It seems that John Romero, John Romero and Tom Hall were quite the game development team. While working for Softdisk they created a pretty impressive version of Super Mario Bros 3 for DOS. They obviously didn’t finish it because Nintendo was not interested in purchasing the code and releasing it. Reportedly they had congratulatory comments for the feat but were only interested in Mario being available on Nintendo bred hardware. This left the young team with only one of two choices. Trash the code was one, which they didn’t go with. Second was to rework things and create an original title, which they did- this is how Commander Keen came about (covered here on Retro Gaming Magazine).
The demo that was created only featured the first level of Super Mario Bros 3. That is fine, you can easily see that they were well on their way to an impressive port of the Nintendo classic. The raccoon tail/suit is shown (though not limited like in the NES original), hitting a turtle shell and more are exhibited. For what it is, this port is rather impressive. PC’s of the time were not known for smooth scrolling 2D games like this. Here was a group of young programmers that had accomplished just that.
The demo that John Romero has shown off features most of the first level of Super Mario Bros 3. Some of the graphics are “off”, particularly Mario himself. He looks like he has taken some time off and let Luigi do the majority of the work recently. The colors are off also as you can see in the Goomba’s and the turtles. Coins are changed a bit and there is a dead black screen when grabbing icons at the end of the level. This is all to be expected, this is just a demo that the team put together to try and sell the idea to Nintendo. It didn’t work.
Thanks to Nintendo being haughty about Super Mario Bros 3, maybe they remember the PC version of SMB that Hudson Soft made, we got Commander Keen. Fair trade if you ask me.
Thank you, John Romero, for sharing this piece of history.