The Hunger Games iOS field report

By Steve Watts, Mar 23, 2012 11:30am PDT

You probably haven't been able to escape The Hunger Games. Over the past month, the marketing flurry for the movie adaptation of the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins has hit a fever pitch. The film is in theaters starting today, and an accompanying free iOS game has hit the App Store.

The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire comes from Canabalt developer Adam Saltsman, and it shows. Playing as protagonist Katniss Everdeen, you swipe up and down to jump between platforms as she continuously runs. The free-running play adds a combat aspect, as tapping does a quick fire with her trusty bow and arrow, to dispatch enemies such as the hornet-like Tracker Jackers.

Even the backgrounds and character art echoes Saltsman's previous work. If Canabalt took notes from the 8-bit aesthetic, The Hunger Games is more akin to the 16-bit era. In fact, aside from the continuous running mechanic, the game carries itself much like a game straight out of the platforming boom of the 90s.

Saltsman said he wanted the game to focus on "marksmanship and strategy" to reflect the novels, and it achieves both goals fairly well. Tapping on the enemies to fire your bow isn't as important as choosing when to tap, and when you need to jump. A single hit is enough to kill Katniss, so knowing when to prioritize dodging makes for quick decision-making.

The response time doesn't always carry the game perfectly, though. During more intense segments, deaths can feel unfair. Your finger-swipe might have come in time to dodge an attack, but the Katniss animation wasn't quick enough. These split-second conditions usually come in moments that obstacles follow a set pattern, so it's more about learning that pattern through repetition than quick reaction time.

The game offers a scoring leaderboard, and an Extras menu that links to various cross-promotional efforts: the trailer, ticket purchases, a ringtone, etc. Given the story's passionate fan base, which is sure to gain some more members over this opening weekend, it would have been nice to offer more substantial extras or even unlockables.

The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire captures the spirit of the story in some clever ways, from the setting and strategy focus to subtle elements like "Deny Fate" serving as the continue option. As a free promotional app, it's heads and shoulders above most, and serves as a nice treat for fans waiting to see it hit the big screen. Just make sure to turn the game off when the movie starts; no one wants to be around that guy.

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