Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Mario Series Theory: Peach's Power and Helplessness

A few months ago, I played Mario and Luigi 4, the one where they’re messing around with dreams. It was boring, like every other MaL before it, and very little about it caught my attention. There was, however, one moment during the final confrontation with Bowser that I was interested in. Things were looking bad for the Mario brothers, as Bowser had supercharged himself with power from the Dream Stone, AKA, ultra-powerful-relic-doohickey-of-the-day. There didn’t seem to be much hope for Mario and Luigi as they stood completely outgunned and terrified before the might of their magically enhanced foe...

And then, from behind Bowser, Princess Peach (who’s chilling in a locked cell, as usual) rallies Starlow, and together they blast Bowser with a beam of magic so staggeringly powerful that it actually blows the Dream Stone he’s drawing ungodly power from into a haze of magical shards. I mean, the thing’s not broken, it’s disintegrated.

Now, let’s get one thing straight right here: magical ultra-empowering plot devices may be a dime a dozen for RPGs, and not exactly uncommon in regular Mario games either, but common or not, this thing was legit. Because after Peach makes her attack, Bowser manages to inhale several of the shards left over, and these shards, these motes of power, are still enough to increase his power to end boss proportions. The fact that Peach and Starlow (and I think it’s safe to say it’s mostly Peach; Starlow hasn’t shown, to my recollection, any really great magical prowess before now) can send Bowser reeling when he’s got the whole thing in his grasp, and then destroy the Dream Stone to boot, suggests magical power on a tremendous scale. Even if we suppose it’s 50-50 between her and Starlow, it’s still incredible.

This got me thinking about where Peach stands in terms of power in her world. She has access to this love-powered magic that can knock an above-end-boss-powered foe on his ass. She’s shown multiple times to be able to use the same kinds of power ups that Mario can, and she can generally keep up with him in terms of overall physical prowess. Then there’s that game where the Vibe Scepter grants her the ability to channel her non-love emotions into magical power. Oh, yeah, big deal, you say. Emotion-fueled power, who cares. Well you know who else does that? Fucking super saiyans, that’s who.

So when you think about it...Peach is only a step or two behind the hero of the entire series, Mario, in terms of physical prowess, she can use the same equipment that he does, and in addition, she has a range of magical powers that range from the mildly convenient (floaty-ness) to the insanely powerful (the love magic beam thing). I think...guys, I think Peach might actually be the single most powerful being in the Mario franchise.

At the very least, she’s pretty damn high up on the scale. And hey, that’s a kind of interesting thing, yeah? Worth a little rant, I figured. So I started typing this up. And then halfway through, the obvious question hit me:

If she’s so goddamn powerful, why, then, does she let herself get kidnapped all the damn time!?

Yeah, okay, people have been criticizing Peach (and other frequent damsels in distress) about the kidnapping thing for ages. It’s not a new thing. I’ve kinda always just given it a disgruntled pass before now. I mean, I’m as sick of it as the next bloke. Even if you want to ignore that underlying sexism of the issue, it’s been the most overused, tired, bland cliche imaginable for some time now. But so long as it seemed reasonable to say that Peach was not, on her own, capable of matching Bowser in combat, I was willing to let it pass, albeit, again, reluctantly.*

But now that it seems clear that Princess Peach is close to Mario in athletic prowess and command of power ups, and that she far outclasses pretty much everyone else on her planet in terms of magical power, the question is a lot harder to ignore. If she has offensive options on par, or even superior, to a ultra-magic plot mcguffin, why does she let herself get kidnapped by Bowser so frequently? It doesn’t make any sense!


Does it actually make more sense than ever?

Alright, hear me out. So let’s follow the evidence and implications on this, and assume that Peach has massive magical power. Let’s even go as far as to assume that she could, any day of the week, overcome Bowser herself in an outright no-holds-barred fight. Here’s a question: what is the collateral damage of a fight like that?

I mean, consider Bowser. He is a big lug. He breathes fire. He leaps around. He smashes through floors and walls. Sometimes he’s using some heavy artillery while riding a ridiculous flying clown thing. And he’s never above having a ton of his minions help him in combat. Any extended fight with Bowser inevitably requires significant space and causes a lot of damage to the surroundings. And even with our operating assumption that Peach has tremendous power and can subdue Bowser without question, there is NEVER going to be an all-out fight between them that ends quickly. By far more than his offense, Bowser’s durability is insane. I mean, if you look for a moment at the damage he takes in his battles with Mario, you start to realize that this dude is the next best thing to immortal! Bombs in his face, hammers and fireballs and all manner of solid objects pelting him, and outright falling into molten lava, multiple times, and Bowser somehow stays alive. The guy had the entire fucking galaxy collapse in on him, and survived it! Oh, sure, it all hurts him, and he can be taken down by it, but things that should be insanely lethal and would destroy many villains we might assume more powerful than him just cannot kill Bowser.

