Our February picks for 2024 take us back fully on the indie track after a brief hiatus onto the more AAA side of things. One is a game that might fly a little under the radar in Ultros and one is a definite Game of the Year contender in Balatro.


Stu’s Choice
PUBLISHER: Kepler Interactive
Format: PC, Playstation
Price: £19.99
Steam Deck: Verified

Credit: Playstation

Have you ever looked at a Metroid gsme and thought, “Hmm, needs more goop. And a bunch of psychedelia. And an impenetrable storyline”? If so, then Ultros (Podcast – 210) may be the cat for you.

Pitched directly at the Metroidvania fans – classic Metroid structure; classic Castlevania melee combat – this trippy adventure challenges your skills and baffles your brain.

Set in a multi-hued, complex and visually overwhelming set of caverns and structures, Ultros carves its niche by adding solid ideas to the established orthodoxy.

Collect and plant seeds that will grow over several (Rogue-ish) life cycles and aid your traversal. Kill enemies stylishly to reap more effective loot. Balance your food consumption to make the most effective use of power ups.

Bringing to mind the album covers of Hawkwind and Michael Moorcock’s ‘eternal champion’ fiction, this is a rare dip into 70s-style hippy visuals for video games, and I’m here for it. Far out, man.


Brad’s Choice
PUBLISHER: Playstack
Formats: PC, Switch, Xbox, Playstation
Price: £12.79
Steam Deck: Verified

Credit: IGN

First things first. This will be the only time I put this as my selection for Game of the Month, because it may as well be the official selection for the rest of 2024. The only caveat being if there is a major update or expansion later in the year. You can read and listen to my thoughts here and here.

I have played Balatro obsessively since I got it a week or two before official release and it hasn’t yet lost it’s edge. I’ve been playing this so much I have forgotten how to even Slay a Spire, let alone Monster a Train!

Balatro is the perfect deckbuilder and for me the perfect game. The mechanics are super easy to understand, all you need to know to get going is what a pack of cards are. Hell, even if you don’t just understanding numbers is enough to get going. But the simplicity of using basic playing cards means you don’t have to understand completely new things, like what an imp does, or why it can only attack this card in this situation, because of that thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not belittling the mikes of Magic or Hearthstone, but they can be extremely difficult to play and learn because of the lore build up around them. Balatro does away with all this and essentially strips the genre down to the core mechanics and it works so wonderfully well.

The way you learn to use the jokers to build a score, use tarot cards to boost cards, use planet cards to increase the level of a hand type, all just works on a basic level. It’s what you learn through playing and the various unlocks you come to that give the game an immense amount of satisfaction. When you learn to pair certain jokers in certain ways and find a hand that can be levelled in a way you will get massive scores, you will feel so damn good about yourself.

Take for example, just last night I had a run that saw me level up the hand ‘pair’ from Level 1 all the way to Level 23, which meant I was getting a ridiculous base score. But I also managed to add a ton of buffs to cards and had jokers that worked as such. Giving me multi if playing 3 cards or less, plus additional multi is hand contained a pair, plus x# per empty joker slot, with 2 of my jokers being ‘nagatives’ which icnreased the number of joker slots I had.

It means I basically just had to play pairs constantly to get to an easy win. But this was on a deck and stake that I’d been struggling with, so when it came good… it felt good. It is a constant feeding of things to do, as there are a bunch of different decks to unlock, each with its own unique characteristic. Then the various different stake levels (difficulty) which add their own modifiers, such as no reward on small blinds. It gives you so much to do. Then there is the challenge mode, which again just adds in some unique scenarios and teaches you new ways to play.

I’ve always maintained there is no such thing as a perfect game, but I honestly cannot find fault with Balatro at all. Right down to the accessibility options, it has nailed everything for me. If you only play one game this year, make is Balatro.

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