Developed and Published By: Wide Right Interactive
Category: Side Scrolling Shooter
Release Date: 09.27.2019
Nintendo has always been a family first company. Since their foundation, they’ve appealed to a broader audience by way of kid friendly titles instead of the more mature ones of their competitors. However, times have changed. The Switch has become the first console by the company to really explore territory outside of their traditional market. I honestly can’t remember a system before the Switch that allowed for so many violent and profane third party titles. We’ve seen blood on a Nintendo system before, but never in this capacity; and although the exact moment is unclear–given the vast number of indie titles that appear in the eshop every month–when Mortal Kombat 11 was announced for the Switch, it felt like a breaking point. It was a real moment of growth for the company. They have since then given a home to a wealth of more violent titles like Hotline Miami, Ape Out, and the Amnesia Collection. In keeping with this development, it makes sense the Switch would be the first to receive the shamelessly profane Freedom Finger.
Now before I proceed, I must admit to a slight bias. Upon completing the game, I discovered after so many clues (“wide right” a phrase that haunts Bills fans after Scott Norwood missed a field goal to lose Super Bowl XXV; Depew, a local town scribbled in the background of the game) that the development team at Wide Right Interactive and Buffalo Game Space had roots in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. I even recognized local band Lazlo Hollyfeld in the end credits, further confirming my suspicions. So, it is not without a certain sense of pride for my city that I write this review. That said, it is still a very good game.
From the outset, Freedom Finger looks like an Adult Swim bump. The hand drawn visuals by Travis Millard are bright and unusual. Intense, filled with color and exaggerated proportions, the character models, enemies, and space they occupy are very punk. They bring to mind the style of Santa Cruz skateboards made popular in the 80’s, only here they’re funnier and add to Freedom Finger’s raison d’être of not being taken too seriously.
Indeed, Freedom Finger’s sense of humor is a key element to the experience, especially as there’s a sharp rise in difficulty late in the game. As it turns out, laugher and stupidity take the edge off in bullet hell. Just like the cartoon drawings, the dialogue is absurd and profanity laden, striking a nice balance between story and gameplay, the former taking precedence toward the end of the game. While at first I was a turned off by the “merica!” type humor, eventually I came to see just how often it punches up and across. Everybody is a caricature in Freedom Finger; the US government first and foremost. In fact, the funniest moments come during the loading screens where the quotes by former US presidents and politicians are so insane I couldn’t tell if they were real or not.
The gameplay remains as straightforward as the satirical narrative: shoot and avoid being shot. Though simple, it’s not necessarily easy. The final few levels are a real challenge even on the “normie” difficulty. What was once a cute way to experiment with different fire types, the ability to grab enemy spaceships and use them as ammo became a necessity later on. This isn’t to say the gameplay is shallow, rather Freedom Finger knows what it wants to do and it does that well. I never felt betrayed by a cheap death because after a few rounds I found where and how I died and already discovered a new way of navigating through the chaos. Only occasionally did it feel tedious, but I chalked that up to the nature of the genre and not Wide Right’s ability to create a functional game within it.
Thankfully, any moments of tedium were immediately offset by the outstanding soundtrack. Seriously, I cannot sing enough praises about the selection of music in Freedom Finger. Not since the Tony Hawk, SSX, and FIFA games have I heard such a lively mix of both underground and established music. Every level has a song to match its character and aesthetic. In one level, I was soaring through an astroid field, dodging a hailstorm of bullets to the raging noise of Metz. In another, I was floating through caves to the pulsating synth-pop of Com Truise. As my journey took me farther from my initial mission, the levels became increasingly bizarre and trippy, backed by soundscapes of ethereal shoegaze and psychedelic rock. Freedom Finger isn’t committed to one genre, but instead demonstrates an incredible range of taste in support of its world building.
Much like my mission to fight the Chinese and Russians at the behest of a loose cannon general, the universe Freedom Finger builds isn’t complicated, but it is filled with personality. It seems Wide Right hired the big guns in their development of the game, pulling in experienced voice actors Nolan North, John DiMaggio, Eric Bauza, and Sam Riegel who did an excellent job giving life to their characters. The production value shines with the combination of stellar voice acting, music, and animation. Wide Right deserves a lot of credit for maintaining this good balance with such a small studio.
The result of their efforts is a short, but complete game that is above all fun to play. As a handheld, the Switch proves to be a great console for the task due to the pick up and play nature of the game. I can’t imagine it demanded a lot from the system, but regardless, I never had any problems with performance. I enjoyed my time with Freedom Finger, and expect to return for another play-through as there are multiple endings. At the very least, I’ll pick it up again just to blast through space to its amazing soundtrack. It’s yet further proof of the successes of appealing to new audiences, because had Nintendo not given Wide Right their good graces to publish this game on their console, I would’ve never discovered this wacky little gem.
TL;DR Freedom Finger is a charming, bullet hell shooter with a lot of personality and an incredible soundtrack. Later levels may get tedious with the rise in difficulty, but it’s never enough to detract from what is a very fun game.
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