This timeless 8-bit cartridge stole some mojo from Ridley Scott’s Alien, but when it came out in 1986, Metroid revealed something that video games would wind up doing better than other entertainment media: the idea of recursion lies at the heart of this NES classic.
The lonely, moody experience of playing through Samus Aran’s adventure created an intimate relationship with the gameworld. Exploring and memorizing planet Thebes’ non-linear yet cunningly interconnected design ingeniously paid off in the game’s play mechanics, which you wouldn’t have known while playing.
Hours spent staring at doors you couldn’t open and running into seemingly dead ends meant that when you finally got the right weapon or upgrade to unlock a particular area, you knew exactly where to go.
And after all that, to learn that the bounty hunter armor concealed gaming’s first-ever heroine gave Metroid a surprise ending for the ages.