Oftentimes, the games we end up loving are ones that catch our eye early on. Games may not always live up to our expectations, but it seems more often than not, we have an idea about which games we’re going to enjoy.
Other times, a game comes out of seemingly nowhere, with no hype or build-up, that ends up being an utter delight. A pleasant surprise, if you will.
Winner: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
I liked the original Yooka-Laylee, but no doubt it wasn’t the game it could have been. Others were less warm to it than I was, which surely wasn’t the response Playtonic Games was hoping for with their Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor. After that, I figured Playtonic would change course and try again with different characters down the road.
Instead, Playtonic admirably stood by the characters they made, and put them in a new scenario that was probably a bit more appropriate for an early title from a studio of Playtonic’s size.
Placing Yooka and Laylee in a don’t-call-it-a-spiritual-successor to Donkey Kong Country, Playtonic proved their belief in their inaugural IP to be justified. While Playtonic may have backed themselves into a corner with the first Yooka-Laylee – with Kickstarter stretch goals forcing their hand in certain directions – Impossible Lair allowed Playtonic more creative freedom with the 2D platformer genre.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair proved to be one of the best 2D platformers in years, and re-established Yooka-Laylee as a viable video game franchise. Considering the lukewarm reception to the original, and the fact that Impossible Lair was rather unceremoniously announced as part of a montage in a Nintendo Direct and released a short time thereafter, I’d say that makes for quite the pleasant surprise.
Runner-up: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
2017: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
2018: Deltarune: Chapter 1