A middle finger usually conjures less than pleasant responses, but in Freedom Finger’s case, the infamous gesture stands for fun. This over-the-top take on the arcade shooter drops players into the cockpit of a spacecraft modeled after “The Bird” to battle foreign threats on behalf of the U.S. government. Freedom Finger comes from the minds of Executive Producer Jim Dirschberger, co-creator of the Nickelodeon series Sanjay and Craig, and his studio Wide Right Interactive.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: why a middle finger? Dirschberger says they chose it simply because it’s funny and, more importantly, recognizable and relatable. “There's no gesture or outline in the English language that probably reads better than a middle finger," he explains. "Everybody knows how they feel about it when they see one. So for me, not only having just that readability of a giant middle finger but the absurdity of the giant middle finger flying through space trying to save the human race, I just wanted to do something that was really absurd.”
Freedom Finger takes cues from classic arcade-style shooters such as Gradius with players zapping obstacles from left to right. The ship, dubbed the Gamma Ray, fires rapid fire lasers from the tip of the offending digit. In a twist, players can also perform a melee punch to destroy targets or knock objects into enemies. Furthermore, the Gamma Ray can even grab a hold of enemy vessels to use their firepower as your own. Shooting and movement feel good, which is reassuring given that adversaries come at players in serpentine patterns and can unleash volleys of deadly projectiles. There’s also strategy in knowing when to fire from a distance and when to go in for a punch or capture.
Levels take advantage of the unorthodox melee mechanics with designs rarely seen in the traditional shooter. One complicated area requires players to punch through blocks of sand to advance forward in an idea that feels more akin to a platformer. Another stage tasks players to hit switches in order to open gates and manipulate traps. They do a good job of breaking up the monotony of simply blasting oncoming foes, and Dirschberger promises a steady stream a level variety throughout the adventure.
A melting pot of licensed music, ranging from punk to electronic to hip hop, plays a pivotal part in the experience. Wide Right designed trap patterns and overall level intensity to match the music tempos. Songs come courtesy of a roster of artists including Male Gaze, Aesop Rock, Red Fang, and many more. If the tunes didn’t add enough personality, the juvenile (in a good way) art direction certainly picks up the slack. The hand-drawn illustration and animations have an intentional, rough look to them–think a 2D version of David Jaffe’s Drawn to Death but more colorful and less disturbing. The aesthetic strongly evokes the vibe of early 90’s MTV, and Dirschberger even goes as far to describe it as a “crappier Cuphead.”
“Cuphead is the AP art nerd. We're like the punk kid in the back of the class scribbling in a notebook.” says Dirschererger
Wide Right has also invested a lot of time fine tuning Freedom Finger’s difficulty. Although on the surface it appears to follow the template of the typically tough-as-nails Bullet Hell genre, Dirschberger wants the experience to be approachable to everyone. The game features multiple accessibility options, like turning off collision damage and increasing overall health. Playing on an easier setting lets players enjoy the game in a more leisurely manner (at the cost of leaderboard progress). Freedom Finger ultimately emphasizes its zany story and writing more than anything, and the team at Wide Right wants to ensure that every player is able to soak it all in.
Dirschberger once again refers to Cuphead as an example for the team’s direction:
Cuphead's a great game that a lot of people didn't get to see the second half of because it's difficult, and that was a choice that those creators made. That's the experience they wanted you to have. I think we're just the opposite. I want people to be able to finish the game. I hate those dead end games where they sit in your Steam library for years and you're just like ‘I can't beat it’. I don't want that.
Speaking of story, Freedom Finger’s irreverent, satirical writing feels like it’d fit in great as an Adult Swim show. A blowhard commander seems more concerned with patriotic grandstanding and calling for beers more often than Stone Cold Steve Austin than being a reasonable strategist. In one humorous scene, the commander implores the player to destroy a mysterious craft despite a mild-mannered mission control worker pleading that it’s, in fact, a Russian space station. Turns out he was right, and the Russian commander takes great exception to seeing his men needlessly slaughtered by a flying vulgarity. Freedom Finger is an unsurprisingly adult experience, though it features a censored option as well as humorous, cable TV style overdubs of swear words. A talented voice cast featuring the likes of Nolan North, John DiMaggio, and Sam Riegel bring the characters to life.
Freedom Finger marks Dirschberger’s first foray into video games. A lifelong gamer, he states the itch to get into the game industry came after meeting indie devs at events like GDC and E3 and realizing the overlap between television production and game development:
You got to have story, artwork, writing, quality assurance, editing, I mean those are all interchangeable between the two. The biggest difference is one is a locked down linear experience and one's interactive with programming. Those are not insignificant differences, but the majority of it was enough to get me started. I can animate, I can draw, I can do all this stuff. I should at least attempt it, and we haven't hit a problem that we haven't been able to overcome so I just kept going.
After 2+ years of development work, Freedom Finger feels like the epitome of dumb fun. It’s goofy, it’s loud, it’s uncouth, but it’s also entertaining to play. As you might expect, the game has already turned heads. “It's been hilarious because when we were at PAX East the reactions of people that would stop by, they would either laugh and immediately want to play the game or they'd be totally disgusted and shake their heads like ‘what are you doing?’” chuckles Dirschberger.
Gamers looking to put a middle finger to good use should keep an eye on Freedom Finger when it lands on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC sometime this fall.
One of the common misconceptions about Extra Life is that someone can only participate if they play video games. Not true! Extra Life supports and encourages all kinds of play. To that end, we have been supporting Tabletop Appreciation Weekend for the past few years. This year, the event takes place August 24-25th and will be a time for players to gather together and play board games for the kids. Learn more about Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend and be sure to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!