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Pokémon Unite has a Gengar problem

Gengar is a crucial lesson in unfairness for a new generation of MOBA fans

A person with their head inside a Gengar cushion Image: The Pokémon Company/P-Bandai

Pokémon Unite’s Gengar is a real bastard, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Look at the Pokémon Unite Twitter account’s request for feedback, or some choice gameplay clips on the game’s subreddit, and you’ll find loads of players grumpy about the overpowered state of Gengar, everyone’s favorite ghost Pokémon. In the same way that the Beatles have got a feeling and Moria has a cave troll, Pokémon Unite has a Gengar problem.

Gengar is one of the launch characters for the new Pokémon multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). He’s a “Speedster” class Pokémon and ideally spends a lot of time in the jungle, soaking up XP and leveling up quickly. Like many Pokémon in Unite, Gengar starts at his base form, Ghastly, and evolves into Haunter before reaching his final form.

Gengar’s abilities offer it a lot of freedom and speed. It’s able to poison enemy Pokémon with its Sludge Bomb move, and then quickly dash to a target location with Hex. These kinds of abilities aren’t inherently overpowered, and aspects of Gengar’s Hex remind me of Lee Sin from League of Legends — widely regarded as one of the game’s best Champions.

The problem is that the Sludge-Bomb-into-Hex combo is able to explode the health bars of all nearby Pokémon, and a mildly skilled Gengar player can take on two or more opposing Pokémon alone, even if they’re all at the same level. I’ve seen matches where my team is doing quite well in the early game, only for the enemy Gengar to come online and absolutely steamroll our squad. All MOBA games have hypercarries like this, but at this stage in Pokémon Unite’s life, Gengar’s weaknesses are difficult to pick out.

But Gengar isn’t an inherently broken or frustrating Pokémon. It’s just having a powerful moment of imbalance during the game’s launch window — and it’s not the only one. With Pokémon Unite being such a friendly MOBA for new players, Gengar works as a neat lesson for folks trying the genre for the first time.

Overpowered characters and frustrating interactions are part of the MOBA experience, even if the ideal version of each game is perfectly balanced. There will come a time — it could be next week or next month — when Gengar’s reign will end. And a year from now, players may look back at Gengar and wish that he was good again. Another terror will rise, and people will say, “Y’know, in hindsight, Gengar wasn’t that bad.”

The complaining, the frustration, and the hilarious clips of Gengar eliminating an entire team are all part of the process. MOBAs aren’t fun because they’re perfect; they’re fun because of the imbalance (and the team coordination required to circumvent it). It’s a crucial lesson to teach new players, and Gengar has the perfect giant, shit-eating grin to teach it.

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