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The Best Video Game of 2024 So Far Was Made By One Guy and Is All About Illegal Poker Hands

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Looking back at the biggest and best video game releases of 2024 can be a very sobering affair.

After all, despite the overwhelming quality of the game releases thus far, it’s hard not to note the derivative nature and lack of creativity emanating from it.

Just look at some of the best games (again, quality is not the issue) released thus far this year:

  • “Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown” is another stab at rebooting the Prince of Persia franchise — a video game that was originally released in 1989.
  • “The Last of Us: Part 2 Remastered” isn’t just a remaster or a sequel… it’s a remaster of a sequel that only just came out in 2020.
  • “Tekken 8” is the eighth numbered entry in the venerable fighting franchise, and that doesn’t include the “Tekken Tag” games.
  • Helldivers II” is an incredible follow-up to a 2015 title.
  • Tomb Raider I-III Remastered” are remasters of a video game trilogy from the ’90s.
  • “Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth” and “Final Fantasy VII Rebirth” are a pair of absolutely incredible Japanese RPG gems, but both are also direct sequels.

Those are a lot of incredible games (and yes, “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League” didn’t make the above list because that game stinks) but it’s hard not to notice the objectively derivative nature of it all.

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Enter: “Balatro.”

Unlike every other entry on this list, “Balatro” does not have a massive and talented studio behind it.

No, “Balatro” boasts just one lone developer and artist, a person who goes by the moniker “LocalThunk.”

(The game is published by Playstack.)

Do you play video games?

And yes, you’ll obviously notice the one-man developer team if you were to compare the humble graphics of “Balatro” with the photo-realism and motion-capturing present in the “The Last of Us,” but don’t let looks deceive you.

“Balatro” is, easily, the best video game of 2024 thus far.

The best way to describe “Balatro” is as a “poker rogue-like,” but if that’s too deep of a cut for you, you can think of it as a “single-player poker high-score chaser.”

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Every run begins the same: You begin with a standard deck of playing cards and draw eight cards.

You then try to play the best hand possible, with “better” hands corresponding to higher scores. For instance, a pair of two’s will score far fewer points than a royal flush.

Each “level” has a score you need to clear, and you need to clear it in a certain number of hands (generally four), while also being allotted a certain number of “discards.”

You can discard up to five cards at a time to chase better hands.

If you beat the level score, you move on. If you don’t, you start back at square one.

In between levels is where the game gets creative.

Between levels, you can upgrade your standard playing deck with a number of modifications. Those modifications can include anything from getting basic score multipliers to making it so you can create a straight with just four cards or allowing you to make a flush with similarly colored — but different — suits (i.e. hearts/diamonds and spades/clubs).

You can also accrue special playing cards, like an eight of spades that can go towards any flush or an ace of hearts that counts twice in scoring hands.

Those modifications and specialty cards are practically endless.

I’ve beaten the game just twice amid countless (countless) runs, and the aforementioned four-card straight and off-suit flush strategies were two very different winning stratagems that organically happened while playing.

The creativity and quality of “Balatro” is akin to that of some of video game’s best score chasers, like “Pac Man” or “Tetris.” The game even precludes any existing poker knowledge, as its in-game glossary will tell you every available hand.

In a year and an industry that is quickly becoming awash in sequels, remakes and remasters, “Balatro” is the low-fi, breath of fresh air that the video game space so desperately needs.

“Balatro” is currently available on Steam (PC), PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox systems and the Nintendo Switch.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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