For the last year Twitter has been alive with gifs of acrobatic stylish 2-D violence that have grabbed my attention each time they’ve drifted into view. It’s been a social media marketing campaign that’s done its job well – I’ve been interested in getting hands on with My Friend Pedro to experience the crazy action that it promises. Developed by DeadToast and published by Devolver Digital, it’s not been clear what the game is actually about, but will that really matter when you can backflip in slow motion whilst dual-wielding pistols?
It’s fair to say that there’s not really a story at play in My Friend Pedro, you start in a room with a banana talking to you, then proceed to savagely take out everyone that gets in your path over the course of the next few hours. The only motivation for our ski masked hero is to do whatever the ‘nana tells him and try not to die. It’s strangely reminiscent of Hotline Miami with the faceless protagonist, but the gameplay is very different. If you think of John Woo’s Hong Kong cinematic legacy then you’ve got an idea of what form the action takes. Plus there’s bullet time. Oodles and oodles of bullet time.
It’s a platformer at heart with a tonne of additional mechanics thrown in to break up the pace and flow and provide something new in each area. Travelling left to right, there’s a heavy hint of twin stick shooter as one controls the movement and the other the aiming, and both are independent of one another. Jump, roll, kick and shoot complete the roster of standard moves and then it’s over to you to string them together and cause chaos. Your capabilities are layered on through simple tutorials and before long you’ll be finding ways to make the killing spree flow and keep your combo racking up.
It’s the context sensitive elements that elevate My Friend Pedro above a side-scrolling run and gun game. There’s a relatively sparse feel to the environments, but everything is there for a reason – whether that’s cover, traversal or destruction – and depending on how you’re playing at the time will net different results. Take ropes… they’re used for bridging gaps and jumping to ledges, but hit the secondary fire button if you’re dual-wielding and suddenly you’re upside down and tracking two simultaneous targets. All that’s needed is to pull the trigger then vault off. Of course, if this is onto a wall then keeping hitting jump to scale it, as long as there’s another surface to bounce off.
The locomotion around each of the levels is nicely thought out so that it combines elements of spatial puzzles as well as simply getting in the right position to shoot dudes. It also adds in some great environmental items that have dual functions. Most items can be kicked and come with a targeting arc so they can be booted at an enemy for a quick takedown, or moved to a different area; and some, like barrels, can even be ridden so that you can speed through certain areas whilst crushing foes underfoot. Flicking into slow motion whilst doing these things adds another layer of options with thinking and reaction time increased and the joy amped up.
Scanning the areas for opportunities to get quick kills or be safe becomes more and more important as the story progresses. My Friend Pedro has the tools on display from the early stages, but really does ask you to master them to conquer the later levels. The platforming elements come into their own, and the somewhat loose movement that you compensate for suddenly isn’t as friendly as the banana. Fortunately restarts are quick and very little progress is lost so you’re encouraged to retry and work your way around the problem. Sometimes switching to heavier weapons will work, sometimes it’s simply nailing the timing and letting yourself go with the flow.
The 2.5D presentation works a treat for the style of My Friend Pedro, and it’s appropriately bright and colourful when it needs to be (i.e., when there’s banana’s and blood). Even though it’s largely industrial building or sewer based, it manages to remain fairly distinct with the enemy types and mechanisms providing the point of difference. There’s little to no dialogue outside the first or last few seconds of a level, and that’s only text based, though there’s a wickedly dark sense of humour in play through it all. You could try and draw some parallels to the protagonists state of mind and delusional tendencies with the banana popping up to make faces when you’ve done something really cool, but there’s no point. This is just an excuse to stylishly kill goons. Bosses don’t pose much of a problem either and will most likely succumb to your skills on the first try or two.
My Friend Pedro’s killer selling point though is the auto selection of a gif at the end of each level that allows you to record what it thinks was your best move. Some are great, some are terrible, but you’ll end up saving the vast majority of them ready to share online. It’s this inbuilt social marketing tool which will help drive the growth and reach of this quirky and slick indie game. Sure, it’s short, and it’s light on additional content once the story is done, yet it keeps the levels tight and scores you with a focus on speed so that if you want the best rank you’re going to have to practice. Any game that lets you kick a frying pan in the air and use it to ricochet bullets into unsuspecting enemies has got to be worth a play, right?
A PC review copy of My Friend Pedro was provided by DeadToast’s PR team, and the game is available now on PC and Switch.