Princess Peach: Showtime! Review – A Charming Performance

Toady-nominated, but not quite a winner.

Super Princess Peach was one of my favourite games on the Nintendo DS, giving the titular royal a well-deserved go at playing the hero and, much like the Wario Land games, offering up an alternative take on the traditional Nintendo platformer formula. Fast forward almost two decades and that game finally has something of a successor in Princess Peach: Showtime!, an entry that might not be directly related to the DS classic but once again gives Peach the opportunity to show that she can carry an adventure on her two puffed shoulders.

Showtime sees Peach mysteriously invited to the great Sparkle Theatre, a multi-level, multi-stage mansion that’s populated by the bulb-nosed Theets and seemingly shows numerous different plays at any one time. It’s not long before an evil sorceress named Madame Grape makes her presence known though, swiping Peach’s crown and taking over the theatre with her minions. It’s a setup as flimsy as any other Nintendo platformer and one that’s mostly an excuse to send Peach – along with a newfound friend in a “Sparkle Sprite” named Stella – across to all of the distinct stage shows to free them from Grape’s purple grip and, of course, participate in the theatrics herself.

This is all introduced in fairly typical Mario platformer fashion, with snappy cinematics starring mostly-voiceless characters setting the scene, although here it’s somewhat more jarring than usual to be without spoken dialogue. Maybe the Super Mario Bros. Movie effect is somewhat to blame, but there’s also a fair amount of on-screen text to read during these spots as characters mime their conversations that makes it feel more like they should be vocalised. Usually Nintendo’s teams do a pretty good job of getting a point across panto-style but the necessary reading feels like a weird middle ground.

It could also be that it feels more egregious as just one missing bit of polish in a list of very un-Nintendo issues that the game has, the bigger problems being technical ones. Running on Unreal Engine, Princess Peach: Showtime! seemingly targets 30FPS but consistently misses even that mark. Cutscenes, transformation sequences, loading screens, numerous gameplay sections, all suffer from massive drops in frame rate that, while not always impactful on play, are noticeable enough to detract from the otherwise-charming visual suite. 

Peach is the best she’s ever looked here and there are a number of more “modern” graphical niceties on display than I’m used to from a Switch title, but whether it’s a lack of optimisation, ageing hardware, a once-planned cross-generational release or some combination of all three there’s just no getting around how uneven this experience can be. The good news is that I imagine most in this title’s “target” demographic won’t actually care, but criticisms will be drawn regardless and I’d hate to see Peach finally have her turn in the spotlight once again only to be dragged for how rough her performance is out of the gate.

Thankfully, all of Peach’s charm is reserved for her numerous and disparate roles across the game, from swashbuckling Swordfighter to rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl, accomplished patisserie, sci-fi superhero and beyond. Each of these transformations gets the chance to shine across a number of “plays,” with the first act of each role seeing regular Peach and her cosplay counterpart getting equal stage time, while the second is a costumed affair from beginning to end, and a third and final ups the ante when it comes to challenge. It’s all rather well-paced, with each floor of the theatre rotating the themes across four plays and capping off with a major boss fight.

While the core of Showtime is a 2.5D platformer, Peach’s various transformations offer up unique types of gameplay in their respective levels that keep things feeling fresh. You might find yourself sneaking around armed guards as Ninja Peach, lassoing baddies on horseback as Cowgirl Peach or even solving fun riddles as Detective Peach. It’s all far more relaxed and easygoing than a traditional Mario platformer and more about interacting with the intricately-designed theatre stages and puzzling out hidden collectibles than honing your reflexes. Having to replay entire levels for any missed Sparkle Gems or other bits can seem annoying at first, but most are brief enough that it’s not that big of a deal.

It’s a fairly short game in all, taking me around six hours to fully complete every play, though there are some added post-game offerings to keep the fun going for just a little longer. In that time I rarely felt challenged, but I was consistently charmed, and it’s clear that’s what the folks at Good-Feel were going for. I’d love to see Peach taken seriously enough as a lead for a more “hardcore” game than this, but it’s also hard not to be enchanted by it all, and for every minute spent trying on new dresses in the theatre’s store there’s an equal opportunity for Peach to smash folks in the face with her kung fu skills, go kaiju-mode against invading aliens or save a town from a bomb threat (yeah).

It’s the variety that keeps Showtime going, and even with repeated visits to costumes each play feels distinct and memorable for different reasons. There’s a bit of action and brawling with the counter-focused Swordfighter Peach or Kung Fu Peach, for example, while Patisserie Peach’s sections mostly revolve around baking mini-games, and Mermaid Peach gets to control schools of fish with her voice to manipulate the environment on a separate plane. Despite their simplicity, there’s a lot of fun to be found even for a seasoned and jaded player like myself, though an appreciation for our fair Princess comes in handy.

Even the transformations that I’d consider a “skip” like Figure Skater Peach eventually come into their own in the final stages. And still in the moments where it stumbles, the idea of distilling a number of different genre concepts into these digestible vignettes dressed up as stage plays is a genuinely enjoyable formula. Boss fights are when Showtime feels most like a “typical” Mario platformer and are a good mix of fun and a very light increase in challenge, and usually quite cool visually and thematically (especially the final one).

Despite its technical woes and pervasive simplicity, there's just enough of a spark in Princess Peach Showtime! that it had won me over by the time the curtains closed. It might not be deserving of a standing ovation but it's certainly got the stage presence to attract an audience. It's good, light, family fun that's consistently charming and perfectly cast.
Peach gets the spotlight she deserves
Nice variety of gameplay types
Some fun and visually cool bosses
Theatrical trappings are used well
Very distracting performance issues
Not every transformation is a winner