Review Balatro Will Improve (or Ruin) Your Life 1
Screenshot by Siliconera

Review: Balatro Will Improve (or Ruin) Your Life 

I slept on Balatro. I had an awareness of the game ahead of launch, but was too preoccupied with some of the heavy hitters debuting around the same time. I have to say, I’m glad I did. Why? Because Balatro is my new obsession and is both giving me a new reason to live (while tanking my productivity).

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The concept behind Balatro is relatively simple. You start with a standard deck of 52 playing cards. Playing different Poker hands gets you chips. You have a goal of what your “score” must be to pass each round. You can only play so many hands and discard groups of cards from your hands so many times, depending on the deck color selected. As the number needed to keep playing constantly goes up, you eventually need an edge to keep meeting those scores.

That edge comes in the form of Jokers, Planet cards, Spectral cards, Tarot cards, Vouchers, and card packs. Jokers apply certain conditions and multipliers for your scores. Planet cards level up different Poker hands, ensuring you’ll earn more points if you manage to play them. Spectral and Tarot cards allow you to customize cards by adding special states to them or choosing if their nature changes. Vouchers can add new conditions to the game to give you an edge. Card packs can let you add more standard playing cards to your deck or get a chance at additional planet and tarot cards. 

If it’s difficult to visualize that, don’t worry. I didn’t really grasp the beauty of it until I went through the tutorial and played my first hand. Here, the launch trailer helps a bit.

Basically, the magic of Balatro is that it is taking something you are likely quite familiar with and adds all these new conditions that make it so satisfying to gain more points and tackle boss blinds. Since you can discard, it’s fairly easy to get higher value hands like a flush, straight, or full house. Getting certain Jokers and teaming them up can mean more points or special combos. Like pairing the Pareidolia that makes all cards face cards and a Business Card that means you have a 50% chance of getting $2 when a face card scores can be an income generator! While a hand like two pair may be lower value, if you build your deck around capitalizing on it, it can help carry you through. 

There’s also needing to balance if you take on a small or big blind when it comes up, or skip it for a Tag that could help you out. You could get free card packs, guaranteed Joker type or state appearances, or other bonuses that could help you out in exchange for not playing. But then, you also have to wonder if you will have the money or means of properly taking advantage of that effect. 

Of course, what also makes Balatro wonderful is how the game will absolutely screw up any plans you start to prepare. This is because the third boss blind will eventually get you. The Hook is one I honestly appreciate, because I’m typically fine with two random cards I didn’t play being discarded. The Manacle isn’t too bad either, since it just means your hand’s size is down by one. However, The Needle is a boss blind that only lets you play one hand, and it can ruin you if you face that one at the wrong time. 

However, because runs are relatively short, Poker is pervasive enough in society to be aware of hands, and it follows the roguelike tradition of unlocking new decks vouchers, and items as you keep playing, Balatro becomes even more captivating. I’d keep thinking about the boss blinds I hadn’t seen, the Jokers I hadn’t uncovered, and how close I’d come to upping the Ante and facing greater challenges. I might be playing for five minutes. I could be playing for 20 or even 30. It didn’t matter. Each moment was valuable, precious, and savored. I loved how it looked. I loved how it felt. I loved how good it made me feel to see the Jokers I’d collected, playing cards I’d found, and special cards I’d played made my deck—for a brief moment—feel unstoppable.

Balatro is a stunning game. It sticks with you. It never gets old. It’s the sort of title that maybe you even pick up on multiple devices, so you can have it on a Switch or Steam Deck when you’re on the go or a PS5 when you’re at home. Everything comes together beautifully and seamlessly in Balatro, and it is now one of my favorite deck-building games ever.

Balatrois available for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.

10
Balatro

The poker roguelike. Balatro is a hypnotically satisfying deckbuilder where you play illegal poker hands, discover game-changing jokers, and trigger adrenaline-pumping, outrageous combos. Switch version reviewed.

Everything comes together beautifully and seamlessly in Balatro, and it is now one of my favorite deck-building games ever.

Food for Thought:
  • One of your first shop purchases should always be a Joker.
  • The Hone and Glow Up Vouchers that make Foil, Holographic, and Polychrome cards appear more often are invaluable on longer runs.
  • Try to avoid relying on one suit in your hand, because there are boss blinds that will completely debuff a whole suit and keep it from scoring points.
  • The CRT effect is good!

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Jenni Lada
Jenni is Editor-in-Chief at Siliconera and has been playing games since getting access to her parents' Intellivision as a toddler. She continues to play on every possible platform and loves all of the systems she owns. (These include a PS4, Switch, Xbox One, WonderSwan Color and even a Vectrex!) You may have also seen her work at GamerTell, Cheat Code Central, Michibiku and PlayStation LifeStyle.