Freedom Finger rather bravely describes itself as “bat$h!% crazy”. Usually, when we come across a game with such confidence in its own brand of zany comedy madness, we tend to err on the side of caution. It’s not an easy thing to pull off, especially in such a way that everyone is likely to agree. However, in actual fact, Freedom Finger is absolutely bat$h!% crazy, and then some. This is a properly madcap 2D, hand-drawn shmup that charges you, a top-flight pilot known as Gamma Ray, with taking control of a fist-shaped ship, its middle finger pointed forward in permanent profanity, as you battle the Chinese, Russians and a whole lot of space-based insanity in between.
The story here sees you charged by the foul-mouthed, politically incorrect, Donald Trump-esque Major Cigar, played by none other than Nolan North, with heading off to the moon to fight the Chinese and rescue US hostages. It’s not long before Cigar’s big dumb Ooh-Rah mouth gets the Russians involved – well, that and the fact you just murdered a bunch of their scientists – and before long you’re blasting your way through Comrade The Russian’s Intergalactic armies, getting into a fight with an evil parallel dimension version of yourself and punching your ship right through the guts of a giant green space dragon. It’s all ludicrously OTT stuff and boasts a fantastic hand-drawn style that calls to mind Adult Swim and Beavis and Butthead, while an extremely un-PC, insult-everything-on-earth, South Park line in comedy gives the whole thing a pleasingly anarchic punk vibe.
Developer Wide Right Interactive then sets all of this to over forty fully-licenced musical tracks from the likes of Red Fang, White Fence, Com Truise and Aesop Rock, which not only act as phenomenal background music but actually influence the timing and movement of enemy ships and their fire in a sort of pseudo-rhythm game style. It’s a brilliant idea and gives every level a completely unique vibe. One moment you’ll see a whole barrage of enemy missiles and bullets stop dead in mid-air waiting for a massive rock beat to kick in before commencing on their path towards you, the next you’ll be floating through the bloodstream of some strange creature, your ship now seemingly a sperm, while various molecules pulsate in strange time to Ty Seagull and White Fence.
All of this would be enough to set Freedom Finger apart as a highly-original shooter, but it then goes a step further by delivering a bunch of unique mechanics to how you engage the various enemies you encounter during its generous 36 level campaign. Instead of picking up power-ups that drop throughout stages in a conventional shmup fashion, in Freedom Finger you take full advantage of the fist nature of your ship to physically grab any enemy you fancy, using their default fire mode as a temporary upgrade to yours, which ends the next time you get hit or whenever you decide to fling your captor across the screen into whatever is currently headed your direction. This isn't a new idea – games like Zero Wing and Gaiares were pulling off similar tricks decades ago – but it works brilliantly, given the fact that your ship is a hand.
You can also punch enemies and objects, sending hostile craft hurtling towards one another, or even push large buttons in some areas to open and shut doors in light puzzle sections. All of this works pretty intuitively (although we did find the grab-and-punch mechanics failing to deliver from time to time) and it gives you a ton of on-the-fly tactical choice as to how you mercilessly pound every single non-American thing that gets in your way. Further to this, the idea of avoiding your enemies as they pass by when the going gets tough is cleverly negated by the addition of a “stealth bar” which fills a little with every enemy you let slip by without engaging, affecting your score as it increases and resulting in mission failure if it maxes out.
Overall, it just feels as though almost every element of Freedom Finger has been really carefully designed and delivered. Sure, the comedy is crazy offensive (although you can censor it), later levels get super difficult (which can also be offset by plenty of tweaks available in the options menu) and the controls do very occasionally let you down, but it’s just such an anarchic thing to romp through that it’s hard to really care. Even the acting and writing is way beyond what you’d expect to find in a retro 2D side-scrolling shooter. Nolan North is ridiculously outrageous and foul-mouthed as Major Cigar, John DiMaggio (Marcus Fenix, for crying out loud!) gives a droll, and equally expletive-riddled, performance as Comrade the Russian and both Eric Bauza and Sam Riegel are outstanding in their roles.
In terms of modes, alongside the main campaign – which also features multiple paths to get through depending on conversational choices you make along the way – there’s a pretty standard arcade mode to blast through for S-ranks and leaderboards to climb your way to the top of to give the game some legs. Everything plays flawlessly in both portable and docked modes; we didn’t notice any stutters or hiccups from start to finish, and it’s also graphically outstanding with some really detailed, bizarro levels and enemies to meet on your madcap journey.
Freedom Finger is a completely unexpected retro shooter banger. Its unique hand-drawn style, amazing soundtrack, highly offensive humour and various unique and clever gameplay mechanics all come together to deliver a beautifully anarchic ride through a madcap campaign that backs up its brash stylings with solid and challenging gameplay. The humour and difficulty absolutely might not be for everyone, but if you love a properly tough shmup – and don’t mind a constant stream of politically incorrect filth and abuse being hurled in your direction by some of the biggest names in video game acting – this one comes highly recommended.