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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Princess Toadstool - A Frustrating Peach of a Gal

Okay, so for whatever reason, I decided to change the colour of the font to this peachy-orange colour today. There is a reason behind it, which I'm sure you may already know because of what the title of the blog is. But, we'll get to why this is a little bit later. But first, I want to tell you a little bit of a story that is kind of related to the Saturday Smorgasbord topic for today. Considering that the second Saturday of the month is being devoted to video games, it has a lot to do with that.

And, apologies to all. I know I featured a Mario game last month. This month, I'll be doing a feature on a Mario character. But don't worry, I'll have another subject planned for September. I just really wanted to do a blog entry on this person because I have a lot to say about them.

Okay, so as some of you who have been following this blog entry know, I've spent the last...oh...five weeks working in the electronics section of a retail chain. There have been some really good days, and there have been some really bad days. But it's all a balancing act. As long as that balance is kept, I more or less do okay.

There are some electronic devices that I have absolutely no idea what they do, or how they work, and I always have to seek out assistance from other people. A perfect example is the cellular phone section. I actually don't own an iPhone, or any sort of cell phone aside from a pay-as-you-go model that I hardly ever use. Don't even ask me about how they work, as I am still learning.

Now, if you ask me about video games and video game systems...I am the man for the job. Growing up around video games, arcades, and hand held electronic games, I'm quite knowledgeable in the gaming world. I do more than sell games. I offer recommendations, I show people how to download games from the Nintendo eShop, and I can tell people what the difference is between the XBOX Kinect and a standard XBOX 360.

The one thing that kind of shocks me about the video game section that I work in is the vast amount of games out there that are rated “M”. And, it seems to me that in my experience of working in electronics, I've sold more “M” rated games than any of the other ratings combined. And, for the life of me, I can't understand why there are so many.

I mean, this is just going to be my honest opinion here, and I know that I'm going to incur the wrath of teenagers all over the world by admitting this in print, but one thing that I wanted this blog to be is my true voice. What you see here is what you get with me. So, I'm just gonna come out with it.

The so-called “M” rated games that are the most popular bore me to tears.

There are, of course, some exceptions. If the video game has a decent plot and serves a purpose, I'm okay with playing a game regardless of what its rating is. And, I'll be one to admit that I don't mind the “Grand Theft Auto” series, though it's really less about the gameplay and more about the fact that the series uses actual songs by actual artists as the soundtrack of the game. I always thought it was kind of cool in a macabre way to listen to authentic 1980s music as you smash into other cars on the road.

But the vast majority of the “M” rated games that I've played just didn't interest me. I know that the “Call of Duty” series is insanely big right now, but the ones I played just didn't interest me at all. I am not a fan of shoot-em-up games. I never really have been. I tend to prefer games which involve a lot of problem solving and challenges. Games that really allow a person to use their brains to get through to the next level.

One game that I've recently rediscovered is “Super Mario 64”. It was a game that was originally released for the Nintendo 64 system way back in 1996. It was also remade and re-released for the Nintendo DS in 2004 (which is the version that I am currently playing). And it is so much fun!

The game (which is rated “E” for everyone) sounds like a simple one. You control Mario (or Luigi, Wario, or Yoshi in the Nintendo DS version) through a three dimensional world collecting stars hidden throughout each level. With each star you collect, you get one step closer to confronting Bowser and winning the game. The trick is that some stars require a lot of planning and thinking in order to get them, which adds to the fun. Some of my most favourite games in the world are the ones that require a lot of thinking and planning. And certainly the Mario series of games for the Nintendo fit this criteria. Nearly every single Mario game that I have played has had challenged me, and prompted me to seek out every single secret that could be found within the game. To me, finding the final star in a castle was much more fulfilling than running over a group of pedestrians in a stolen car while shooting at mobsters walking down a city street.

But again, that's just me, I suppose.

Right from the very beginning of the Super Mario series (with the 1985 game Super Mario Brothers) right up to the recent release of The New Super Mario Brothers 2 video game for the Nintendo 3DS in 2012, I have always loved the challenges and the secrets of the games. Secret 1-UP blocks, hidden warp whistles, discovering the elusive blue coloured Yoshi...that was fun to me. In fact, the Mario sidequests were often more fun than the ultimate goal in nearly all of the Mario games that I have played.

