helped by the game’s technical performance. The frame rate regularly starts to pant and flag, and there is a polite blur to the visuals, as if someone at Good-Feel had decided to soften the camera’s glare with a dab of Vaseline. Granted, the Switch is almost certainly in its last year – soon to be wheeled into retirement, with its rheumatic Joy-Con and the rumble of its youth long gone – but you hardly expect a game published by Nintendo to feel quite so scuffed.

Princess Peach: Showtime! gameplay

In the end, you feel most disappointed for Peach. One hardly expects a character study. (Indeed, the virtue of many Nintendo creations is their liberating lack of weight and fullness, hence the pleasures of Paper Mario, in which not an ounce of personality is crumpled or lost in the fold.) But you long, at least, for the kind of mechanical heft and precision that might do just as well. When even Toad gets a spin-off to himself, in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and it feels like a calibrated and careful riff, you end up feeling as if something had been dug up in the character – a little glint of industry and pluck that you hadn’t caught before.

The only other console outing that Peach has had to herself is Super Princess Peach, from 2005. It was a 2-D platformer, crayon-bright, that was plugged into its star’s emotions: tears to water plants, rage to burn down obstacles, and so forth. It was a better game than Princess Peach: Showtime! – no costumes or restless changes of scene, more focus – though it hardly marked much of an advance on her image. The degree to which people hunger for depth and darkness in Mario and his ilk is often funny, occasionally verging on the creepy. Think back to 2018, and the internet frenzy around “Bowsette,” a fan-made illustration of Peach, crowned with horns and sporting a spiked collar. It was easy to dismiss as adolescent perversion, or irony run amok, but at the root was a simple craving for the unexplored, a will to look at these worlds and wonder what may run beneath them. Nintendo makes plumbers of us all.

Princess Peach: Showtime! Ninja

Game: Princess Peach: Showtime
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Good Feel
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Out now

Princess Peach: Showtime

Princess Peach: Showtime
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Princess Peach: Showtime is proof that you can have too much of a good thing, with the mould-breaking style of Good Feel becoming mustier with each outing, and you can't help but feel that the heroine herself deserved better. It's cute and fun in parts, a sort of Nintendo version of Mr Benn, but without either a cohesive core or full-on Warioware anarchy, Peach is stranded somewhere in between.
Princess Peach: Showtime is proof that you can have too much of a good thing, with the mould-breaking style of Good Feel becoming mustier with each outing, and you can't help but feel that the heroine herself deserved better. It's cute and fun in parts, a sort of Nintendo version of Mr Benn, but without either a cohesive core or full-on Warioware anarchy, Peach is stranded somewhere in between.
2/5
Total Score
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