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Balatro Icon
Balatro

Developer: LocalThunk

Publisher: PlayStack

Roguelike
Simulation
Strategy
  • Price: $14.99
  • Release Date: Feb 20, 2024
  • Number of Players: 1
  • Last on Sale: -
  • Lowest Historic Price: -
  • ESRB Rating: E10+ [Everyone 10+]
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    A surprisingly-effective roguelike variation on poker, for those who enjoy it, and a pretty unique challenge

    Ever since the likes of the original Rogue Legacy, and a few other choice titles, I’ve been a big fan of the attempts to spice anything imaginable up with some roguelike elements. Having already made shooters, various action games, and a variety of strategy titles a bit more exciting, I’ve been curious to see what it could shake up next. What I wasn’t expecting was to see its distinctive form of genre-bending alchemy applied to the game of poker, turning it into a unique roguelike deckbuilder, but with Balatro here we are.

    Borrowing some terminology from the likes of Texas Holdem, you’ll start out with an ordinary deck of cards, looking to use different poker hands to earn chips and multipliers to exceed a target number in order to proceed to the next challenge. Along the way you’ll be able to purchase various types of custom cards, including Jokers, which possess a wide variety of game-breaking benefits, tarot cards that can give you powerful one-time uses, and other means for tilting the odds to your favor if you play the right hands or suits. 

    Since with each round the number of chips continues to increase you’ll need every trick you can muster, especially once you begin to face some of the game’s bosses. Just to potentially throw a wrench into your well-laid plans they also have abilities which will nullify certain bonuses or types of cards, often requiring a bit of on-the-fly planning and perhaps one of your consumable tarot cards you’d have been wise to have in the event of an emergency. Consistent with just about every roguelike out there you’ll often have wild variation in success each time you play, with the RNG gods sometimes smiling down on you and other times feeling like you’re cursed.

    While I’m not sure someone with no interest in either roguelike deck builders as a whole, or at least poker, would have much fun with this, if you’re already a fan it plays out very well. Taking a proven play style like deck builders and mixing it with something as commonly familiar as poker feels like a pretty brilliant move. In execution the results tend to speak for themselves even within the first run or two, and it has a great “just one more run” quality that I love about roguelikes as a whole. Granted, in terms of presentation it stays pretty simple, and perhaps it feels like you could just as easily play it on your phone, but there’s no question there’s some fresh and smart game design at work here.


    Justin Nation, Score:
    Nindie Choice! [8.4]
2024

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