I like PlayStation All-Stars. I like it a lot more than I thought I would, and even months after its release I’ll go out of my way to play online (now more than ever thanks to the presence of Emmett “Easy Money” Graves). It’ll be interesting to see what comes next for the game, both in terms of new characters and in terms of a sequel that can improve on what we have already.
Still, if there’s one thing I lament -- coming from someone who’s spent years playing the Smash Bros. games -- it’s the absence of a lot of true all-stars. Chief among them, Princess Peach. My brother swears up and down that she’s overpowered/broken, but even if that was the case (and I suspect not, given her tier list placing), I still like her beyond just giving me a good shot at victory. There’s just something refreshing -- or maybe “hilarious” is more like it -- about being able to fling around gorillas and smack evil warlords in the face with a tennis racket. She’s THE video game princess, and brings along with her an air of daintiness and goodness; she’s like a breath of fresh air, in the sense that she’s a respite against the MANLY MAN MEN that a lot of games would have you play as. Don’t get me wrong, there are other female characters that I enjoy playing as or having around (more so than Peach, and by a long shot), but for what it’s worth the pink-clad princess is more than enough to put a smile on my face.
Maybe now more than ever, if my theory is correct.
As awesome as it is to see Peach uppercut Bowser into a new galaxy, it does raise a lot of questions in terms of canonicity. I could buy Ike or Snake or Mario or even Olimar being able to catapult a dinosaur into the cosmos, but the princess who’s constantly been kidnapped for more than twenty years? Not as simple a task. But then I remember that there’s a good chance that the Smash Bros. canon is heavily implied (if not outright stated) to be just a bunch of kids playing with toys, so I guess I shouldn’t think too hard about why a princess can create explosions with a tap of her ass. But the point still stands: the more you think about Peach, the more you start to realize that there are a lot of unknowns about her. Why is she the princess? Why does Bowser keep kidnapping her? Why is she one of the only humans in a kingdom almost singularly-inhabited by sentient fungi? All these things and more are questions that have bounced through my exorbitantly-large head over the years -- and while I can’t say I hate Nintendo archangel Shigeru Miyamoto for his design philosophy, I do wish that every now and then we’d get answers regarding the full context of one of gaming’s most noted female characters…for better or worse.
In any case, it’s easy to leave well enough alone and just enjoy the characters and the games as they come. But then again, why should anyone be happy with the status quo? Why should anyone be happy with just accepting what we’re told, when there’s so much more to be discovered for ourselves?
And that’s what brings me here today. After much pondering, investigation, and interpretation, I think that I may have come up with something. It’s more than just an origin story; it’s reconciliation. It’s a rationalization of all that we know about the Mushroom Kingdom’s monarch. It’s…probably not something you should take so seriously. But for those eager to dive in, here you are: my personal theory about everything that makes Princess Peach so -- pardon my pun -- “peachy”.
I’ll admit that trying to reconcile all the elements of Peach’s story is a fool’s errand, especially considering the fact that I haven’t even come close to playing every Mario game. The most I have to go on are some memories of older games, observations of current games, and a little bit of off-kilter intuition -- and whatever evidence I can drum up to support it. So if there’s a flub here or there, feel free to jump in and correct me, or add your own opinions/theories as needed. With all that said, I think I’m in a good enough place to make an assertion. There’s a key idea, I think, that may very well explain everything that makes Peach who she is, well beyond the bounds we expect of her.
Here’s the underlying question: what if Peach is actually the most powerful character in the Mario canon?
Now, hear me out on this. If Yoshi’s Island DS is to be believed, Peach is supposedly one of the “Star Children” that carries an immense power within them -- along with series mainstays like Mario and Luigi, DK, Wario, and Bowser (!). If that’s the case, then she’s inherently more powerful than her royal status and frequent kidnappings would suggest. Granted she’s only part of a set, but the fact remains that she’s more dangerous -- or at least more valuable -- than the average Toad. But just who gave birth to her? No clue…and at this stage, I’d argue that it’s not nearly as important as one would think. Peach is a Star Child, as are Mario and Luigi, and even Wario; holding a power like that within one’s core may very well be something independent of lineage or birthright. Maybe it’s all just a matter of destiny. Or, alternatively, a matter of incredible potential that lies within, just WAITING to be tapped and unleashed.
