Roguelike hit Balatro accused of pushing gambling, removed from stores as publisher asks fans to "stop calling this game 'crack cocaine' before the FDA comes after us too"

Balatro
(Image credit: Playstack)

Balatro, the hot new roguelike card game of the moment, has been pulled from several digital storefronts after its age rating was changed due to perceived gambling concerns. In response, publisher Playstack Games says the ratings decision is "unfounded" and vows to fight back against Balatro's removal. 

After poking around online myself, the self-styled "definitive poker roguelike" is still available on all major platforms in North America, but it has been tagged with a 10+ ESRB rating and a disclosure for "Gambling Themes." Notably, the UK Xbox and PlayStation stores have it listed with a PEGI 18 rating and a disclosure for "Prominent Gambling Imagery." The Nintendo UK store, however, seems to have removed the game entirely for the time being.

In a statement, Playstack Games say it's "confident the game will remain available on PC stores, including Steam," explaining that an abrupt increase in the game's age rating is what led stores to change how it's listed. "Please rest assured we are working as hard as we can to get the game back on sale as soon as possible."

"This is not an issue with the stores themselves, however a reaction to an overnight change to Balatro's age rating from 3+ to 18+ by a ratings board without any advance warning, due to a mistaken belief that the game 'contains prominent gambling imagery and material that instructs about gambling.'"

"Balatro does not allow or encourage gambling - and we fundamentally believe the ratings decision is unfounded. Balatro was developed by someone who is staunchly anti-gambling, and painstaking care has been taken to ensure that the game does not feature gambling mechanics of any kind."

Playstack also says it appealed a similar decision by the ratings board in October, after the age rating was temporarily raised due to similar concerns around the appearance of gambling themes, and the decision was reversed after it was apparently found that "the disclosure of gambling themes was unwarranted."

"The game content has not changed since the age rating was amended to 3+," Playstack maintains.

Amusingly, Playstack PR manager Wout van Halderen chimed in, "While we're at it, can y'all stop calling this game 'crack cocaine' before the FDA comes after us too?"

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For their part, anonymous developer LocalThunk says, "I do not condone gambling (staking something personally valuable on an uncertain event) nor do I believe that Balatro contains gambling.

"I did add risk/reward mechanics and RNG to Balatro, but these are core mechanics to the genre at large."

Balatro is, as you might've guessed by now, a poker-inspired deckbuilder with a roguelike twist - making it endlessly replayable - that breaks the basic rules of poker in a bunch of delightful, innovative ways. Other than Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, it's the highest rated game of 2024 so far, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. We had the chance to talk to LocalThunk recently, and they told us, "I'm sure I'm not done with this game."

"There are some ideas I have that would be fun to explore. More Joker cards – they're just fun to make, and I try and make them clever or add references to things that I've experienced, and the art is fun to make. I do see myself working on this for some time."

Here are the best card games to shuffle through in 2024.

Jordan Gerblick

After scoring a degree in English from ASU, I worked as a copy editor while freelancing for places like SFX Magazine, Screen Rant, Game Revolution, and MMORPG on the side. Now, as GamesRadar's west coast Staff Writer, I'm responsible for managing the site's western regional executive branch, AKA my apartment, and writing about whatever horror game I'm too afraid to finish.