Seeking puzzle treasure? Uncharted: Fortune Hunter delivers in spades

The PlayStation hit makes a smart transition to mobile with this freebie brain teaser.

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Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth your time (and money).

The mobile world is overflowing with clones and me-too games, so the release of Uncharted: Fortune Hunter might seem like a real bummer to fans of last year’s excellent Lara Croft Go. The popular console game series have already had this back-and-forth: Uncharted took cues from the earlier Tomb Raider games, and Tomb Raider repaid the debt by making its recent reboot entries much more like the action-packed Uncharted in feel and focus. 

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Simply draw a path from Drake to his destination—but in this case, watch out for the spiked floors that trigger with every third movement.

Which brings us back to Fortune Hunter, an iPhone and iPad game released as a tie-in to the recent PlayStation 4 smash, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. From head to toe, it’s a clear successor to Lara Croft Go, with similar puzzle approaches and graphic styles—but the results are much better than expected. Fortune Hunter might seem like a copycat, but it’s also a rather strong mobile puzzler, plus it’s huge and lacks typical freemium restrictions. That’s a big, big plus.

The pitch

It’s pretty fair to say that Uncharted: Fortune Hunter wouldn’t exist—at least not in this exact form—in a world without Lara Croft Go. Here, you’ll guide series adventurer Nathan Drake across loads of environmental puzzles, which require you to navigate the hero from a starting point to a goal on the same screen.

Standing in the way of Drake’s jaunt are any number of obstacles, some of which are stacked to make for even trickier challenges. You might need to maneuver around turrets that automatically rotate and fire deadly arrows, or press or shoot a button to make parts of the floor appear anew. In other levels, you’ll find floor panels that shoot up spikes with Drake’s every third move, need to relocate weighted stones to designated spots, or play in a haze of shadows that obscures obstacles.

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Finding a way to the goal is often about discovering the order in which you trigger switches, avoid traps, and so on and so forth.

The levels are generally shorter and more compact than in Lara Croft Go, but there are a ton of them here. And they’re free, of course. Lara Croft Go also has more cinematic flair, although the visual approaches aren’t too far apart—but that’s the difference between an original $5 game and a free “homage,” if you will. Fortune Hunter’s stages also tend to be easier overall, but it’s the optional challenges that add a bit of difficulty if desired.

While the average puzzle fan can probably push through most stages via trial and error, there’s a bonus for completing each level in as few moves as possible. Finishing under the stated limit earns you a key, which not only lets you unlock a chest to snag some coins, power-ups, or other loot, but also provides incentive to play smart—or at least replay the levels once you’ve figured out the solution. 

Fortune Hunter offers up more than 200 levels spread across six worlds as of this writing, and best of all, it does nothing to impede your progress through all of them.

The catch

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World-unlocking scraps are earned along the way, although you can spend some earned (or purchased) coins to skip ahead a bit.

Uncharted: Fortune Hunter lacks a restrictive energy system, which is sadly rare amongst free-to-play offerings. But that’s obviously great news here, as you can play in lengthy marathon sessions without hitting a virtual wall that demands money, or prods you to bother Facebook friends for access. You also won’t find artificial barriers between worlds that do much the same, such as making you wait a day or two unless you pester pals or shell out cash.

Instead, Fortune Hunter honors the series’ console roots by offering a proper campaign progression that slowly unlocks later worlds as you work through the current one. Artifact scraps awarded by completing levels eventually unlock the later worlds, although you can use in-game coins to buy any missing artifacts—but the only reason to possibly do that is if you’re looking for some variety and want to drop into another world ahead of schedule. 

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You can spend a little money in Fortune Hunter, but it feels incredibly unnecessary. I didn’t end up spending a dime.

Besides offering unlimited play, Fortune Hunter is generous with coins and has plentiful orbs strewn across the stages that let you continue should Drake meet his demise. There are some in-app purchase options, with those mystical orbs sold in packs ranging between $2 and $20, and those can be exchanged for coins (at a rate of 5000 coins for 10 orbs). A treasure map is also available for $1 to help you uncover any items you might’ve missed along the way.

Given the friendly progression and business model, the only reason you might consider springing for orbs or the map is if you’re too anxious to play through the campaign in order to unlock rewards for Uncharted 4. Fortune Hunter has costumes, weapon skins, and other goodies available to accumulate for the PlayStation 4 game via linked accounts, and that could be enticing for someone who’d rather blast away in the PS4 adventure than solve puzzles on an iPhone or iPad. 

The verdict

However, it’d be a shame to miss out on the sharp puzzle fun found within. True, Uncharted: Fortune Hunter isn’t anywhere near as action-packed as the source material, and the Lara Croft Go inspiration is a little too on-the-nose—but the puzzles are clever and fun, and this is the rare console tie-in that’s actually worth your time.

The fact that it’s also legitimately free—with no strings attached—and huge makes it a surprising treat. Assuming you’re playing for the game and not just the PS4 tie-ins, I’d still suggest working through Lara Croft Go (and perhaps also Hitman Go) first, but Uncharted: Fortune Hunter is a worthy follow-up option and a great way to continue Drake’s adventures on the go.

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