And what better way to tap that potential than royal upbringing?
If the events of Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time are held canon, then it means that the alien invasion spearheaded by the fungal “Shroobs” put Peach’s life in danger. Thankfully Mario and Luigi (both their adult and baby forms) put a stop to that, but the fact remains that at one point Peach’s life was put in danger. From then on, the Toads had to step up their game if they wanted to protect and nurture her; they had to help her realize her potential however they could. Why her, though? Why not Mario or Luigi or any of the others? Well, if there was some prophecy about Star Children, then maybe there was a corollary that said one of them would become the greatest ruler the Mushroom Kingdom had ever known. (It certainly helped that one of them came pre-loaded with a crown.) So you can think of her royalty as a self-fulfilling prophecy: she’s the princess because she was supposed to be a princess. Or maybe they just scooped her up because she was the only girl of the bunch.
In any case, the course of action was relatively obvious. The Mushroom Kingdom at large put its stock in Peach, believing that she would herald new prosperity -- even at the cost of shunning every other Star Child, which would likely have the side effect of making Wario and Bowser less than heroic. (Waluigi is a different matter, of course, given that he’s a mutant born from Wario’s asexual, budding-style reproduction.) They gave her the education and training needed to succeed and excel -- to become precisely what they intended of her, and precisely what some old prophecy foretold. But they overcompensated. As it turned out, they didn’t need to put nearly as much work in as they thought. The princess had a natural predisposition for supremacy.
By now I assume you’ve seen this picture in one form or another:
In order for Mario to even begin to be of comparable height, he has to chow down on a Super Mushroom. Same goes for Luigi, arguably. And even then, I’d bet that she’s still got more than a few inches on them. To be fair, there’s no telling EXACTLY what effect -- or how potent of an effect -- a Super Mushroom has on its user, and Mario Bros. 2 compounds the problem in a number of ways. But whatever the case, Peach’s size is not to be discounted anytime soon. (Why she’d appear merely as a tall woman in games like Mario and Sonic at the Olympics or the Smash Bros. games is likely for balance and convenience; in the same sense that Olimar is scaled up from being the size of a quarter, Peach is scaled down from being the size of a sasquatch.) That said, one can’t help but wonder what would happen if the benevolent baker got her hands on a Super, or God forbid Mega Mushroom.
What’s important to note is that relative to the people around her (Mario, the Toads, et al), Peach might as well be a giant. In this case, I’m leaning toward a more direct interpretation; it’s hard to say what her exact upbringing was like, but assuming that the humans are from the same general area -- or species, for that matter -- it’s safe to guess that Peach has fallen prey to some sort of mutation, one caused by her status as a Star Child. And with that mutation follows certain unintended side effects. If we take Luigi to be of average height or something near it, then if (or when) Peach is shown to be anything excessively greater than that, it means that the rest of her body has to compensate. That is to say, anything of sufficient size has to be strong enough and durable enough to withstand the weight and keep up the usual bodily processes. Considering that we’ve never seen Peach collapse under the weight of her motions, AND that she’s shown a fair amount of physical prowess in damn near every game you get to use her in, suffice to say that she’s more than adapted.
Which brings us back to the kingdom. I doubt any of the Toads could have anticipated their princess eventually growing to about triple the average mushroom-man’s height, so they had to compensate quickly and immediately. Note that in spite of Toads being the dominant species throughout the kingdom, in Super Mario 64 all the doors and rooms are constructed to accommodate human-sized (or larger, in Peach’s case) visitors and hosts. Granted that could just be because it’s a castle just for Peach, but…well, that just seems a bit wasteful, doesn’t it? Plausible, yes, but wasteful all the same. That aside, you could make the argument that a lot of the Mushroom Kingdom’s architecture has been tweaked to accommodate; if Peach wanted to enter any given building to, say, kiss a baby Toad on the cheek, you wouldn’t want your monarch to have to stoop over like Gandalf just to get through the door. It’s a motion made out of respect, but -- like with any authority figure -- one done out of fear as well. For an entire kingdom to alter its construction parameters for the sake of one person only goes to show how valuable Peach is in the long run.
