top of page

Balatro Review: How Balatro Deals a Winning Hand

Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch

Also on: Steam, Xbox Series X/S, PS4/PS5

Price: $14.99

When I was first told about Balatro, my first thought was “Oh good. Yet another deck builder that I’ll never play and have zero interest in hearing about whatsoever”. You see, deck builders are not my jam in the slightest bit. They are typically too complicated and have too much going on for me to focus on. Then I was told that this was a “rogue-like, poker deck builder” and suddenly, it had my attention. After all, I do know how to play poker, so I should be able to grasp this one rather easily. Turns out that thought was a bit of a double-edged sword.

The poker-playing aspect is exactly as you would assume as all of the variants of hands you play have a weight to the scoring. The more difficult the hand is to build, the more points it’s worth. The game's object is simple enough on paper, play poker hands to beat the necessary score for that blind or boss battle. Progression takes place through 8 different Antes; each ante contains a small blind, a large blind, and the boss battle. Beating a blind earns you money that you can spend in the shop in between each battle. Each battle has a progressively higher score (chip count) that you need to beat. The bosses themselves come with a catch, not only is the score for them higher, but they all have a caveat that ups the difficulty tremendously. Be it a certain suit can not be played, or each time you play a card, it takes a dollar from your bankroll, so you can only play each “poker hand” once, just to name a few. The difficulty ramps up tremendously as you work your way the the antes and the bosses. This is where the between-ante store becomes your new best friend and where the deck building comes into play.

At the store, there are two individual cards that you can buy, as well as two booster packs and a voucher. Packs allow you to open a pack and choose the cards that you want to add to your deck as opposed to just buying the single card that is just hanging out. There are a large variety of booster cards that you can buy. Jokers give you a hand-by-hand boost; planet cards level up the types of poker hands that can be played; tarot cards do a wide variety of things from boosting cards in hand to creating new cards; spectral cards are kind of similar to tarot cards, yet are more powerful.

Speaking of more power, you can get enhanced cards for your deck that add all sorts of properties, from making a card a wild card, to giving it chip cash or multiplier bonuses. To muddle everything up in your brain even more if you are reading this, there are editions of the playing cards that also add stats to your cards. Now that I’ve written and typed all of that out, I remember why I tend to stay away from deck builders, but once you have the game in your hands and a few rounds under your belt, it all oddly makes sense and is basically perfectly executed. If you happen to decide that you want to skip a hand, you get a tag which also has an effect on the game. Could be something as simple as planet cards are more likely to appear in the shot, or it could be a game changer, as in adding another hand to each blind for you to play. Vouchers that are available in the shop essentially act the same way, but there does only appear to be one voucher per ante.

Balatro does an outstanding job of walking you through the basics until it fully sinks its claws into you. In a very odd comparison, it’s almost like Poker meets Vampire Survivors in the way that once you have a build that you like, it makes it easy to blow through a couple of Antes, but the difficulty is there when you still hit bosses.

Final Grade: A+

I honestly can’t find a bad thing to say about Balatro. The closest thing I have to a complaint is that the music isn’t overly exciting, but it also doesn’t need to be as you’re playing poker. The gameplay is damn near flawless, and the hook is very, very real. I started to play it for the Switch for review, then discovered that it’s also on the Xbox (my platform of choice), so I immediately picked it up there too. That being said, I’ve put around eight hours into the Switch version and have about seven hours in the Xbox version. Having said that, and knowing how I play games, I would wager that I’ll easily hit over a hundred hours into this gem of a game known as Balatro.

Review code provided by Playstack



bottom of page