Take Cuphead, swap out the Fleischer Brothers-inspired animation for MTV’s adult animation output from the 90s and you’ll end up with Freedom Finger.
The game has a premise that sounds all too familiar; placing you in the role of a pilot code-named “Gamma Ray” as you navigate the fist-shaped rocket ship “Iron Claw” (complete with fully extended middle finger) through a space war with the Russians and the Chinese. Within the first few minutes of playing developer Wide Right Interactive’s sci-fi shmup, you will think you’re watching a late night cartoon as your eyes are assaulted by Travis Millard’s intense, hand-drawn visuals and your ears are pounded with a slew of profanity and crass humour.
Disclaimer for anyone already worried about Little Jimmy being corrupted by this game – you can censor everything from the middle finger to the dialogue and subtitles for a more family friendly experience.
Censored or not, the jokes are actually a crucial part of the game, especially as the difficulty spikes in the main story’s later levels. I only occasionally dabble with bullet hell games for a reason (I’m not very good) so I was pleased to find that the absurdity of the game did take the edge off as I laughed my way through the majority of the campaign. Many a shot is fired at the US military and those of the “Ooh-rah ‘murica!” mindset. This is captured perfectly in the character of Major Cigar, a loose cannon military leader who barks orders at you throughout the game’s main story. Some of what he says does sail oh-so-close to the wind at times, but the writers do a good job of never punching down in their attempts to get a laugh; opting to only satirise those in positions of power. This extends to the loading screens which are home to some of the most absurd quotes from former presidents and political figures over the decades.
All of this is great and all, but what about the gameplay? Well, for a shmup it is straightforward stuff and boils down to a case of ‘shoot or be shot’. Don’t be fooled however as Freedom Finger does offer a real challenge whether playing on the ‘Normie’ difficulty setting (the suggested way to play) all the way to ‘Cargo Shorts’ which dramatically ramps up the difficulty and rewards you with an additional 35% in bonus points. If you’re not up for the challenge and just want to have some fun, ‘Diaper’ offers a much easier experience but imposes a 60% penalty on your score. Everything from collision damage, maximum health, stealth failure and whether or not you retain power-ups after receiving damage can also be tweaked to suit players of different abilities.
While Freedom Finger does include the traditional array of health and shield power-ups, where it does do things a little differently is in the combat. In addition to your standard fire, you can ball your ship up into a fist and punch the enemy in melee combat. You can also grab other ships and either throw them as projectiles, or turn their ammunition into your own. Not only does this add some variety to how you play, it becomes a necessity as some of the boss battles in the later levels demand that you’re sufficiently powered up.
It would be remiss of me not to heap praise on the Freedom Finger’s frankly awesome soundtrack. Featuring a mix of both underground and established acts, the team at Wide Right have picked a specific song to match the look and feel of each of the game’s 36 levels. There are no NecroDancer-esque gameplay mechanics in place, but everything flows so perfectly that your actions begin to feel driven by the beat as you rock out.
From full-bore metal, to psychedelic rock and even chiptune; the soundtrack freely hops between genres as the game takes you to some weird and wonderful places. One moment you’re blasting through wave after wave of enemies in space, the next you’re playing as a sperm, before eventually finding yourself in a pixel art recreation of Vietnam. If I did have one complaint in regards to levels, it’s that some do end quite abruptly. That’s nice if you’re on the last ounce of health and eager to get to the end, but from a design standpoint it does feel a bit jarring and unexpected.
The voice cast is every bit as stellar as the music selection, with such heavyweights as Nolan North and John DiMaggio entering the recording booth to give life to their respective characters. For such a small-scale release, the production values are impressive and this is felt throughout the entire duration of the game.
Freedom Finger’s campaign may be a fairly short experience, but with the inclusion of an arcade mode and online leaderboards, instant ‘pick up and play’ appeal and the promise of multiple endings; it’s a great little package with a soundtrack that on its own makes me want to do the whole thing all over again (or at the very least fire up the Spotify playlist) As you would expect, it looks great in handheld and at no point did I encounter any performance issues whilst playing. The difficulty does ramp up to such a degree that you’ll be repeating the later levels, but the deaths never feel cheap and the levels are interesting and short enough that it doesn’t become tedious.
In summary Freedom Finger is a completely unique experience and every bit as bat$#!% crazy as the marketing material proudly claims. It provides a worthy challenge to even the most hardened gamer, the hand-drawn animation looks perfectly at home on the Switch’s screen and the soundtrack has been wonderfully curated and compliments the action perfectly. Although it may be divisive, the game has an incredibly filthy, anarchic sense of humour that is delivered with great style and aplomb by some of the biggest names in voice acting today. Above all else, it’s just incredibly fun.