In 2001's Paper Mario, our favourite hero in blue overalls saves the day, just like he always does. Peach helps, but in the end, it's Mario who defeats Bowser. For years, however, speedrunners and glitch hunters have attempted to rewrite that sequence of events. Many of us have played through Paper Mario sequentially, chapter after chapter, alternating between Mario's perspective and Peach's perspective until the final Bowser battle arrives. But for a smaller, more hardcore segment of the fandom, playing through Paper Mario as the developers intended isn't enough.
Around 2013, speedrunners Bonecrusher and r0bd0g discovered that it was possible to use glitches to sequence break during the chapter six Princess Peach intermission of Paper Mario, making it possible for Peach to go through a door that is programmed to be locked. That door leads directly to Bowser's castle, so the player can fly past the events of chapter six, directly into the events in chapter eight - the last chapter in the game.
This discovery became known as "Peach%", and it would go on to open up a tantalising question: Would it be possible to beat the game as Princess Peach instead of Mario?
That is, would it be possible to save Peach... as Peach?
This is a question that is now explored in the video above by the likes of Stryder7x, an expert who, like pannenkoek2012 does for Super Mario 64, is obsessed with chronicling the many idiosyncrasies of how Paper Mario works.
"Over the years, our community exchanged glitch theories, tested every little thing, stumbled across glitches accidentally, the list goes on," Stryder7x said in an interview.
Stryder7x estimates that he has sunk about 100 hours into trying to further Peach%, and that collectively, the community has put in hundreds hours more. It's partially for the fun of it, sure, but bringing Peach% to the finish line will also be useful.
"It's a big theoretical timesave," Stryder7x said. "There's also the concept of beating a powerful boss as Princess Peach that is just so... funny to me. The whole purpose of the game is trying to save her, and we're looking at potential for her to take on Bowser himself."
The big hold up? Well, Paper Mario was not built so that Peach could take on Bowser, so the very fabric holding the game together is stacked against Stryder7x. The game crashes when an enemy hits Peach, because it cannot load the proper animations. Twink, Peach's lovely companion, will straight-up disappear in the middle of an attack, freezing the game. Stryder7x has been able to finagle around some of these hiccups by getting Mario to clear some of the enemies first, as well as getting Peach to glitch out of bounds, where she cannot be hit by enemies.
Stryder7x has actually managed to get Peach all the way to the final boss battle, where new quirks appear. Peach can get hit by one Bowser attack without crashing the game, but if Bowser uses anything else, Peach is boned. For example, one of Bowser's claw moves poisons Peach, but the game doesn't know what to do with that status effect on Peach, so it freezes up. Even if you manipulate the game to force Bowser to use the only safe move available, he is still programmed to become invincible in the middle of that battle. This, it seems, is the latest roadblock preventing speedrunners from realising the Peach dream.
While the existence of a dead end might seem disappointing, the discoveries made along the way are their own reward.
"Glitches have a tendency to point to new ones, so knowledge obtained from the 'useless' discoveries can be applied elsewhere to potentially result in crazier outcomes," Stryder7x said.
Whether or not the completion of Peach% is feasible, it's hard to say. One thing's certain: Glitch hunters like Stryder7x haven't been discouraged from trying.
"Every time someone says 'this game is done, we won't find another glitch' something else pops up, and may be exploitable in the desired situation," Stryder7x said. "In this case, I'd call it improbable, but not impossible."