Balatro

Posted:  Feb 20, 2024
SDHQ BUILD SCORE: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Cloud Saves

Review

Balatro was provided by Playstack for review. Thank you!

Of all the games I played during the Steam Next Fest earlier this month, there were three that really stood out, and at the top of that list was Balatro. I had seen the game around for some time, and I was intrigued by the idea of a poker roguelike game. What I didn't expect was how addicting the experience is, and from the moment I pressed play, I had a feeling I was going to have a tough time trying to tear myself away.

At its core, Balatro is a roguelike, so you will go through multiple randomized runs to try to make it as far as you can. You start off by choosing a deck and difficulty, each having its own pros and cons, and play through rounds of poker. In these rounds, you will play different hands of poker to beat the score for that round. Each time you win, you will get money to buy gameplay modifiers (Jokers), tarot cards (change your card's properties), or planet cards (to level up the different card combinations). These will combine to affect the score you get and the multiplier attached to it.

Balantro 5

The way the system works together is wonderful and challenging. You have to think about the cards in your hand, whether to hold for something better, go with the smaller combinations, or prioritize different cards and Jokers. Each set of rounds is sectioned into triplets, too, before the overall score or "ante" is increased. The rounds can be randomized too, so some may have an increased ante above the new norm, you may have 0 discards, or you may even only be allowed to play 1 hand.

Unlike other roguelikes, Balatro doesn't have passive progression improvements outside of the runs, making it so you rely on skill and adaptability to progress as far as you can. It is also complemented nicely with vibrant and gorgeous visuals. This was one of the few games I really didn't mind the CRT filter, but you can choose to turn it off if desired.

Balantro 7

With how it all works together, there is definitely a lot to love about Balatro, but it's definitely best enjoyed on the Steam Deck.

Balatro - Steam Deck Performance

With the game not being demanding, it is not surprising that it's flawless on the Steam Deck. No changes are necessary to enjoy Balatro at 60 or 90 FPS with minimal battery drain. At 90 FPS, we will get around 7.5W drain for 8 hours of battery life, while 60 FPS will sit around 6.5W for 9 hours on OLED and 7 hours on LCD.

I did encounter one issue where, during the tutorial, I wasn't able to hit skip with the gamepad. I had to touch it on the screen. While this isn't a massive problem, I noticed it is a small one.

Accessibility

As for the settings, you can change the game speed, Play/Discard button position, screenshake, and audio settings. There is also an option to turn on high-contrast cards, which change some of the colors to yellow and blue. There aren't many other settings, but the text is readable.

Balatro does support 16:10 resolutions, so you won't see any black bars around the screen, and it supports both cloud saves and controllers. It doesn't have any HDR settings.

Conclusion

Balatro is an intriguing game that takes a concept I never would have expected and makes it into one of the most addicting roguelikes I have played in recent months. Making a poker experience into a roguelike one makes no sense, but this incredible solo developer was able to do it and make it so enticing both visually and mechanically that I had a hard time pulling myself away. And thanks to how well it was crafted, I never felt sad at being sent back to start a new run again; I was more excited that I could try a new strategy to get further. It is a perfect experience on the Steam Deck, and after playing it there, I can't see any other way to really enjoy it.

All I can say is don't sleep on Balatro.

Our review is based on the PC version of this game.

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SDHQ's Build Score Breakdown

Balatro is an incredible roguelike with a unique poker theme that helps it shine above its competitors, especially on Steam Deck.

Build Score

Performance: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
VISUALS: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Stability: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Controls: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Battery: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Noah Kupetsky
A lover of gaming since 4, Noah has grown up with a love and passion for the industry. From there, he started to travel a lot and develop a joy for handheld and PC gaming. When the Steam Deck released, it just all clicked.
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$14.99
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