And this is where the blog takes its rather...dire turn.

Now, just going back to Super Mario 64 for a quick second, I was talking about the sidequests of the game. The real goal of the game is to go into the castle, defeat Bowser, and rescue a certain princess.

A princess who for whatever reason is a complete moron who allows herself to be kidnapped in practically every single Mario game ever invented.

This is the story of Princess Toadstool. And yes, I am calling her Princess Toadstool for this one. I know that the “cool kids” call her Princess Peach now, but I never really cared for that name. It just seems like a stereotypical weak name for an already perceived weak character. Or maybe it's because she was known as Princess Toadstool when I began playing Mario games, and the name just kind of stuck. Or, maybe it's simply because I cannot stomach eating peaches or anything peach flavoured. I don't know.

Whatever the case, let's talk about Princess TOADSTOOL.

It all began in 1985, with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System and a game that reinvigorated the video gaming industry – Super Mario Brothers. The game featured Goombas, warp pipes, that 1-UP trick in Level 3-1 using a staircase and Koopa Troopas. All good times. There was just one little thing that was frustrating. Every fourth level of each world was a castle level, and in those castles, you had to fight Bowser a total of eight times while dodging lava pits, fireballs, and other traps. The main goal was to rescue Toadstool from Bowser's clutches, but whenever you got through the first seven castles, you would be greeted with this message.

And, this fueled my intense hatred for Toad. But that's a different story altogether.

Anyway, Mario went through a lot of stuff to try and save the life of Princess Toadstool. He dodged Bullet Bills, jumped across bottomless pits, swam with the Cheep Cheeps (I still LOATHE water levels to this day), and attacked Bowser a total of eight times all to save the life of the princess who rewarded Mario with a kiss. The end. Happily ever after.

That is until Bowser somehow ended up with seven kids, and Princess Toadstool allowed herself to get kidnapped again in Super Mario 3. This prompted Mario to go through the deserts, oceans, pipe mazes and through the clouds to rescue Princess Toadstool all over again.

Until she was kidnapped again in Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, The New Super Mario Brothers, etc...

Like, seriously. How stupid is Princess Toadstool? Honestly?

Has she not learned her lesson from the days in which Tears for Fears topped the charts and when The Cosby Show and Magnum P.I. were the top rated shows? You would have thought that she would have installed a security system inside that huge castle of hers, or hired a bodyguard, or at the very least taken some tae kwon do lessons!

I mean, it's almost as if she enjoys the attention that Mario and Luigi give her every time she gets kidnapped by Bowser and his minions! Her constant “I'm a damsel in distress and I need rescuing” was cute the first three or four games, but after that, it really made her look like a complete fool and the most useless game character in the whole world of Nintendo. Even more useless than TOAD, if you can believe it.

Unless of course, she's arranged with Bowser to kidnap her periodically, paying him off in gold coins and fire flowers, so that Mario and Luigi would grow to appreciate her more and more with each kidnapping attempt. If that were the case, then kudos to her for such a devious scheme. But, let's have a dose of reality here. She calls herself Peach. She's way too sweet and innocent to come up with a plot that would make Machiavelli beam with pride.

So, we go back to my original thought. Princess Toadstool is the most useless and weak video game character to ever be pixelated and the only reason why she exists is to make Mario walk through hell just to prove his love to her. When it's described like that, it kind of paints Toadstool in a rather negative light.

So, let's try to redeem her in some manner using other Mario games, shall we? Let's begin with Super Mario 2 from 1988 (which is actually a game called Doki Doki Panic which has Mario heads on the original characters, but that's not the point).

For the first time (but not the last) in Mario history, Princess Toadstool is a playable character. And as far as I am concerned, she's a fairly solid choice in certain areas. Granted, she's the weakest one to dig holes in the sand, and she's not exactly the most agile. Still, her ability to use her pink dress as a way to levitate across huge chasms is a godsend in areas where you need to do a lot of jumping. And that's a huge argument towards her actually serving more of a purpose than being locked away in a castle by an overweight tortoise.

She also redeemed herself in the Super Mario Kart series. Apparently during her frequent periods of captivity, Princess Toadstool learned how to drive a go-kart. I suppose she'd have to do something in between the periods of boredom that one would experience waiting for the moustached plumber beau to come and save them.

