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It's important to note here how rare such animated touches were at the time Super Mario Bros. 3 came out. Due to a combination of limited digital storage space, tight project deadlines, and the difficulty of evoking detail with small, pixelated sprites, most early NES games had decidedly limited character animation. The average platform game character of the day was lucky to have three distinct frames of running animation, one of which might have been reused as a jumping pose. Mario's few frames of extra animation somehow made him seem more real, more alive than other videogame characters of the day. Mario's animation in Super Mario Bros. 3 has been touched up in a number of other subtle ways. When powered by an invincibility-granting Starman, for instance, Mario adds a tight mid-air somersault to his jump. When launching into the air after a steep downhill slide, he flutters his legs in a sign that he's uncharacteristically not really in control of his own momentum.
The game's wide variety of enemies, too, seem to go out of their way to constantly show they're more than virtual automatons. It starts in the first moments of World 2, when a leaping micro-Goomba first camouflages itself in a seemingly routine stack of blocks. It continues later in World 2 when an angry-looking sun spends half the level masquerading as a harmless decoration, only to swirl and swoop menacingly down in a dive bomb attack. And it lasts until the very end of the game, when a set of harmless-looking statues in the game's final level spit lasers at Mario with a sound effect that still startles me to this day.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is full of enemies that have evolved from their similar forms in the original Super Mario Bros., from fire-spitting piranha plants to Hammer Bros. that now throw boomerangs to the fearsome Big Bertha, an over-sized fish that can swallow Mario whole, power-ups and all.
But some enemies even show evolution within the game itself. Take the mother-and-children groupings of squid-like bloopers, which travel in straight, zig-zagging patterns for much of the game, before suddenly exploding in a starburst attack in World 6. The familiar Bullet Bills evolve into Missile Bills late in the game, with the added ability to turn in mid-air and hone in on Mario. And of course World 4 produces an entire set of levels where once-familiar enemies have become gigantic (though Big Bertha has, hilariously, been replaced by a relatively harmless Cheep-Cheep in level 4-2).