You play as Marsh – a fiery-haired chap who begins the game thrown in prison in a huge tower. Your objective is to escape the tower. But you do so from the top down. Instead of the usual upwards direction we expect from most platformers, Freedom Fall turns it on its head. Marsh must descend through the levels of unforgiving death-traps to escape the clutches of the evil monarch. The princess. In an inversion of the traditional man-climbs-tower-to-save-wee-damsel trope, Marsh instead must avoid the terrible traps and pitfalls of the quite twisted princess. It’s a delightful skewing of the expected, and it adds a real freshness and zing to such a traditional genre.
Instead of climbing towards the princess to rescue her, you are instead falling down and away.
The story is surprisingly deep, and the mechanics are unusually well-justified within the game world for a platformer. Marsh has apparently stolen the “Elickser of Life”, which lead to his execution and subsequent imprisonment (yes I got the order right). As a result, after death he will resurrect at the nearest red alter, none the worse for wear. The princess, to cope with her boredom, was allowed to play with prisoners. And by play, they mean maim and dismember in interesting and creative ways, with the help of her pet dragon Manda. So Marsh’s freedom from his tower-top cell and subsequent resurrections after failing are explained quite neatly.
The real charm, however, comes from the writing. For Freedom Fall, the writing is on the wall. Literally. The princess taunts Marsh constantly (and very wittily) through pink scrawls left on the dungeon’s walls. You’ll get basic tutorial information and directions, character development, and a whole lot of amusement out of the frequent splashes on the wall. Often, you’ll see a clever snippet of scathing criticism plastered on the wall, only to fall down to the next platform to reveal the wickedly funny punch line. It’s a trick that never gets old. Best of all, the writing is consistently good. The humour is desert-dry and spot-on, with almost every delivery eliciting a smug snigger. You can feel the princess’s acerbic wit and vitriolic yet playful disdain, ensuring she is a constant presence in the game, despite her almost total physical absence. The princess is a really great character.
The basic mechanics are relatively simple. You must navigate downwards using the wall slides, wall jumps, and ledge hangs that are in your basic repertoire, falling and jumping around various deadly apparatuses. The platformer stalwart spikes and spinning blades make their expected appearance of course, and exact swift and unending death upon your falling man. Each level brings its own custom death-traps too, in the form of swinging blades, pools of water, blowing fans, fireballs, and zapping electricity. These simple changes add a freshness to each level, preventing your descent from ever stagnating into repetitive grind.
Added to this is the ability to craft a handful of items to aid you on your way down. Collecting nuts, bolts, and cogs allows for the construction at worktables of three unlimited use items that will stay with you for the rest of the game. The parachute slows your descent, and the hoverboard even more so. My personal favourite upgrade is the wings, which give you the ability to double jump, which comes in very useful when trying to avoid some of the nastier obstacle placements and reach the trickier pickups. You can also craft bombs, used to destroy obstacles or during the two boss fights, which can be useful if you waste the few you can pick up in the wild.
The gameplay is not particularly innovative in any way at all. The downward platforming movement has been around for a while, if not immensely prevalent. Avoiding instakill obstacles is likewise familiar. It’s not difficult, and it’s not long either, offering perhaps two hours of gameplay when it’s all said and done. Movement is not as smooth or intuitive as it could be, with slightly choppy animations and sluggish controls. A platformer fan will almost certainly find the gameplay lacking the punch and polish of better known titles, but everything is functional and nothing is broken.
There are a few reasons to keep playing past completion, the most significant of which is the second ending. The game presents you with a simple yet significant binary choice of ending. Whichever you choose determines the story that goes ahead, as well as the justifications for the actions taken before. There is no real subtlety involved in the choice, but the differences are handled well and both are delivered with the signature great writing. Additionally, you may replay previous levels at will, and attempt to get high scores, but this feature is more of a token gesture than any significant draw to replay levels. Or you could just play it again to enjoy the writing.
The art style is rather charming. Marsh and the princess are confidently rendered with unabashed personality. Objects and items are immediately distinguishable at a glance as friend or foe (mostly foe). Each level has a different feel to it, and the transitions never feel arbitrary. Animations are a little abrupt, lacking a certain smoothness to transitions. The general solidness of and confidence in the art direction is enough to ignore one or two of the slightly rougher animations.
Sound effects are functional, if not exceptional. Audio cues will appropriately signal dangers, but lack the interesting twist of the visual art or writing. Much better, however, is the musical score that underlies your travels through the tower. Every level has its own aural theme that articulates the visuals well. The gothic and stormy electronic hints that twine in and out of the levels with electricity, for example, or the airy pipes that echo in the wind-themed levels augment the electric guitar and thumping drums that form the base of the soundtrack. It’s a solid foundation of electric guitar and drums, too, that pulls the player along through the levels, and lifts the visual style the game uses so well.
Freedom Fall may not be the most difficult, long, polished, or varied platformer out there, but there is something about it that captures the imagination. Despite its mechanical mediocrity, Freedom Fall won me over. The heart, honesty, and twisted sense of humour outshone any of the minor gameplay quibbles I may have had. A deft artist’s touch to the artwork, a strong musical sense, and the writing – oh the writing! – had me ignoring the sluggishness of Marsh’s movements or the inaccurate hitboxes. With such a strong personality, Freedom Fall is a charismatic platformer that will elicit laughs and smiles all around – just don’t expect the tightest gameplay experience you’ve ever had.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied by Stirfire Studios. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 9
Gameplay/Design – 6/10
Visuals – 8/10
Sound – 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal – 8/10
Overall – 8.5/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Stirfire Studios
Publisher: Stirfire Studios
Ratings: not rated