The funny thing about Princess Toadstool is that she was also a rather solid choice when it came to racing her on the various race tracks. Granted, I almost always choose Yoshi to play with in the Super Mario Kart games, but I'm not against using Toadstool. As long as she doesn't hit anything along the way, she accelerates rather nicely, and she is one of the better racers to use if attempting really tight turns.

In fact, I'm just gonna come right out and say it. In my personal opinion, Princess Toadstool is a BETTER DRIVER than Mario!

And, if you've ever played any of the installments of Mario Party, Princess Toadstool is a playable character in every single game. Of course, the abilities of Princess Toadstool in the Mario Party games is largely linked to how skilled a gamer the player is, so that might not be the best example.

So, as you can see, there's some examples where Princess Toadstool has exhibited greatness. Unfortunately, I don't think it's enough for her to really overcome her reputation of being “easy to kidnap and imprison”. She's been locked in a tower more than Lindsay Lohan has been checked into rehab. That's saying something.

And to end off this note as to how frustrating a character Princess Toadstool is, I'm going to provide one more game example. And this is a game in which Toadstool starts off being in peril, but becomes a hero. Yet, the way the game went about this transformation is absolutely maddening, and by the end of the game, it didn't really do much to change my opinion of her in a positive or negative manner.

The game is Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. It was one of the final Super Nintendo games to be released, launched just in time for the 1996 Christmas season. I know this because it was my “big gift” for Christmas 1996, and I played it constantly.

The game starts off the same way that all of the other Mario games have ended. Mario storms Bowser's castle to rescue Princess Toadstool from his clutches for what seems like the 518th time. But just before Mario can grab Princess Toadstool and escape, something strange happens. A gigantic sword pierces through the sky, smashes through the top of Bowser's castle sending Mario, Bowser, and Toadstool sailing through the sky, and on top of that, the seven stars that grant wishes to the entire Mushroom Kingdom have been scattered throughout the world, causing a chain reaction that prevents wishes from coming true.

So, the new mission for Mario becomes this. Find Princess Toadstool and find all the stars necessary to make wishes come true again.

Mind you, the task to find Princess Toadstool lasts practically half the game. Granted, you get help from Mallow, Geno, and surprisingly enough Bowser (who is only tagging along to get his castle back) along the way. But when you finally locate Princess Toadstool, she's apparently gotten herself into another jam. She gets trapped in a tower by some ugly looking creature named Booster, and Booster's plan is to get married to Princess Toadstool so that he can experience the fun of having a wedding.

Mind you, Booster is so dumb (or possibly sheltered) that he doesn't even know what a wedding is. The only think that he seems to get is that at the end of the ceremony, you eat cake.

So, needless to say, Mario and the gang storm Booster's Tower, battle his minions, and end up chasing him and the princess all the way to Marrymore, a place where people exchange vows and eat cake. Or, so Booster says.

At any rate, Mario saves the princess from Booster, and stops the wedding from taking place (which concludes with fighting the wedding cake, which was just all kinds of weirdness, but I digress), and Princess Toadstool finally becomes a playable character.

Granted, as a playable character, her offense is quite...well...weak. Her weapons are umbrellas, scepters, and fans. Not exactly as effective as Mario's hammers and shells, Geno's star guns, and Bowser's chain chomps. But, what she lacks in attack power, she more than makes up for in magical power. She's kind of equivalent to a white mage in the Final Fantasy series in that she's your healer. She restores lost health, protects against status changes, and she can even bring a character back to life! It's one reason why I like using her in the final battles.

(My ideal team for the game is Mario, Geno, Toadstool. Not that this means anything to all of you...this is just the team that works the best for me.)

So, at the end of it all, Princess Toadstool is again, a solid choice as a playable character. When she's not locked up by Bowser, or Booster, or any other enemy, she's definitely someone you want on your side.

I just wish Nintendo would give her more of a chance to shine. Maybe we could even have a Super Princess Toadstool game, where she actually goes out on a quest to save Mario from Bowser.

I mean, if Samus Aran from Metroid, Dixie Kong from Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3, and countless female warriors from the Final Fantasy series can hold their own in a male dominated gaming world, surely Princess Toadstool is capable of standing up for herself as the strong woman she should be and not the helpless princess everyone else sees her as.

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