There probably isn't a single person alive that plays the mainstream Super Mario games for story alone, but that doesn't excuse the series from delivering plot points that are outright insipid.
Sure, "Save the Princess" is tradition. But what are all the booming songs and bottle dances from Fiddler on the Roof for, except to tell us traditions can change? Can anyone honestly say they want to see Princess Peach and the stewardess of the stars, Rosalina, return to passive roles after playing Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U?
The 8-Bit Adventure of Princess Peach Toadstool
There was some surprise when word got out that Princess Peach would be a playable character in Super Mario 3D World. Honestly, there shouldn't have been any surprise at all: Super Mario Bros. 2 demonstrated 25 years ago that Her Majesty is capable of taking her of herself whenever she has a mind to.
Wait -- that trip to Subcon did happen, right?
Even if Mario simply had a vivid dream about a pro-active Princess, being able to play as her seemed like a natural progression back then. It wasn't uncommon for NES sequels to fly off the rails with big-name sequels like Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, or The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Subcon already comes off as a bizarre suburb of the Mario universe, where jumping on enemies does them no harm and the fire hydrants are painted yellow instead of red. By comparison, the Princess's participation seems downright normal.
But Mario returned to the Mushroom Kingdom in Super Mario Bros. 3, and traditional Mario mechanics returned with him, docile Princess included. But hey, at least she lived on her own for a while there before Bowser tucked her under his arm and spirited her away,
Yes, We Have No Peaches
Super Mario Bros. 3's "Bowser kidnapped Princess Toadstool after all!" twist was kind of fun in 1990; after all, most of its earliest players were still at an age where getting punked over and over by Dr Wily in the Mega Man games was still entertaining. But the twist also marked the start of a trope. Aside from being let out of her castle to participate in the Mario Party games, some Mario Kart races, Super Paper Mario, and a sports event or two, Princess Peach would not adventure alongside her beloved Mario until 2013's Super Mario 3D World.
What's especially disappointing is Peach should have been on the playable character roster since local multiplayer debuted with 2009's New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. But instead of gathering the old Super Mario Bros. 2 crowd together again, New Super Mario Bros. gave us Mario, Luigi, Toad, and… another Toad.
2012's New Super Mario Bros. U for the Wii U likewise gave us Mario, Luigi, the battle-Toads, and even the dopey little wretch Nabbit. Nintendo also had an answer for why Princess Peach kept company with Bowser instead of joining in on the adventure.
"In Super Mario Bros. 2, Princess Peach had her own unique moves and animation," New Super Mario Bros. U's director, Masataka Takemoto, said in a November 2012 interview with games™. "In this series, we want all the players to have the same moves and animations as Mario, and Princess Peach isn’t suited for that."
In a separate 2012 interview with GameSpot, current Mario series producer Takashi Tezuka let slip another reason why Peach keeps unwilling company with Bowser in New Super Mario Bros. U instead of puncturing Goombas' eyeballs with her three-inch heels: Sitting around is just what she does.
"The things we feel like we've already promised the gamer is that Peach will be kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario will move from left to right," he said. "We know that's what people are expecting! [Laughs] We know that there are all types of Mario games, as you said. So for us, with the New Super Mario Bros. series, we don't really need to mess with it. This is what people want."
Press On, Proactive Princesses
However, Super Mario Bros. Wii U is a more basic Mario game -- perhaps to a fault. Super Mario 3D World, on the other hand, revisits a unique world previously only seen in 2011's Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS. It's not the creative leap Super Mario Bros. 2 is over the original Super Mario Bros., but simply playing the game makes it evident the developers were focused on shifting the franchise on its axis.
It's not illogical, then, to fear the Princess (and by extension, Rosalina) will be put back to bed for future Mario games. Will Nintendo say, "All right, you had your exotic twist, now it's time to go back to basics?"
That would be an unfortunate move, not to mention a nonsensical one. In terms of basic gameplay, Peach's floating abilities make her an excellent character choice for beginners in need of a gentle landing. On a more political level, cutting her would be a blow for women players, a group that's understandably feeling slighted by today's industry.
That said, the return of Peach and Rosalina, as well as the threat of another long hibernation, needn't be a political or gender issue. Keeping them as active characters is simply common sense. Again, is anyone out there tapping their foot and glancing at their watch, counting down to the moment when we might see the royal members of the Mario series locked up again? Isn't it nicer to just let everyone play together?
Even if Nintendo has a mind to return Peach to passiveness, it had best bring along a net and a rabies pole. Their little kitty has tried on claws, and she evidently enjoys using them.