Princess Peach: Showtime! Won’t Challenge You — But It Might Make You Cheer

Inverse Score: 7/10

Video Game Reviews

The show must go on, even when it’s been taken over by an evil wizard and her minions. At least, that seems to be Princess Peach’s opinion as she dutifully raids the costume closet to become a daring thief, a singing mermaid, a world-class baker, and more to save a beleaguered theater in her first solo game in 20 years.

With no established franchise tied to Peach, Princess Peach: Showtime was free to define a whole new style of gameplay not tied to Mario’s familiar platforming. The result is an inventive, joyful romp through multiple gaming genres, with each of its side-scrolling stages offering a unique way to play. But as fun as it often is, Princess Peach: Showtime! is so committed to being simple and approachable that it never reaches the potential of any of its gameplay mechanics and fades from the mind almost as soon as it’s over.

Take the Stage

Each play comes with a new outfit, complete with spectacular costume change.


An opening cutscene sets up the premise: a villainous sorceress named Grape has taken over the Sparkle Theater. It’s up to Peach, who was there to see a play, to defeat her. From there, Princess Peach: Showtime! is a trek through levels each representing a different play, which have all been warped by Grape’s minions.

Where things get interesting is how the game represents each of those plays. All told, there are 10 different plays, each with three stages that unlock as you move through the game. The star of each play, called a Sparkla, has been captured, and Peach, evidently the world’s greatest understudy, must take on their role. The Sparkle Theater is broken up into five floors, each of which hosts four stages that must be finished before moving on.

On the first stage of every new play, Peach gets a slick costume change sequence and a new suite of powers to go with it. Princess Peach: Showtime’s greatest strength is the sheer variety that these transformations offer. While most open up straightforward combat options — the Swordfighter slashes enemies with a rapier, the Martial Artist kicks them through walls — a few unlock totally different kinds of gameplay. Patissiere Peach eschews the sidescrolling format altogether in favor of a cake-decorating minigame. Detective Peach’s play is a mystery game, challenging players to hunt for clues and solve simple logic puzzles.

I looked forward to learning what I could do with each new costume, and with 10 in the game, the joy of learning a new set of moves comes pretty frequently. On any given floor, you might jump from chasing bandits on horseback as Cowgirl Peach to punching aliens out of the sky as the Super Sentai-inspired Mighty Peach to winning an ice-skating competition as Figure Skater Peach. Those rapid shifts in genre make it feel almost impossible to get bored while playing Princess Peach: Showtime! — if you don’t like one level, chances are the next one you play will be totally different.

Not Ready for Broadway

Gameplay ranges from baking minigames to combat against flying aliens.


The downside is that with Princess Peach: Showtime’s incredible breadth also comes a lack of depth. Each stage in the game can be completed in under half an hour, and they’re frequently much shorter than that. Once you’ve finished all three stages of a play, a finale opens up in the Sparkle Theater’s basement, which is typically the best but shortest part of each play. You’ll probably spend less than an hour in each of the game’s 10 roles, and as exciting as it is to leap from one gameplay style to another, none of them feel like they really get a chance to shine. That’s a shame, because nearly all of them are a blast. There are spectacular moments scattered throughout Princess Peach: Showtime!, whether you’re infiltrating a castle as a ninja or dashing across rooftops as a noble thief, but every time a play concluded, I found myself asking, “Is that all?”

It doesn’t help that Princess Peach: Showtime! remains an extremely simple game, no matter how varied it is. On some level, that’s necessary since switching between 10 mechanically complex roles could be too much for what is clearly a game aimed at young audiences. But it feels overly cautious, afraid of including almost any challenge or depth for fear of alienating players. Even in four short levels with each costume, it feels like Princess Peach: Showtime! is intentionally holding itself back rather than reaching the full potential of any of its ideas.

Princess Peach: Showtime’s variety keeps things fresh level after level.


Peach’s last solo game, Super Princess Peach way back in 2005, got plenty of criticism for the perceived misogyny of its premise. In that Nintendo DS game, Princess Peach’s powers were based on emotions, which led her to fly into rages or weep openly to solve challenges. Some critics saw it as belittling to reduce Princess Peach to a stereotype of an overly emotional woman, and for good reason.

None of that is present in Princess Peach: Showtime!, where our heroine is instead self-possessed and capable, taking on roles from superhero to swashbuckler that were once reserved almost entirely for male heroes. But while nothing in the text of Princess Peach: Showtime! suggests the same kind of sexism that appeared in Super Princess Peach, I can’t help but feel a little of the same condescension.

Nintendo’s first-party games have always been lighthearted affairs aimed at younger audiences, but they’re not always so afraid to introduce challenge. The recent Super Mario Bros. Wonder added wildly inventive twists to its platforming stages that elicit the same kind of joyful surprise as Princess Peach: Showtime!’s costume changes, but they were far more complex and often more difficult. By comparison, Princess Peach: Showtime!’s approach feels calibrated never to force players to slow down or even think too much about what they’re doing. For Peach’s first solo outing in nearly two decades, it feels conspicuous that the game is so stripped of complexity. The most cynical way to read it is that Princess Peach: Showtime! stars a princess, so it’s being marketed to little girls, so it shouldn’t be too complex. It’s a huge step up from Super Princess Peach, but it’s hard to entirely shake the feeling of being talked down to.

Style Over Substance

The theater aesthetic goes a long way toward selling the charm of Princess Peach: Showtime!


To match its mechanical simplicity, Princess Peach: Showtime! has a similarly shallow take on narrative. I certainly don’t expect Super Mario games or their spinoffs to have much of a story, but it seems like a missed opportunity in this case. Princess Peach: Showtime! is set in a theater and told through a series of plays. There couldn’t be a better venue for some fun dialogue playing with the tropes of each play’s genre, but we get nothing of the sort. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to another Mario spinoff, the similarly theater-inspired Paper Mario series, which is known for having clever writing throughout.

Princess Peach: Showtime! falls short with its writing, but it uses its stage-play premise to full effect in its art. Since each level is a play, their environments are all actual stages, complete with the most over-the-top set decoration you’ve ever seen. Clouds and roaring fires alike are represented as 2D props, and enemies are even held up by strings like marionettes. Even some of the environments Peach moves through are clearly made of cardboard, which is used wonderfully in moments where she sneaks behind the set as a ninja, revealing it to be a facade. Each play has a completely different vibe, from its backdrop to Peach’s costume, all of which convincingly paint their worlds while serving as a constant reminder that this is all meant to be a good show.

In the end, Princess Peach: Showtime! hits the mark way more often than it misses it. Despite not committing to the bit with its story, its aesthetics run wild with the theatrical premise, never failing to evoke glee. And while its shallow gameplay left me somewhat unsatisfied, the moments when it throws caution to the wind for train heists, table-flipping martial arts fights, and full-on space shooter segments are undeniably great. Princess Peach: Showtime’s simplicity and variety make it easy to recommend as a game for younger players. For everyone else, Princess Peach: Showtime! will probably leave you underwhelmed, but it’s still an enjoyable night at the theater while it lasts.


Princess Peach: Showtime! launches March 22 on Nintendo Switch.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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