Following on from our reader-voted Top 50 Games of the Decade, Nintendo Life staff members will be picking their personal favourite Nintendo games between the years 2010-2019. Today, Ryan looks back at how a smartphone title took the world by storm and proved him completely wrong - in a good way...
Hold it, let me stop you right there. I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Pokémon GO can't even hold a Litwick to something like Breath of the Wild, you absolute numpty”. Well, I completely agree with you (apart from that last bit, maybe) but love it or hate it, Niantic's monster-catching mobile hit was - and remains - something very special.
As you'd probably expect from someone who writes about gaming for a living, I've spent pretty much my entire life up until this point spending unhealthy amounts of time playing 'classic' games. Whether it was the very best Mario platformers and Zelda epics, or the wonder of isolated Metroid adventures and pretty much every single Pokémon game under the sun, I've always been someone who prefers a traditional, single-player experience over anything else, ever since I was about six years old.
Coming from that background, the very idea of free-to-play games and their fun-restricting paywall setups have always grinded my gears. When Pokémon GO was first announced, I had absolutely no interest in playing it and even made a point to ignore it. "It's the principle", I would say, naively depriving myself of any enjoyment it might provide because my precious Pokémon shouldn't be subjected to such treason.
But then Pokémania happened. When GO launched in 2016, it was everywhere - and I mean everywhere. Suddenly, everyone who would laugh at me for liking Pokémon at school was playing. Suddenly the entire world was playing. It was just like how I remember Pokémon as a kid, with talk of the franchise being everywhere you go, and I just couldn't resist jumping in and downloading it for the first time. I'm glad I did.
The game actually gets that horrid free-to-play system completely right in my opinion - I still haven't spent a penny despite clocking hundreds of hours in it - but as is the case with most mobile titles, the gameplay itself will never pull me in as much as a new single-player epic on Switch ever could. Instead, my reasoning for voting this as my Game of the Decade is down to the pure spectacle of its release and something much more personal.
Now, I'll be brave here and share the fact that I've struggled with anxiety issues which centre around getting out and leaving the house, as well as an ever-present case of depression which has plagued my life for the last four or five years. I'm sure some of you reading this might have experienced similar, and will therefore know that a single little app could never eradicate such problems, but Pokémon GO has genuinely had a hugely positive impact on my health that I'll be forever grateful for. I'm not alone, either.
I've been playing it on and off since - *checks app* - September 2016, and while I'll sometimes ignore it for a few months at a time, it tends to serve as a form of relief when I'm at my worst. I vividly remember going through a period where my chest would tighten just from being five minutes or so from my home; GO somehow managed to distract me enough to beat that, with the idea of adding a rare Dratini to my collection being exciting enough to push past whatever was going on in my head. Similarly, on days where I'd usually wake up and be unable to get out of bed, here I was getting up nice and early to go on a walk. I know it doesn't make sense, but it's true.
Perhaps 'a distraction' is the perfect way to describe it. These days, no matter where you are or what you're doing, you tend to have your mobile on you and that means GO is only a loading screen away. Need an excuse to do some exercise? Go and play Pokémon GO. Need to have something to do while you're standing waiting for transport? Organise your Pokémon in Pokémon GO. Feeling awkward in the presence of someone you're not comfortable with? Whip out and talk about Pokémon GO - you know they're playing it, too. Importantly, the gameplay itself is good enough to make you want to keep on top of it, so loading it up so often never feels like a chore.
Different people may, of course, find entirely different things to help with their motivation, but there's one final part of this story that really is unique to Niantic's world-dominating release and wraps things up nicely. We're pretty used to the MMORPG format these days, or 'massively multiplayer online role-playing games', where players from all over the world interact with each other and share the same gaming experience. With GO's Raid Battles and Community Days, I've found myself chatting to complete strangers who share the same passion as me in a real-life setting, giving little knowing nods to each other as we walk around the same stretch of park for three hours trying to find a shiny Chikorita.
Never has a game so wonderfully connected a community on a global scale, and I never thought I'd see such a wide range of people, from toddlers to grandparents, all getting out and playing Pokémon together. From the perspective of someone who has adored Pokémon for 20 years, seeing masses of people roam around my local city, catching everything in sight, has been very strange but beautiful to behold. In the years to come, when we look back upon the key gaming moments of the 2010s, Pokémon GO will undoubtedly be right up there - and rightly so.