Pretend you’re in Peach’s position. You’re the ruler of your kingdom, and you genuinely care about it and its citizens. Bowser launches an attack on your castle, his minions smacking your subjects around and his flying artillery bombarding your home. What, exactly, is your best option in this scenario? A fight with Bowser, in most cases, is going to take place on your home turf, with innocent civilians in the area. If you have to fight all out, you’re probably going to be causing damage to your surroundings. Even if you don’t, Bowser absolutely will if he’s going all out. And there’s little chance it’ll be a short fight. In this scenario, what’s the better option: to unleash your real power on Bowser and initiate a fight that will damage your own home and hurt those you’re responsible for...or to go along with the blustering turtle-dragon, knowing that you have a couple of warriors on your side who will come to save you once you’re in enemy territory, ensuring that the only collateral damage of a confrontation with Bowser will be against Bowser’s own turf?

Besides a concern for her kingdom and citizenry’s welfare--which should, as a ruler, be her primary concern, I’ll note--there’s also a longer-term situation to consider. Even if Peach did cut loose and drive Bowser away in defeat herself, then what? You think Bowser would give up? He hasn’t been Mario’s arch nemesis for the last 30 years out of a lack of persistence. He’d be back...but this time, he would, perhaps, up his game, launching a much larger attack against Peach’s kingdom since the first one didn’t work. A defeat for Bowser in this situation could just provoke a stronger attack next time, getting more innocent bystanders caught in the middle of it.

On the other hand, if Peach allows herself to get kidnapped, what happens? Bowser takes her away to his own territory, and then a lot of his time is occupied with hampering the Mario brothers as they come to fetch the princess. For the period of her captivity, Bowser’s attention is on her, and her coming rescuers, not on her kingdom and its people. The mushroom people are perhaps safest while Peach is held captive. And when Mario and Luigi come and beat Bowser, and rescue her? Well, Bowser will be back again later, but if his defeat teaches him to up his game, he’ll be escalating in laying down more serious obstacles for Mario and Luigi, not launching a bigger attack during the Kidnap Peach part of his scheme--because that part went off without a hitch before.

And if the shit hits the fan hard enough while she’s held prisoner...well, the scenario which inspired this rant proves that the bars of a cage won’t be able to stop Peach when she needs to act. She can afford to bide her time until her hand is forced. Which, given the Mario brothers' resourcefulness, skill, and good luck, is quite a rare occurrence.

Peach is, of course, not always taken by Bowser. Plenty of other enemies also kidnap the chick. But there’s still some logic in her refusing to unleash her power on them: A, the collateral damage thing is still a consideration, and B, new enemies are unknowns, and it’s smarter to test the waters with them and find out what their capabilities and limits are before outright engaging with them in combat.

Anyway, there you go. Am I overthinking this? Absolutely. Do I even for a second believe that anyone at Nintendo has intentionally set up this situation, which now makes responsible sense of Peach’s kidnapping problem? Nope. But does it nonetheless provide a rational explanation that I can stand behind for why Princess Peach allows herself to be taken by her foes so frequently even when she’s one of the most powerful individuals in her world? Yup. And that’s all I require.

* Incidentally, I do know that a criticism leveled against Peach (when working with the apparently false assumption that she can’t fight back) is that she has plenty of opportunity to learn self defense between kidnappings and should do so, but I still gave her a pass in the face of this argument. Bowser being what he is, I think it’s fair to say that (again, under the apparently incorrect belief that she doesn’t hold any extraordinary power naturally) any normal amount of self defense training isn’t going to cut it when he shows up to rumble.


  1. "I think it’s safe to say it’s mostly Peach; Starlow hasn’t shown, to my recollection, any really great magical prowess before now"

    Isn't the same also true for Peach, though? I did play all of the M&L games, but only finished the second, so I might be missing information.

    I'm surprised at how far you took this theory and how much sense it makes in the context of Mario games.

    1. I...well...actually, I suppose that's mostly right, when I think about it. I mean, Peach DOES use love magic in combat in Super Smash Brothers, and she's got magical abilities in Super Mario RPG, so there's some history of it. But you're right--she's never shown prowess on this level. Drat! The game is yours, sir/madam. I yield to your greater logic.

  2. Here's another reason Peach does not go all out on Bowser: Bowser is useful as as another layer of protection for The Mushroom Kingdom. In Legend of the Seven Stars, the villainous Smithy, a being with a huge army and super weapon, invades the planet and Bowser's help is integral to fighting him off. In Bowser's Inside Story, Bowser fights and defeats an eldritch horror that threatens to destroy the kingdom. He does this for no other reason than he considers the kingdom his and isn't going to let anyone or anything else take it over or destroy it.

    Bowser is kinda like Godzilla, when you think about it. Sure he's dangerous and does a ton of property damage, but it's a worthwhile tradeoff to have the fire breathing reptile around when aliens (Smithy, the Shroobs) and megalomaniacs (Fawful) start start some big time, existential threat level shit.

    1. Oooh, not a bad insight, there. Definitely makes sense. And not only does Bowser help fight Smithy off, but it's Bowser's lands that Smithy goes for first, possibly as the most obviously dangerous target to get a sneak attack on. I mean, we see through the game prior to recruiting Bowser that he's openly leading his forces against Smithy's; presumably Smithy's bunch is at least slowed down a little. Not only will he fight outer challenges to the Mushroom Kingdom, but he'll also act as a decoy for them.