You can’t play it, alas, but it’s safely tucked away
Mario on PC was never meant to be, but the evidence of what it could have been has resurfaced. Id Software co-founder John Romero showed off a video back in 2015 of Id’s 1990 pitch demo for a Super Mario Bros. 3 PC port. A build of that demo has now shown up in a donation to the Strong National Museum Of Play, including some bits that Romero didn’t share back then. The Museum Of Play doesn’t have plans to let the public get their hands on it, sadly, but it’s been tucked away as an important part of early PC gaming lore.
The demo build came as a bit of a surprise, Museum Of Play’s digital games curator Andrew Borman tells Ars Technica. Apparently it was tucked in with a bunch of other donations from a developer who hadn’t actually worked on the Mario 3 port demo.
Borman was able to play the demo himself after imaging the floppy disk it was donated on, including Id’s version of Mario 3 level 1-4, which had yet to be seen. He described that level as “a fairly flat level, though it has a nice pyramid at the end.”
“It is an early demo, though, and lacks many features and polish that would have been seen had the developers been able to work with Nintendo in creating a full retail release,” Borman says of the full demo. “For being such an early demo, it is a lot of fun to play, especially 1-1, which recreates that iconic first level from Super Mario Bros 3.”
It doesn’t include that newly uncovered level 1-4, but here’s Romero’s video from 2015.
Despite not landing a PC port for yon famous plumber, the company that was at time time known as Ideas From The Deep went on to become Id Software of Commander Keen fame.
This particular demo has earned notoriety as Id’s precursor to Keen. It showcases the smooth scrolling backgrounds they’d been working on to mimic what was possible on the NES hardware of the time but wasn’t seen in PC games from the same era.
“While the demo here really represents a week or less of work, knowing now how important id Software would become, it is an interesting ‘what-if?’ of game history,” Borman also says of the find. Indeed, who’s to say if we’d have ever gotten the Doom series out of a company that became known for PC ports of Nintendo hits?
For now, the Mario 3 PC demo is fated to stay tucked away in the Museum Of Play vault, with access granted by request to researchers. Aw shucks and so on. Good to see such a pivotal piece of history preserved though.