Balatro review

by on February 22, 2024
Release Date

February 20, 2024


I’m someone who enjoys all manner of video game card games, but I must admit that jumping into a new one can be rather daunting. Learning how to successfully build your own competent deck in a CCG is an almost impossible task for card game newcomers, and choosing new cards to add to your collection effectively in a card-based roguelike is something that just isn’t easy to pick up. Balatro is a game that fixes this issue with a simple and rather genius solution, by making all the mechanics in this roguelike deck-building extravaganza revolve around poker hands and standard playing cards.

In Balatro you’re tasked with earning the highest score possible by drawing the best quality poker hand. Each round of the game features a score you need to beat, and a number of hands and discards you can use to do so. As you might expect this leads to some tense moments where you can’t decide whether to try and hold onto a certain suit for a Flush or aim for a higher-scoring but riskier Full House, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the first few rounds you might be able to manage to score well enough to proceed with a little bit of luck, but before long the target score will be beyond impossible without some help. That’s where the Jokers come in, which are essentially cards that provide passive bonuses that’ll help raise your score to otherwise unimaginable levels which you can equip five of. The most basic Joker might raise your multiplier by four, but there are also Jokers that require you to play Balatro in a slightly more specific way to get the most out of them.

One of my earlier and more basic Jokers gave me a bonus multiplier for each spade in my poker hand, which led to some particularly spectacular Flushes. Then I was able to obtain a Joker that boosted the score of all three of a kinds I played, which was particularly helpful because it also gave the score boost when I played my beloved Full House. With a bit of luck, you’ll hopefully be able to gather a selection of Jokers that complement each other, and because of this, your score will grow to surprising levels.

Obviously, these Joker cards are particularly important, so obtaining them is crucial if you want to succeed in a run. The only way to get new Jokers is from the shop that you visit between rounds, where you can spend your hard-earned cash on various types of cards. Completing each round earns you a few dollars, but you can get extra by finishing a level with a few hands left over or as interest from any savings you have. Having a healthy bank account will make your life much easier in Balatro, so look after those pennies.

As well as Jokers, you can also improve your score by collecting planet cards. Each of these celestial bodies raises the base score of a specific poker hand by leveling them up, and you can boost them up to seriously ridiculous levels if you’re lucky enough to find the same one over and over again. Occasionally specific planet cards will show up in the shop as a purchasable item at the shop, but most of the time you’ll have to buy a booster pack of them and hopefully, you get the one you need to improve your favourite poker hand that you’ve built your run around.

Tarot cards are another type of card that you’ll find in the shop, which can be used to change up the deck of playing cards you use to make poker hands in all sorts of interesting ways. One specific tarot card can permanently transform the suit of three cards into hearts, which obviously affects the likelihood of getting a heart-based flush when drawing and discarding hands. Another tarot card adds a bonus multiplier to a couple of cards every time you play them, which makes using them an easy way to boost your score without much hassle. If you’re clever you’ll be able to manipulate your deck with Tarot cards and additional playing cards in a way that enables you to consistently score some seriously impressive points, and will hopefully be able to beat some of the tricky randomised boss stages Balatro throws your way.

Not content with giving you higher scores to target each round, each set of three levels ends with a boss fight. These function the same way as all the other rounds for the most part, but each features a specific rule that makes it harder to get the score you need to beat them. One boss stage debuffs all the clubs in your deck, which means that using them in a poker hand scores you no points (which is particularly brutal if you’ve got a build that revolves around them). Another boss forces you to draw all face cards face down, which makes playing them effectively pretty much impossible and will lead to a whole lot of extra discarding. Having to play the game slightly differently to overcome these challenges is a nice change of pace, but don’t expect beating them to be easy.

Missing one target score in Balatro is enough to end your run and send you back to the title screen, but in regular Roguelike fashion, you’ll also unlock some extra bits and bobs for future runs as you go. New jokers and starting decks are constantly made available to you as you play, and that means every run has something new and exciting to experiment with.

Balatro is an easy-to-learn card game, but it’s not an easy one to master. Your first successful run will be a momentous occasion, but eventually, these victories will become more and more common. If you’re still desperate for more challenge though Balatro has you covered, with a massive selection of bonus difficulty modes to unlock to make the game tougher. There’s also an endless mode that can be played after beating a run, and a challenge mode that unlocks after beating the game five times. Balatro has no shortage of content for those who want to keep playing it forever, and personally I’m planning on doing just that.

It’s hard to explain how effortlessly compelling Balatro is, but the simple loop of drawing new poker hands and creating a build to maximise your point potential is just mesmerising. Each run feels different enough from the last to make the game feel fresh every time you play too, whether you’re focusing on a different poker hand, aiming to waste all your discards as fast as possible for a big multiplier boost or just trying to buy as many tarot cards as you can to boost a specific Joker you bought.

Balatro may not look like the flashiest or most exciting game you’ll play this year, but it is expertly crafted to create the most exciting card game I’ve played in a long time. The basic poker theme makes it easy to pick up initially, but the amount of depth there is to explore to maximise your points is just staggering. It also has so much content that you could well still be playing it in five years time, and if that’s the case I bet you’ll be loving every minute of it.


Easy to learn but hard to master
Effortlessly compelling
Some seriously deep systems to explore
A ridiculous amount of content packed in


Might not be flashy enough for some
Sometimes a lack of luck will ruin you

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Balatro is a masterfully crafted Roguelike card game, that's easy to learn thanks to its poker mechanics but hard to master.