Balatro – A Poker Roguelite – Review

Written by Harry Ted Sprinks

Balatro Review

Despite being a fan of deck-builders and card games alike, I was skeptical of Balatro even before it was released. However, after spending several afternoons with this addictive, relaxing, and tremendously rewarding game, it seems my skepticism was misplaced. Balatro’s demo alone experienced virality, with a heap of YouTubers and Streamers playing the game for hours on end. For some, the appeal may not be immediately obvious, but five minutes with Balatro will soon tell you if you’ll like it or not.

Balatro Review


Balatro is unlike any deck-builder to have released, not only because of its poker theme (which has been done before: see Poker Quest and Aces & Adventures) but because of the way its focus on poker hands changes the gameplay loop. Players are given an immediately obvious goal: build the best poker hands you possibly can. Each poker hand is worth a set amount of chips and multiplier, so something like a simple Pair is worth ten chips multiplied by two, while a Four Of A Kind is worth sixty chips multiplied by seven.

Each of the game’s Jokers (we’ll get to them), and the cards themselves, can affect these values in a variety of ways, making not only which hand you play but the cards you play it with an important decision. Every round, players have to meet a certain threshold in order to progress. Failing to do so in X amount of hands results in game over, and in true rogue-lite fashion, it’s time to start again.

Luckily, Balatro gives players a variety of tools to break the rules of the game, from ‘planet cards’ that level up your poker hands to consumable Tarot cards that have game-changing effects. It’s this focus on breaking the rules that makes Balatro so special, transforming it from a game all about luck to a game about strategy. Balatro knows this and doubles down on this formula with its variety of Joker cards.

Balatro Gameplay

These Jokers are Balatro’s version of relics, artifacts, or whatever your favorite deck-builder calls its passive items. Each of these Jokers (of which there are 150 at the time of writing) grants a variety of effects, from something as simple as increasing multiplier to quirky cards like the DNA strand that duplicates the first card you play every round. When combined in different ways, these Jokers provide an abundance of builds and synergies, making Balatro a consistently engaging experience. Furthermore, to keep things strategic, Balatro limits the player to only five Jokers, making each and every decision involving them a strategic one.

With all that said and done, Balatro is still, unavoidably, reliant on RNG. Players can twist and turn their odds every which way, but the matter of the fact is that eventually, one way or another, the cards will simply refuse to turn up the way you want them to. While this isn’t inherently bad, it may frustrate fans of deck-builders like Slay The Spire, where luck is certainly involved, but on a much smaller scale. Balatro’s poker theme does help set expectations, though, and the luck required certainly decreases as you begin to formulate a strategy. Regardless, know that luck is involved pretty heavily here, and some runs can and will flame out long before they come to fruition if it’s not on your side.

Balatro Review


The visuals of Balatro are minimal but consistent. The game plays on a single screen, backed by a psychedelic background and a solid yet relatively bland UI. However, where Balatro’s visuals shine is in its variety of Jokers, each of which is packed with personality.

There are a handful of stand-outs, such as the highly detailed baseball player, and this makes most of the Jokers instantly recognizable in the shop.


Balatro’s music is as hypnotic as its visuals, playing a soothing, catchy loop that slowly digs its way into your head and then refuses to leave. This music is somewhat repetitive, though it’s crafted in such a way that it takes a while to notice. Overall, Balatro’s music could do with a little more variation, perhaps some alternate tracks, and I frequently found myself turning it off once I’d passed the ten-hour mark.

Although there are only a handful of sounds, the sound design of  Balatro is fantastic. The metallic crash of cash piling up, satisfying clicks and clacks as you hover over and play cards, and satisfying jingles rise in pitch as your score increases. Furthermore, the rising crackle of flames when your score reaches a certain threshold makes obtaining a massive score all the more rewarding.

Performance & Settings

Balatro Settings

There’s not much to say on the performance of Balatro, I’d be a little concerned if it didn’t run well on a potato. The game ran perfectly fine for me, and I imagine it will for most if not all, players. If it’s not immediately apparent, those with even the most basic of computers shouldn’t have trouble running the game. Balatro’s settings are fairly minimal, but all the necessities are there, and the game is customizable enough to make it accessible for most.


Playing cards, pushing your luck with your limited set of discards, and carefully crafting the optimal poker hand is ridiculously satisfying. Balatro scratches an itch that other deck-builders simply don’t, and while that sometimes means players might have to break out the calculator (we’re not all gifted mental mathematicians) to determine which of two hands will get you the win, it’s consistently gratifying.

The only downside to Balatro is that it can get rather repetitive, especially for those who play deck-builders more for the turn-by-turn gameplay than for the engine-building. Balatro is almost entirely about the latter, as there’s almost always a very clear and obvious best hand to play at any one time. This works both for and against the game, offering an experience that’s more accessible but arguably somewhat shallower than other deck-builders.

Despite these caveats, Balatro is a treat. The best thing to be said about Balatro is that it’s unabashedly different, taking equal inspiration from Poker, rogue-lite deck-builders, and even Microsoft Solitaire. It’s easy-to-learn, addictive, and full of peaks and troughs that perfectly capture that flow state. With all that said, Balatro is an easy recommendation for fans of card games.


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Harry Ted Sprinks

With a deep love for strategy games that began when he first played Stronghold as a kid on his parents’ home computer and a passion for linear narrative games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and old-school shooters like Blood and DOOM, Harry loves video games of all shapes and sizes. His knowledge of games new and old is broad, but Harry’s biggest passion is indie games, which he loves to champion in his writing. Harry’s favorite games include old-school rogue-likes like Caves Of Qud, older RTS titles such as Red Alert 3, modern classics like Halo 3, and survival-horror games like Resident Evil. When he isn’t writing or playing games, Harry can likely be found developing small games of his own or making music. Although Harry enjoys the occasional AAA game, his attention is primarily focused on representing indie games.