There’s a lot going on in Freedom Finger. It’s a shoot ’em up, sure. But it has at least three unique selling points: the mechanics, the presentation, and the music. The first two are connected: your ship is a hand giving it the middle finger, which gives us the non-standard shoot ’em up mechanics, and sets the tone for the game. But it’s the music – pretty much unrelated to the other two – that sets the game apart.
It’s not immediately obvious that the levels play out in time with the music. The first level is backed by metal band Red Fang, which initially seems like a predictable choice for a brash shoot ’em up – but even here, enemies briefly pause as the music does. As the game gets weirder, the music choices get more varied, and the effect gets more pronounced.
The more ambient electronic tracks are a particular highlight: quieter sections slow the pace of the game down to the point that it’s barely a shoot ’em up, before enemies and obstacles pick up, glitching along with the music. It’s the best kind of unusual.
There are downsides though. Levels ought to build to a climax, but most songs don’t do that; often they end up just fizzling out, leaving you without that feeling of sweet relief from a level beaten. The difficulty is pretty uneven too, and having to repeat slower sections can begin to grate. Fortunately the difficulty settings are very flexible, so there’s no need to suffer – this is hardly a purist bullet hell shoot ’em up, so a bit of extra health doesn’t detract from the experience.
To the next USP: the presentation – including everything around the game itself. That middle finger ship sets the tone for the story, which is to say: crude. The language is crude, the jokes are crude, the stereotypes are crude. There’s satire behind it, but for me it doesn’t quite come off: it needs a more delicate balance to give weight to the – potentially quite important – moral points it’s trying to make, against the sheer volume of really quite cheap jokes.
The execution is far from crude, however: the voice talent – including John ‘Bender’ DiMaggio and Nolan ‘All Games’ North – can’t be faulted.
And the visuals, if anything, are even better. The hand-drawn art style – especially the animation – is superb, and the locations and enemies are endlessly varied. When the game gets weird, the art certainly keeps up: bizarre creatures exploding in gloriously squelchy fashion – it’s lovely stuff.
And that final USP: the mechanics – surprisingly, the least important to my mind. With your ship being a hand, as well as firing a standard shot, you can punch or grab enemies and obstacles. Once grabbed, you can throw anything as a projectile, or in the case of some enemies, use their weapon.
Using an enemy’s weapon sounds interesting, but it’s disappointingly inessential: the standard shot or throwing projectiles is usually as – or more – effective. Punching is more integral to the game, and with the projectiles they add some welcome strategic options.
There’s a lot going on in Freedom Finger – and a lot to like. I just wish that a few of the ideas had been dropped in favour of concentrating on absolutely nailing the rest.