Before Super Smash Bros. 4 was released in 2014, I had a conversation with my friend about which Nintendo characters we’d like to see in the game: reach choices like Skull Kid from Majora’s Mask and favorite veteran characters like Pichu from Pokémon. Then I mentioned Princess Daisy from the Mario universe. How cool would Smash 4 be if Daisy, my favorite character in Mario Tennis and Mario Party, were in it?
My friend gave me a slightly condescending smile. “Yeah, but that would never happen,” he said. “Like, what would she even do?”
It’s a good question — what would she do?
It’s been 28 years, and we still don’t really know who Daisy is. She first appeared in Super Mario Land as a damsel in distress, but she has never been given a fully realized identity in a Nintendo game.
Unlike Princess Rosalina, who first appeared in 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy, Daisy never received an engaging and emotional introduction. Most of what we know about her is based on her description online, not Nintendo gameplay.
The fact that a 28-year-old character has so few distinguishing factors says a lot about the gaming industry’s issues designing playable female characters. (Nintendo, to be fair, has a better track record than most.)
But Daisy deserves better, and we want justice. Our first demand? The right to use her to kick Mario’s ass in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo Switch.
On the surface, it may seem like Daisy doesn’t have much to offer as a Super Smash Bros. fighter. Sure, she could use a tennis racket from Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (2015), a baseball bat from Mario Super Sluggers (2008) or something from Mario Party (2000). But none of those qualities are specific to Daisy. After all, those games also had Peach and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom cast, too.
However, a closer look at the overlooked princess’ long history in video games reveals there’s plenty of material for Nintendo to till.
Princess Daisy has had it rough since the very beginning
Princess Daisy had a pretty bumpy start. In fact, when many fans and game journalists first saw Princess Daisy in 1989’s Super Mario Land, they thought she was simply the new localized name for Princess Peach.
This misunderstanding didn’t come out of nowhere — the original artwork and pixel sprite really did make Daisy look very similar to Peach.
Eventually, Daisy’s appearance became distinct, but she’s never become a fully developed character like Rosalina. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped people from comparing Daisy to Peach whenever the topic comes up. In fact, it seems like you can’t even bring up Daisy without an almost reflexive comparison to Peach, echoing our real-life societal tendency to compare women to each other instead of giving them the space they need to exist as individuals.
In fairness to Princess Daisy (and Nintendo), she does have some semblance of a personality. Her entry in the Mario Wiki sums it up pretty nicely:
Daisy is portrayed as a tomboy with an extroverted personality and tough demeanor. She can be described as energetic, cheerful and confident. When speaking, she uses American slang and has a twang to her voice. She also has a sassy side, often regarded for her wittiness and attitude. Daisy is not as proper or poised as she would be based on her appearance and status as royalty, such as standing with her hands on her hips, exhibiting hotheadedness in defeat, showboating in victory and showing off to get her way.
However, even a devoted Nintendo fan might not notice these unique character details until they were pointed out. I know I didn’t.
Against all odds, Princess Daisy still has some devoted fans
These qualities are notable to Daisy’s biggest fans, though.
“Daisy has her own cool traits that are more my thing,” Alex, who uses the Twitter handle @TomboyDaisy, told Mic in a direct message. Being very active and boisterous made her way more interesting than the typical, demure princess archetype.”
For Alex, it’s the fact Daisy is so underappreciated that makes her more relatable. “I’ve also always had a strong inclination toward the secondary characters in media,” she said. “I’d always preferred characters who seemed marginalized, ’cause I guess they’re who I relate to most.”
Daisy’s identity as an athletic tomboy also resonates with Alex. In addition to Daisy, she said she found strength in other masculine female characters like Claire Redfield from Resident Evil, Tomb Raider protagonist Lara Croft and Razor from Maniac Mansion.
“I identified as a gay male for a long time until I started identifying as a trans woman in recent years,” Alex said. “I guess I always felt like a second-place commodity. ... Some kids had cool parents or athletes to look up to, but these were my idols growing up.”
When asked how Nintendo could differentiate Daisy as a Super Smash Bros. character, Alex offered up a few character-specific qualities that could set her apart, like her roller skates in the Mario Power Tennis trophy cut scene, the pom-poms she used to fight in Mario Sports Mix and her flower-based powers, which appear in multiple games.
Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into designing a character for Super Smash Bros., but if Nintendo is struggling to figure Daisy out, referencing these games is a pretty good place to start.
Considering Nintendo put the dog and duck from Duck Hunt in the most recent Super Smash Bros. — and the fact that the Fire Emblem heroes are basically all the same — a move set for Daisy doesn’t seem impossible.
When it comes to Rosalina, who (unlike Daisy) made it into the latest Super Smash Bros. game, Alex said she feels slighted by Nintendo’s decision. Daisy might look a lot like Peach, but she has her own detailed backstory and multiple video game appearances to her name. Instead of working with Daisy, Nintendo jumped straight ahead to Rosalina.
“Daisy’s got all this wasted potential,” Alex said.
Daisy symbolizes a popular trend in how we treat badly represented female characters
Princess Daisy’s low profile hasn’t protected her from online criticism. In a video from the Escapist, Lisa Foiles ranked the “Top 5 Annoying Princesses,” with Daisy somehow coming in at No. 1.
“I hate her and I don’t really have a good reason why,” Foiles said.
Foiles argued that Daisy never really belonged in the series and that Nintendo forced her into the game. While it’s clear Foiles was making a joke, she illustrated a broad point about how a lot of fans react to Daisy. Is she inherently bad, or is the real issue that no one at Nintendo bothered to give her an in-game backstory?
This happens all the time with other characters, too. I’ve heard multiple friends say they won’t pick characters like Bayonetta or Camilla from Fire Emblem Fates because their designs are “too sexy.” It may feel like taking a stand against sexism, but it’s blaming the characters for their own sexualization rather than holding the designers accountable.
If we want to see more in-depth personalities and lore for underrepresented characters, we shouldn’t ignore them because of qualities created by some game developer or writer. We need to defend and admire video game characters like Daisy while critically analyzing the way they’re designed.
While it’s great that newer female characters like Rosalina are thought of more fondly, we owe it to older fans to finally give Princess Daisy her time in the spotlight. With a new Super Smash Bros. game on the horizon, Nintendo has a chance to right that wrong once and for all.
More gaming news and updates
Check out the latest from Mic, like this deep dive into the cultural origins of Gamergate. Also, be sure to read this essay about what it’s like to cosplay while black, a roundup of family-friendly games to play with your kids and our interview with Adi Shankar, producer of the animated Castlevania Netflix series.