REVIEW | Balatro

REVIEW | Balatro

As a lifelong enthusiast of card games, I’ve traversed the planes of Magic: The Gathering, delved into the Hearthstone arena, and explored the ink-blotted adventures of Roguebook. Last year’s Inscryption dealt me a hand I couldn’t resist and I was addicted for months on end. Now, amidst the shuffle of games, a new contender emerges, dealing a fresh hand of excitement: Balatro.

Balatro flips the cards on traditional poker gameplay, infusing it with the unpredictability of a roguelike adventure. You collect Jokers with various effects and enhance your deck with modified cards, making each playthrough a high-stakes gamble for a higher score. No two games deal the same thrill, leaving players hooked for well over a hundred hours. A dangerous game for me to take on as a reviewer, because I fear all other games will fall to the wayside for the coming weeks!

ℹī¸ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer. Got unanswered questions about this game? Get in touch on X!


Joke(r)’s on me!

Things I liked!

  • Breaking the rules | Balatro isn’t your run-of-the-mill Poker game with a few power-ups sprinkled in. It’s a wild ride where the rules are soon left in the gutter, allowing you to defy convention with feats like conjuring a 5-of-a-kind hand or crafting a straight with just 4 cards There are so many different ways to build your deck and do broken stuff, it’s thrilling to see how far you can push the game. After beating a run, you can even enter “endless mode” to see how far your deck can get you with scores that skyrocket into the millions, and while I’ve yet to reach such lofty heights myself, I refuse to throw in the towel!
  • Forward planning | From start to finish, Balatro rewards thinking ahead. From the way you build your deck with Jokers, Tarrot cards and more in mind, to which cards you discard to draw into the perfect hand. Smarter people than me will check their remaining cards in the deck to work out the ideal play.
  • 2nd chances | Unlike most other roguelikes, dying isn’t always 100% the end of your run. You can choose “Continue” from the main menu and replay your last hand. If you still had some discards left, that could mean the difference between failing and succeeding to get the required score. I’m VERY thankful for this option!
  • The Shop | You’ll get rewarded with money for completing a round and you can spend this on ways to build your deck:
    • Jokers that have too many possible crazy effects to list
    • Consumable Tarot cards that impact your cards or Jokers or even how much money you earn
    • Planets that increase the value of a specific type of hand (eg: +30 points, +2 combo for a “Full House”)
    • Vouchers that have lasting effects but don’t take up joker slots
    • And even Spectral Cards that offer a huge risk/reward bonus but that can significantly handicap you

“Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time!” – Freddy Mercury

Neither good nor bad

  • Speed increase | It took me a while to discover this in the settings, but you can set the game to X2 or X4 speed which will make a playthrough much quicker as the hands resolved in the blink of an eye. The risk is missing the combos or overlooking things that may have caught your attention if it happened slower. Personally, I would have preferred the speed to be a quick toggle or even something you manually control by pressing the Trigger buttons.
  • Visual presentation | The pixelated style fits the game well enough, but I was hoping to get more impressive visual effects when playing powerful combos. There is also a weird liquid shader moving around in the background that I’m not particularly fond of.
  • Sound | Not exactly the most important aspect of a cardgame, but I did notice that the repetitive sound loop annoyed my wife when I was playing in her vicinity, and I had to turn down the audio because of it. Too bad, because the sound effects were satisfying! (I ended only turning down the music volume)

Reading about the game doesn’t do it enough Justice, go play!

Things I disliked!

  • RNG gods be damned | Just as you can break your deck, so can the final Blind of a round strike with a mighty vengeance. I had built a powerful deck with 12 times the King of Hearts, with 4-of-a-kind hands carrying me all the way, only to be stopped by a “boss” fight that debuffed all my Hearts, giving me 0 points or effects from all my cards adorning the red symbol of love. It essentially crippled my entire run and felt really bad.
  • Achievements | The achievement list seems mighty grindy and too daunting. I don’t see myself getting 1000G on this one, sadly.

How long did I play the review before publishing? 10 hours
How long to beat the story? ~1 hour if you get lucky!
How many Achievements did I earn before publishing? 4/31 (they’re hard, OK!!?)
How long to achieve 1000G | Estimate: 100 hours
You’ll love this game if you like these | Inscryption, Roguebook, Slay the Spire

Do you prefer to see the game in action? I’ve got you covered!


96/100 ⭐ Balatro deals a winning hand with its innovative twist on an age-old formula. It breaks the rules of poker in many fun yet unfair ways, with playthroughs that are as varied as a shuffled deck. It’s a title I can see myself sinking hundreds of hours into and if other 2024 titles hope to have a shot at Game Of The Year, they better up the ante!