“Now wait a damn minute!” you yell indignantly, so loudly that you end up frightening the pet of your choice. “Are you serious? Princess Peach, the patron saint of kidnappings and damsels-in-distress, is supposed to be valuable? What have you been smoking?” And to those questions I say yes, indeed, and salmon.
It’s true, Princess Peach has been kidnapped about eight…eighteen…eighty…ten million times. One would think that she’s harmless, and serves as nothing more than A) a political enemy to be used as part of Bowser’s schemes, B) the target of a reptilian stalker’s affection, or C) the lynchpin of a vendetta against a mustachioed plumber. But let’s think about this in a different respect. Bowser has kidnapped Peach again, and again, and again, and held her in his castle for who knows how long -- at least until Mario shows up and boots his ass into a pit of lava. But the question I have is simple: why doesn’t Bowser kidnap Mario? Why does he think that sending his waddling, slow-witted goons after his arch nemesis is going to yield a different result the eightieth time when it didn’t work the first?
The obvious answer, at least from a gameplay and design perspective, is that if things didn’t play out that way then there would be no games. And given that Mario is Nintendo’s bread and butter, we can’t very well have that. But from a story perspective, it doesn’t make much sense. Except in one instance, and unless you take one idea -- the crux of my theory -- to heart.
Bowser isn’t just kidnapping Peach because he loves her. He’s kidnapping her because he knows she’s a far bigger threat than Mario will ever be. Consider what happened the last time Mario and Luigi got kidnapped; Peach tore her way from one end of the world to the next by calling upon elemental forces -- in some cases, literally blazing a path through anything that got in her way. Granted she had a catalyst for unlocking these abilities, but the basis of those powers was her emotions. Can you imagine how dangerous she’d be if she ever harnessed that power again? If her anger ever reached a fever pitch, she could very well turn the Mushroom Kingdom to ash. I don’t know what you consider to be a powerful tool set, but in my eyes that beats the hell out of kicking around turtle shells.
Outside of a few glimpses here and there, do we really know what goes on in Bowser’s Castle whenever Peach has an extended stay? It’d be easy to assume that she’s just locked in a tower, misty-eyed and hands clasped in prayer, but I’d argue that there’s something else going on. There have been games where, in spite of being kidnapped, Peach has had enough leeway to send Mario items or letters. Bowser may not be the brightest around, but I’d assume that the king of all Koopas would be able to put an end to that before she’d even found a pen. But more importantly, consider the organization of the average game in the canon: the first levels are always the easiest, while the last few are digital death traps. The first levels have you going up against Goombas in easily-conquered layouts; the last, swarms of ferocious foes out to ensure that you never make it to the big boss. It’s a way to ensure that gamers have a smooth and pleasant difficulty curve to ramp up their skills, but I’m starting to suspect something different. Maybe, just maybe, the layout of any given game isn’t designed to thwart Mario. Maybe it’s an effort to keep Peach in. Keep the strongest guys in or near the home base to wrangle her into submission, while all the remains (the weakest guys, the new recruits, what have you) are sent out to handle Mario. Simply put, it’s a matter of prioritizing threats.
Now, in the past I’ve heard the argument that maybe Peach secretly enjoys being kidnapped, and Bowser goes along with it because he gets to be with the woman he loves (can’t say I blame him, considering that Peach is one of the only people in their entire universe with the proper lady parts). It’s likely that by now Mario has caught on to this little game of Peach’s, but like the dopey hero that he is, he has no choice but to come running. But where does Peach fit into all of this? Simple. She really DOES enjoy it. She lets Bowser kidnap her, lets him haul her off to his keep, and then…well, that’s all he gets to do with her. He won’t be getting any 1-Ups off of her anytime soon; Peach is having too much fun fighting her way from one end of the keep -- and beyond, no doubt -- to the next.
