Don’t get me wrong — I’m a Princess Peach fan. As far as I’m concerned, anybody who wears a gown and heels and who nonetheless stands on equal footing with the likes of plumbers, apes and dinosaurs is A-OK in my book. And while Ms. Pac-Man may be the grande dame of video games, my calculations say that Peach has had more playable appearances than any other female character in the history of video games. (Specifically, I count 53, starting with Super Mario Bros. 2 and ending with Mario Party DS and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Take that, Chun-Li.) However, just because a certain princess might be the most well-traveled female video game character ever doesn’t mean that every other woman in her universe has to look like her.
Nintendo, it seems, likes Peach so much that her likeness graces even characters other than her. This actually happens to such a degree that I’m dedicating an entire column to what I call “Peach Syndrome” in hopes that I can shed some light on the many Marioverse inhabitants who bare a resemblance to the monarch formerly known as “Toadstool.”
So who does Peach look like?
As many playing Super Mario Galaxy have noticed, the newly introduced Princess Rosalina could very well be Peach in an aqua-green nightgown and with new hair. While I haven’t yet finished Galaxy, I’m concerned that Nintendo will keep up its tradition of not fleshing out its characters all that much and leave up the player’s imagination why Rosalina looks so much like Peach. According to Rosalina’s profile at the Super Mario Wiki, Galaxy’s developers initially conceived of Rosalina as some long-lost relation to Peach, a fact that would explain the characters’ striking look-alike qualities. (Even more so, the same profile postulates that Rosalina was initially designed as an homage to The Wizard of Oz’s Glinda the Good Witch, which might explain some of the strange bubble phenomenon associated with Rosalina.) In the final product, I’m wagering, any proof of Rosalina being Peach’s kin has been scotched, leaving their status as almost twins coincidental by default.
Peach and Rosalina’s similarities go past looks. Both princesses underwent name changes as Nintendo translated them for worldwide audiences. Like Peach, Rosalina also underwent a name switch. She initially debuted to worldwide video game audiences as “Rosetta” — a name that both alludes to some secrets she may be hiding and puts her in line with the scads of other ladies in the Marioverse who are named after objects. (But that’s another column.) Japanese gamers still know her as “Rosetta.” And as if to complicate matters further, Spanish-speaking Nintendo fans know her as “Estela.”
But what strikes me most about Rosalina’s resemblance to Peach is the fact that Nintendo has introduced the most blatant knock-off yet. Will Rosetta be joining the roster of Mario regulars at the expense of a certain other look-alike?
Perhaps no one should be more threatened by Rosalina’s appearance than Sarasaland’s Princess Daisy, who since Super Mario Land has made a career of being the Marioverse’s “other princess.” What to do with a platinum blonde upstart when you’re the redheaded daughter that nobody ever asked for? Your guess is as good as mine.
Daisy debuted in the Mario series as a nearly perfect Peach clone in Super Mario Land, looking even more peachy than Peach herself by virtue of popping up with the red hair that Peach’s initial Super Mario Bros. sprite sported before Nintendo artists decided Mario’s main lady had to be blonde. Daisy transformed from Midge-to-Peach’s-Barbie to a full-on character with her appearance ten years later in the Nintendo 64 Mario Tennis, when Nintendo affiliate Camelot gave her tan skin hair to contrast her against Peach’s rather Nordic looks. That changed again a few years later, when Daisy rather creepily absorbed the face of Mario Golf regular Azalea. Since then, she’s sported lighter skin, darker hair and bigger eyes — none of which, of course, make her look all that different from Peach. She is, more often than not, just a palette swap with a different head pasted on.
This original Marioverse damsel perhaps suffered the greatest injustice of all: being retroactively classified as a Peach clone. Pauline debuted on the original Donkey Kong arcade cabinets with blonde hair and a red dress. In actual game screens, however, she sported a longer pink skirt.
Perhaps this discrepancy — combined with the fact that Peach actually plays Pauline’s role in a number of Donkey Kong re-creations, such as those in the Game & Watch Gallery series — led to confusion about whether the two characters were actually one in the same. When Nintendo reintroduced Pauline with Donkey Kong ’94, a makeover gave her curly brunette hair to further differentiate her from Peach. Restyled though she may be, Pauline still looks a hell of a lot like Peach — in the hand drawn art from Donkey Kong ’94 or in the cinematic scenes from Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2.
No, I’m not implying that Peach is covered in thick, simian body hair. However, when you think about it, Donkey Kong has his own Marioesque hero-villain-damsel triangle. Almost as much as K. Rool resembles Bowser, Candy Kong looks like Peach, with all her pink-and-blondeness. Candy didn’t need to be rescued as often, but those in charge of the newer Donkey Kong games seem to have consciously tried to distance Candy from the Peach stereotype by gradually styling her to appear less primp and proper, yet still every bit as pink and blonde.
For whatever reason, the World that has sprung up around Wario seems to be more populated with female characters than Mario’s. (Odd, given that most women wouldn’t want to spend much time with a scumbag like Wario.) First off, the WarioWare games feature a good-willed blonde with a smile that could easily rival Peach’s: Mona. Younger than the Mushroom Kingdom monarch and less likely to wear a ball gown, but she’s every bit the embodiment of perky femininity that Peach is. Another random Peachy connection: Mona is voiced by longtime Nintendo employee Leslie Swan, who provided Peach’s speaking voice in Super Mario 64.
Another who bears a resemblance is the mysterious Princess Shokora from Wario Land Advance. She’s also a little troubling in that players never see her true form — she appears as an alley cat, a Mr. Game & Watch-esque shopkeeper, and then as four different possible princesses, depending on how much treasure Wario has amassed. However, the “default” Shokora that players see in the game’s opening cinema bears enough resemblance to Peach that one can be sure Nintendo had her in mind when designing Shokora. Finally, there’s Tiaramisu, the villain of Wario’s latest sidescroller, Wario: Master of Disguise. Given the limited amount of times the character appears and the relative un-popularity of this title, images of Tiaramisu — or her monster form, Terrormisu — are impossible to find. (In fact, if you know of any, I’d love to hear about it.) However, in every description of her, I hear the same thing: blonde lady in a white mask looking just like Peach.
The Princesses Shroob
Even when designing a monstrous female villain, Nintendo still used Peach as the template, these big bads from Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time being proof. Strange, that.
Clearly, Peach is popular — both with the people who created her and with the people who play the games she appears in. But must she be so omnipresent? Does her status the numero uno video game princess mean she embodies so much about femininity in video games that her peers must be somehow based off her?
Look for my next column here at The Tanooki, in which I look at the strange business of female characters’ names in the Marioverse and what they might indicate about developers’ attitudes toward the distaff side of gaming.