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Princess Peach transforms from supporting player to leading lady in 'Showtime!'

Princess Peach steals the show in her first starring role since 2005's Super Princess Peach.
Nintendo
Princess Peach steals the show in her first starring role since 2005's Super Princess Peach.

Princess Peach Showtime! comes out in the middle of Women's History Month — and, fittingly, it's finally giving one of gaming's iconic female characters the big title she's long deserved.

Since 1985, Princess Peach has juggled roles as queen of the Mushroom Kingdom, damsel in distress, inferred love interest, and one of the only girl characters across Mario games. While she's often playable (from Super Mario Bros 2 to the Mario Kart series to last year's Super Mario Bros. Wonder), she hasn't been the protagonist of a game since 2005's Super Princess Peach — which was only released on the handheld Nintendo DS, not the company's main console line.

But 2023's The Super Mario Bros. Movie introduced us to a stronger, more independent Princess Peach, even if she was still a supporting character. So on the back of the film's success, Nintendo is now launching Princess Peach Showtime! – finally putting Peach in the spotlight. The company even subtly redesigned Peach's appearance in box art for the new gameto look like her character from the movie.

Break a leg!

Princess Peach Showtime! starts with a simple premise. Peach and her Toads are invited to the Sparkle Theater – only for the Sour Bunch, a villainous troupe of anthropomorphic grapes, to ruin the performance. Separated from the Toads, Peach ends up partnering with the theater's guardian Stella — a magical talking ribbon — to beat the baddies and save the show.

Kung Fu Peach takes center stage.
/ Nintendo
/
Nintendo
Kung Fu Peach takes center stage.

The gameplay reminds me of another Nintendo platformer, Yoshi's Crafted World, which also has you gather collectibles hidden throughout levels to unlock boss battles and progress. Just like how that game makes you feel like you are exploring a world stitched out of fuzzy fabrics, Showtime! really involves you in the backstage mechanics of a theatrical production.

As you play through the game's sidescroller levels as Peach, set pieces on the stage get lifted on ropes and rotate on dials. The backgrounds and props look charmingly handmade. An invisible audience applauds when Peach does a power pose or reaches a checkpoint. When she isn't on stage, she can roam the floors of the Sparkle Theater, a more open-world environment that includes a dress shop and optional challenges – and that's inhabited by cute, big-nosed residents called Theets.

Each level is a different play going on in the theater and Peach is the star. As a fan of magical girl anime, I enjoyed how instead of just giving Peach a weapon (like the Poltergust 3000 in Luigi's Mansion) or a power-up (like the catsuit in Bowser's Fury), Peach activates the unique abilities of each play's main actor – or "Sparkla" – through a Sailor Moon-esque transformation, transfiguring her outfit in a flashy cutscene.

Peach can't just fight and jump; she can also sing and dance!
/ Nintendo
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Nintendo
Peach can't just fight and jump; she can also sing and dance!

Curtain Call

These Sparkla metamorphoses are visually wondrous, but not all are created equal. I hope Nintendo revisits Kung Fu Peach, Ninja Peach, and Dashing Thief Peach in future games. But I dreaded having to play as Figure Skater Peach or Mermaid Peach. As cool as it was to control sea creatures through song or spin through graceful ice choreography, it was way more satisfying to take out guards as a stealthy ninja or navigate puzzling levels as a master spy with a grappling hook.

The game also presents a diverse array of boss battles. Some of them, like the maniacal lion — whose eyes are stage lights and who showcases a creepy Cheshire grin — fit perfectly in the game's world. But clunky mechanics made most of the bosses a slog to fight. Still, without giving anything away, I can say that the final boss is a fantastically fun epilogue to Peach's show that left me hungry for an encore. Thankfully, you can revisit stages or keep trying at challenges to unlock all of the dresses, ribbons, and theater decor in the first-floor lobby shop — so the game's not really over even after the credits roll.

Boss fights range from clever to frustrating.
/ Nintendo
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Nintendo
Boss fights range from clever to frustrating.

Princess Peach Showtime! feels on par with recent Mario releases. Like Super Mario Bros. Wonder: It's a new take on a traditional format with enough novelty to offset its less engaging moments. I wouldn't always give Showtime! a standing ovation, but I'm happy that it's opening the door for Peach to take a leading role in many more games to come.

James Perkins Mastromarino contributed to this review. contributed to this story

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Rakiesha Chase-Jackson
Rakiesha Chase-Jackson is a mother, wife and project manager on NPR's Member Partnership team. In all aspects of her life, she's focused on helping people meet their goals and collaborate well with others.