Betas, debug modes, and unreleased games
"Beta" refers to the working version of a game or program before its public release. Games still in the beta stage might have gameplay elements and glitches that may not make it into the final version. Sometimes the programmers fail to remove remnants of omitted characters or levels, allowing crafty gamers to catch a glimpse of parts of the game we were never meant to see.
Super Mario Bros. 3 "missing" levels
One of the many interesting things about SMB3 is on the outside of its packaging. Many gamers have noticed a couple of strange screen shots on the back of the box; one shows a slightly different World 1 map screen, and the other has Parabeetles in a grassy level, which did not appear in the game. In addition, both pictures have the word "MARIO" in place of where "WORLD #" would be to show whatever world you were in. So, does a beta version of SMB3 exist? Maybe at Nintendo HQ, but most likely not at all. Game packaging and manuals are often put together far in advance of the release date, which explains why sometimes Japanese or "wrong" screen shots appear in game manuals, or in SMB3's case, on the back of the box. Though it looks interesting, the grassy level shown on the box was either scrapped in favor of another level, or removed altogether.
Depending on when you purchased SMB3, you may or may not have the box with the "freak" screen shots. I got SMB3 the first day it was in my local Toys "R" Us, and its box shows correct screen shots. Years later, I got a second NES, and the SMB3 bundled with it had the "freak" screen shots.
Using sprites from the game, I have recreated the first screen shot shown on the first box.
Although many unused levels exist in SMB3, none of them are quite like the grassy area with Parabeetles as shown in the other screen shot.
Super Mario World TEST stage
With a couple of Pro Action Replay (PAR) codes that walk Mario through unbeaten levels, one can access what appears to be a hidden beta testing area. Trasher provides the directions:
Use AR code 7E0DD501. Start a new game, and walk to Yoshi's Island 2. Activate AR switch. Mario will automatically walk up to the Donut Ghost House and then get stuck between the ghost house and the area above it. Switch off AR, then beat the ghost house and save your game. Reset the game and enter the new code 7E0DD502. Open the same save slot and walk to Donut Plains 1. Switch on AR, and Mario will walk to the Donut Secret House. Turn off AR, then beat the secret ghost house via the secret exit (beat Big Boo). Save your game, and use the Star Road to get to Star World. Switch AR on. When Mario stops, move to the next dot and re-activate AR. Repeat until you walk to Star Road 5. Re-activate AR and you'll climb to the top of the hill. Switch AR off.
Next, all you have to do is press the A button at the top of the hill. Instead of heading onward to the Special World, you'll enter the test level! (My theory is that as long as you haven't found the secret exit in Star World 5, you can reach the test level without starting a new game. So if you have a save file where you haven't reached the Special World, just go as far you got in the Star World, then turn on the second PAR code and take it from there.)
The test level starts you out on a mushroom platform with a unique "No Yoshis" sign at the end, and Mario will walk over like he's entering a Fortress. The next screen is small stretch of land with the word "TEST" spelled out in Rotating Blocks above you. Head to the right, and a 1-Up Mushroom will pop out right before you see an arrow (also made with Rotating Blocks) pointing down the hole at the end of the level. Down the hole is the only place you can go, and it takes you back to the map screen.
It turns out that the programmers filled in all unused level sections with the same test level, so over 200 copies of the level exist in the game. For the curious, I've mapped out the entire test level. (Click the image to enlarge.)
If you own ZSNES and the SMW ROM, you can play the stage yourself with this ZSNES save state. After you load it, just press A.
Super Mario World map screen buddies
While messing around with a ZSNES save state, Calcwatch has uncovered an unused feature intended for the map screen: Lakitu and a blue jay! These guys were programmed into the game, but for reasons unknown were not included in the final product. Here's what they do: On the smaller map screens (i.e. the screen dedicated to Yoshi's Island) the blue jay flies back and forth under Mario, while on the large map screen (showing Donut Plains, Chocolate Island, etc.), Lakitu drops in and flies around Mario. These guys have no affect on the gameplay, however. Who knows what ideas Nintendo had in mind!
If you own ZSNES and the SMW ROM, you can see Lakitu and the blue jay in action with this altered ZSNES save state. Just walk out of Yoshi's House...
Debug modes are similar to the "God mode" in Doom; all levels, items, etc. are readily available so that the debugging team can easily test the entire game. The developers can disable the debug mode for when the game is finally released, but a few games treat us to level-select codes and other luxuries of the debug team.
Super Mario Bros. 3
The debug mode in SMB3 is unlockable via Game Genie code KKKZSPIU. (The code does not unlock the special menu screen the game testers saw, but it still works if you pay attention to the title screen.) The debug mode has five features:
Everything works the same for Luigi as well.
When Super Mario All-Stars brought SMB3 to the Super NES, the "Select code" from the debug mode snuck into some copies of the game. It works the same way, except you can also hold X or Y when toggling Kuribo's Shoe.
Game Genie code found by David Wonn.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Wario Land's debug mode can be accessed by pausing the game and pressing Select 16 times. This will make a box cursor appear on Wario's number of extra lives. While holding B or A, you can change any of the values on the status bar by selecting it with the cursor and pressing Up or Down. You can also hold B+A to put the cursor on the Wario head and un-pause for a hat upgrade.
Sometimes a game, finished or not, is abandoned and never released. Mario has fallen victim to this rare occurrence more than once. (More info and pictures forthcoming.)
Super Mario Wacky Worlds
Using the Super Mario World engine with similar art design, this was planned for the Philips CD-i.
VB Mario Land
Virtual Boy Mario Land was actually called "Mario Clash" before they released the cut down version with the same name. The following screen shots are from three different Nintendo Power issues.