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Poker roguelike Balatro is taking Steam by storm

LocalThunk's Balatro has seemingly come out of nowhere – but it's quickly rising up the Steam charts.
balatro game poker roguelike

A week on from launch, poker-themed roguelike deck builder Balatro is shooting up the Steam charts, buoyed by a wave of Overwhelmingly Positive Steam reviews, and strong critical acclaim. Over on social media, it appears Balatro could be the next viral hit, with players enthusiastically sharing their experiences, and the “addiction” of Balatro, to the masses.

So, what is Balatro? If you’re not particularly ‘online’ or you’ve missed the generous praise heaped on the game, here’s what you need to know.

Balatro is a surrealist card game where you play through rounds of poker in roguelike fashion, building out a deck of cards with their own special “synergies” while overcoming “blinds” that function as bosses. Defeat comes easily, but in each round, you have a chance to strengthen your deck, pick up new cards, and continue on your run.

Read: Dicefolk review – Shake, rattle and roll (and roll)

It’s not only the gameplay loop that has seemingly entranced players, it’s also the art style of Balatro – its psychedelic oddness, and its “flow state” soundtrack which keeps the good vibes humming along. As reviews on social media and Steam have made clear, the design of Balatro is incredible moreish, with brain-tickling good vibes all around.

“Actually magical experience of a game that feels like design genius,” Steam user Zoe wrote. “Captures the fact that games are fun first and foremost. Love this game, binged it for four days straight.”

“My first play session was about 5 hours long. This game is insanely good,” Steam user Ozymandias said.

In a 91/100 review for PC Gamer, critic Abbie Stone called Balatro a hypnotic, beautiful triumph, and one filled with consistent surprises.

“Have I mentioned how eerily beautiful it is? It’s like watching a Poker game on a cursed TV accidentally tuned to 1972, filmed by a crew gradually coming down from hallucinogens,” Stone wrote.

“But this isn’t one of Devolver Digital’s acid-aesthetic nightmares, more gently surreal and oddly soothing. There’s a lot of game here, too … This is an absolute triumph, the reason Valve should rename their handheld ‘the Balatro machine’. That it’s the developer’s first game is just rude, frankly, equivalent to going to Vegas and drawing a Royal Flush first time.”

As Stone accurately points out, Balatro is the first game of solo developer LocalThunk, who is based in Canada. They teamed up with PlayStack (The Case of the Golden Idol) to publish the game – and it appears the partnership has paid off considerably.

PC Gamer isn’t the only popular outlet to share a positive review for Balatro, either. XboxEra critic Jesse Norris called it his next gaming obsession. ScreenRant called it “spellbinding” and “time-engulfing.” GamesRadar+ labelled it “subtly engrossing.”

In short: if you’re looking for your next transportive gaming experience, it appears Balatro has achieved something magical. Just a few days after launch, it’s hit the coveted “Overwhelmingly Positive” status on Steam – and it this stage, it appears the high praise isn’t slowing down. The hype train for Balatro is well and truly on the move, and it appears to be scooping up players with ease.

You can learn more about the game on Steam.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.