Whenever I sit down to play a new card-based video game, one title immediately comes to mind as a gold standard in the genre: SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. With its lengthy solo campaign and elegantly simple setup, Card Fighters took the best aspects of Pokemon and trading card games like Magic: The Gathering and turned them into something eminently polished and approachable. Unfortunately, it was a game that too few players got to experience (and its name was unceremoniously tarnished by a wretched Nintendo DS remake), but I long for another card game to come along and recapture the sheer addictive brilliance of SNK’s masterpiece, this time on a platform offering more exposure and a larger community.
After a few hours with Uncharted: Fight for Fortune, I realized I’d have to keep waiting.
Announced and released within the span of a single month, Fight for Fortune is a modest, no-frills downloadable title for the PlayStation Vita that has players “battle” with cards based on characters and artifacts mined from the four previous Uncharted games – most notably Vita launch title Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Indeed, the starter pack acts as a sort of plug-in for Golden Abyss: As trophies are earned and bounties/treasures are collected in Golden Abyss, cards in Fight for Fortune become increasingly powerful. (It has been argued elsewhere that this seeming cross-marketing ploy unbalances competition in favor of trophy hounds, but I’d offer that it’s a nice reward for committed fans and the rare bonus that turns trophies into something significant.)
Play is broken into three simple steps: First, the player chooses a character from one of three factions (hero, villain, and mercenary) to place on the board. Next, a “fortune” card is selected at random that offers a certain amount of points used to buy bonuses that boost player cards and debilitate opponent cards. In the final phase, the player can purchase one of the aforementioned bonus cards. Like Card Fighters, there’s a surprising amount of depth underlying the format, as players will inevitably have to manage faction points for more powerful character cards, choose when to sacrifice cards or hit-points so as to bide time for powering-up other cards, and so on.
The awful tutorial – a set of small text boxes shown during the first single-player match – isn’t much help. In fact, it makes what is a very simple game seem incredibly complicated. Thankfully, it’s a rather easy game to pick up, and after only four or five matches, players will begin to see chess-like strategies take shape.
That the game is easy to learn yet difficult to master is a credit to the rule-set powering Sony Bend’s offering. At its best, the game can be just as addictive and time-consuming as the best entries in the genre, even my hallowed Card Fighters.
Unlike Card Fighters, however, Fight for Fortune suffers from a lack of polish in its solo and multi-player setups. The single-player campaign features no story, only a set of repeated and uneventful matches against A.I. foes. A few matches offer unique challenges, such as having to “overkill” an opponent or hoard a certain amount of fortune points, but most of them simply boil down to beating a rather easy opponent. What’s worse, customized decks cannot be used in the campaign, negating half the fun of progressively collecting the cards these matches award.
Multi-player is broken into pass-and-play local matches and asynchronous online battles (think Words With Friends). Local gameplay works well enough, and the asynchronous online play can be fun if several friends decide to pick up the game together, but I found it difficult to get into matches with random opponents, as the game constantly returned “matchmaking” and “lobby” errors. This could be due to poor netcode or a lack of people currently playing the game; neither reason is particularly auspicious.
Perhaps the most frustrating shortcoming has to do with the way the game runs: For such a graphically simplistic game, it requires far too much loading. Though not long, load times are abundant nuisances that repeatedly break the flow of gameplay. Compared to other games in the genre, Fight for Fortune seems unnecessarily sluggish, particularly when trying to customize a deck.
Although the game is only $5 (DLC packs are $3 each), it’s debatable whether Fight for Fortune features enough content and replayability to merit the purchase. Though unpolished, the core gameplay is sound. On the other hand, single-player and multiplayer modes suffer from a lack of content and opponents.
Fight for Fortune isn’t a bad game, but in a world already populated by regular installments of Pokemon and Duels of the Planeswalkers, it’s only worth getting if you know other people who are committed to the purchase. Otherwise, this is a fight worth forgetting.