Whelp, another year has come and gone for our illustrious hobby, and I think some celebrations are in order. It’s time for the most prestigious event in all of gaming: Tyler Johnson’s List of Top Five Best Surprises in Gaming! Woo! Yeah! Right on!

Awards? Pssh, no one gets awards here. Just a firm-but-reassuring pat on the shoulder, a sharp slap on the ass, and a “Ya did good out there, kid”.

Let’s not dilly-dally, because we have a lot to get through and you have many pointless and self-indulgent “Best of” lists to read. Just remember, these are the things that weren’t necessarily the best, but shattered all expectations or just came out of nowhere and were insanely awesome.

Ridiculous Fishing

iOS, Android

Look! A mobile game made the list!

I’d already liked Vlambeer before I played this game, so the very second I saw “Ridiculous Fishing” and learned the premise, it was something I just had to play. It took long enough for it to come to Android, but I finally did get my mitts on it and it was a spectacular experience.

I often talk of how mobile games need to stop trying to emulate traditional gaming experiences with a touchscreen. It’s pointless… and I hate it. Virtual buttons are horrible things and they need to die a death. Just one. That’s all it takes.

However, games like “Ridiculous Fishing” are prime examples that when you design something specifically meant for the unique way mobile devices are built, then you CAN make a great game, without leaving the player wishing they were playing it on a different platform.

The controls aren’t the only thing that Vlambeer nailed, however. “Ridiculous Fishing” has some brilliant game design, diving your lure into the depths of the ocean, attempting to avoid everything in a pseudo-bullet hell. Once your lure finally snags one very unfortunate creature, you you yank him back up (along with any other aquatic bastard you can). When your catch(es) hit the surface, they fly out of the water. Now you have to shoot them all and shower the ocean with their blood.

What, you’ve never fished before? That’s how it’s done. That’s why whalers are always being protested by Green Peace. It’s a messy and destructive business. I heard there is an island of whale blubber the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. It’s just all going to waste.

The game is clever, responsive, and rewards you just often enough that coming back for more is probably the easiest decision you’ll make all day.

Rogue Legacy

Windows, Mac, Linux

While roguelikes are still a fairly niche sub-genre of RPGs that even the most hardcore of RPG fans still don’t seem to enjoy that much (myself included), games with roguelike elements are in fashion on the indie gaming scene. “Rogue Legacy” is the best example of this in 2013.

Imagine “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” if the castle were different every time you entered and every time you started, you played with a different character. This is how I picture “Rogue Legacy” in my mind.

The player character’s heroic quest is to vanquish an evil residing within the castle… a resident evil, if you will.  Once that hero dies (and he will), you pick right up as his descendent, ala “Infinity Blade”. When he dies, you then play as HIS descendent. Then her descendent. Then his. Then his. Then hers and hers and his and his and hers and forever onto infinity.

It’s a suicidal family, way too heroic for their own good. Must be the Wheaties.

What makes “Rogue Legacy” special is that it offers permanence, which is a new concept for roguelikes. Yes, it goes against everything the genre stands for, but it doesn’t make “Rogue Legacy” any easier. It just offers progression and gives you a sense that you’re working towards a goal. As your skills improve, your characters will improve with it, eventually able to tackle all of the challenges the castle presents.

Any levels you gain, any equipment you purchase, any upgrades or enhancements you make will go from one character to the next. This gives you a fighting chance because you’re going to die… a lot. The game also lets you lock down a castle’s map, so if you encounter one of the bosses, die, and want to immediately get back to that fight, you can. These luxuries make things feel less futile than most roguelikes, which keeps you from getting too frustrated and – most importantly – keeps you coming back.

“Rogue Legacy” is fantastic. It plays smooth, has a good sense of humor, and lets you experiment in carefree ways, because when you’re always expecting to die, it’s far less painful than if you weren’t expecting it.