Start rattling off the names of games in the Uncharted series. Even if you remember “that one on Vita,” odds are pretty good you’re referring to Golden Abyss, and not Fight for Fortune. And fair enough, because while the former was basically Uncharted Lite, the latter was, of all things, a card battling game. It was a strange offshoot for a story-driven, cinematic adventure, so it’s small wonder not many people latched onto it, but it held a genius little secret that forever earned it a place in my heart.
The shtick of the game is pretty straightforward: Various members of the Uncharted cast, heroes and villains alike, are represented on cards, along with weapons, treasures, and suchlike. As with most card games, the goal is to knock out the opposing player’s hand by playing higher-value, more powerful cards. It’s not deep enough to rival the likes of Magic: The Gathering (or even Hearthstone), but it’s a very well-crafted game that takes genuine skill once you get into higher levels. It also has remarkably competent AI. obviating the need for a human opponent… which, let’s be honest, you were never going to find. Come on, this was in the early days of the Vita. Like, five people had one.
So, yeah, it was a good game that made intelligent use of its source material and didn’t bog down with microtransactions like some other card games do. That’s enough for me, really, because I’m a sucker for card battling games. But Fight for Fortune did something positively ingenious; it connected with Golden Abyss, the “proper” Uncharted game on Vita. Making progress in Golden Abyss would earn you new cards in Fight for Fortune. Finding a particular treasure in Golden Abyss would buff that treasure’s card in Fight for Fortune. Playing one game made you stronger in the other game, connecting the two in a symbiotic relationship that made me more interested in both as a result.
I got Golden Abyss, because of course I did, it was the early days of the Vita and there was not much worthwhile to play on it other than Hot Shots, but I didn’t really love it. It had a lot of Vita gimmicks shoehorned into it, like using the back touch pad (did ANYONE enjoy using that thing? Anyone?) for certain platforming sessions and holding the Vita up to the light to see certain clues. The story was good enough, but the controls were not ideal, and I never really felt like the game was worth the hassle. Then I started playing Fight for Fortune and suddenly, it all changed. Ok, sure, Golden Abyss wasn’t the Uncharted game I wanted, but whatever – I could get new cards! I could power up this really great treasure card if I just poked around enough and BEWARE MY MIGHTY DECK SKILLS, MWAAAHAHAHAHAAAA.
For me, Golden Abyss was just an extension of Fight for Fortune – the minigame I played to bolster my deck in between matches. Fight for Fortune is the forgotten cousin of the Uncharted family, a bizarre little footnote to the Drake legacy. It wasn’t a proper Uncharted game, no, but it had the essence of everything I loved about my adventures with Nathan Drake: allies I counted on to get me out of a scrape; rivals trying to mow me down; danger; excitement; exotic locations; and sparkly, ancient loot. It worked wonderfully with its counterpart to create an experience that was more than just the sum of its parts, and more than just Hanging Out in Not Console Uncharted. It melded two pretty good games into one really fun homunculus of treasure hunting delight.