It’s an equal mix of obligation and satisfaction; Bowser may have aims of extending his rule, but Peach is there to launch an assault as needed (and desired). Mario may be fighting his way toward her, but he’s just picking up the pieces left by Peach’s war path. In fact, he’s just a small part of the equation, the battle-bred elation of it all. Peach loves the carnage, with the fact that she’s protecting the kingdom as an added bonus. Bowser, in spite of being thwarted time after time, is in love with Peach…along with the destruction the warrior princess constantly wreaks. And Mario? Willingly unaware of it all -- and blissfully unaware that his adventures are just a means for him to prove his worth to Peach.
What I’m getting at here is that underneath that cheerful and kind exterior beats the heart of a warrior -- someone who thrives on competition and battle. Over the years, we’ve seen that Peach is a noteworthy tennis player, basketball player, golfer, racer, and more recently, Olympic athlete. One can safely assume that she’s learned all these things over the years as part of her royal conditioning -- a mix of both her caretakers’ orders and her own natural curiosity. But remember, those are things that can’t be done alone; even if she decides to golf solo, she still has to have courses to play on. So using her royal power, she commissions the construction of these courses, inviting peoples from far and wide to compete against her. Also consider that for all the activities in the Mario universe, none of the characters have any trouble switching from one sport to the next; I’d venture a guess that the facilities aren’t just there, but training and resources offered (if not ordered) by the princess. She wants a good clean fight, and she’ll do damn near anything to have it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If Peach really is the most powerful character in the canon, then what’s the point of competition and combat? Why bother if the outcome will almost always be the same? Easy. In the same sense that Peach can keep her cataclysm-causing emotions under control, so too can she prevent her monstrous strength and endurance from instantly ending any skirmish. It’s a switch-on, switch-off mechanism that prevents her from not only turning any competition into a washout, but a way to prevent her from turning her myriad castles into rubble. She has to limit herself just to be a member of society -- not unlike a certain eye patch-wearing swordsman.
That’s not to say that Peach’s…tendencies are to be praised automatically. In fact, you could think of them as a borderline fatal flaw. There’s an undeniable schism to her if my theory’s correct -- a massive divide between her sweet, fragile public persona and the beast that hides within. Between her natural abilities and her royal upbringing, Peach has been receiving conflicting instructions since her adoption. One voice tells her to become a dutiful, benevolent monarch; the other, an unbeatable champion that shows no mercy to dissidents.
As a result, there are two Peaches in one. One of them is the one we know and love, and the other is -- again -- the beast that hides within. There’s a constant struggle within her to reconcile her two personas, and it’s only because of her duty as a princess that the beast doesn’t overtake the beauty. But every so often -- every time Bowser steps in to wreak havoc, or there’s a new sport to take part in -- the beast is unleashed. Peach gets her chance to be the person she wants to be, even if it is in a limited capacity. For moments at a time, she can escape the doldrums of monarchy and fulfill the potential, the primal force, that’s been a part of her since her birth.
But while she is destined to have that beast within, so governed by will alone, so too will there always be reason to keep her in check. Their methods might have been a little haphazard, but the Toads meant well, and their efforts ultimately paid off. Peach knows what kind of person she wants to be, and that goes well beyond being the strongest; she wants to be the ruler of the kingdom. She wants to be a beacon of purity and innocence. She wants to be the kind of person you can count on to pat a Toad on the head, or bake a delicious cake, or give her people the occasional race track. She’s powerful, but she knows that above all else, she’s a princess…even if that means she’ll face internal struggles until her end.
And that’ll just about wrap things up. It’s hard to say if this interpretation could one day be woven into the canon, but if nothing else I have a theory to go by and keep in mind. And now you do, too. Memorize it, argue with id, do with it what you will; whatever the case, I hope you’ve been at least mildly entertained. Just don’t ask me about Daisy’s origin story.
Why’s that, you ask? Easy. As the CEO of Hasbro said to the police officer as he investigated the murder of a go-go dancer via board game, “I don’t have a Clue.”