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Balatro dev gives look at first prototype, Joker Poker

LocalThunk shows how 2024's breakout deckbuilder evolved in the course of its three-year development.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

May 29, 2024

2 Min Read
A set of Joker cards in Balatro.
Image via LocalThunk.

Before there was Balatro, developer LocalThunk was hard at work on the card game known then as Joker Poker.

On Twitter, the creator behind 2024's breakout card game released a series of early prototype videos. The first dates back to December 2021, just weeks after he began working on the project.

Much of the differences in the initial version are UI-based more than mechanics: the "Play Hand" option is on the right-hand side rather than the left, and there's no readout for antes, money, or information on the current run.

The second video from August 2022 (which was eight months into development) looks more like Balatro in its final shape. Along with additional UI, it opens with players selecting card packs from an in-game shop and a blind to go up against.

Also, the main menu lets players swap the cards around that spell out "Joker Poker," which is just a fun little addition of flavor.

The third video is undated, but looks like another iteration of the 2021 build. Along with a look at the card swap mechanic, it lets players queue up cards to be played while the game is breaking down points for the current hand.

These earlier iterations, according to LocalThunk, had some "wacky stuff" going on with its cards. The High Priestess once offered two more discards per round, and the Emperor had a +3 bonus for all cards for the remaining round.

He also basically all but says the game was fairly broken, from a balancing perspective. When asked why he didn't launch it as the 2022 version, he replied: "I mean, look at it."

LocalThunk previously talked about how he made Balatro off the Cantonese game Big Two, trading out mechanics that didn't translate well for some of the rules and visual flair of poker, which is illustrated in all three videos.

By adopting poker as another influence, LocalThunk said the game became more cohesive, which clearly helped it become a sales juggernaut at launch.

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About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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