My Friend Pedro Review
Blood, Bullets, Bananas - and a Blast to Play
First and foremost, let’s get the lame obligatory pun out of the way. I almost hesitate to say it because it’s so obvious, but it is a fitting description - My Friend Pedro is just bananas. You know you’re in for a wild ride when the gunfights of the game in question capture the spirit of both The Matrix and John Wick, along with a “weird, inhuman imaginary friend” premise not unlike the action show “Happy”. Peeling away the amusing and bizarre premise - the gameplay itself is more hit and miss - mostly thanks to some finicky mechanics at times. Still, the misses are few and far between, and most of the blemishes take a backseat to the thrilling experience held together by chuckle-worthy themes and cool gameplay concepts.
The weird style and occasionally spotty mechanics make more sense when tracing My Friend Pedro back to its origins - as a Flash-based Adult Swim game. You’ve definitely got that trademark Adult Swim trippiness which permeates the narrative and cheeky bits of dialogue. You wake up in the basement of a butcher shop in a daze, only to find you’ve got an imaginary companion at your side - a talking banana named Pedro. While he looks harmless with his eerily joyful grin, your new friend coaxes you to run and gun your way through a variety of henchmen, turrets, and internet trolls, for motives which are uncovered as you press on. Buckle up, because it only gets stranger from here...
These trippy Adult Swim-tinged themes blatantly come to the surface in one of the handful of biomes featured - my personal favorite - Pedro’s World, which sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the mostly typical industrial, street, and sci-fi environments elsewhere. This biome is wrought with Leotard-sporting baddies that bust out amusing insults you might hear on Xbox Live, along with randomly placed googly-eyed faces, gingerbread houses, and other surreal elements. Despite this insanity, My Friend Pedro occasionally still falls back on 2D action-shooter tropes that resemble a wacked-out Shadow Complex at times.
The name of the game is to scramble and survive from A to B as you mow down gun-wielding foes with a variety of weapons. For a stripped-down sidescrolling shooter, there’s a surprisingly vast array of moves at your disposal. On top of performing enjoyable belly flop leaps from platform to platform while shooting, you can also wall-hop, spin to avoid incoming gunfire, and roll through small areas Samus-style. What is perhaps the game’s core feature, though, is the ability to slow down time by simply clicking the left joystick. This limited ability allows you to dodge gunfire coming at you from all sides, and, coupled with the twist evasion, to channel your inner-Neo. These mechanics working in harmony produce a satisfying flow to the game which makes it feel like a violent dance as much as a shooter. The seamless ducking, dodging, leaping, and spinning through each area add a dynamic that makes you feel akin to a finessed action hero.
You’re sometimes tossed environmental objects and hazards that you can interact with and use as supplemental tools during this ballet of destruction. These include gas tanks that can blow up multiple baddies, rocks that can be kicked at their face, and even skateboards to coast around with greater speed and maneuverability. With the abundance of moves coupled with these environmental elements, My Friend Pedro nicely balances linearity with flexibility in your actions.
You can often engage in a number of different techniques to achieve the same outcome. Do you ride the skateboard and bust out Ollies through this group of foes as you gun them down? Do you punt a rock at one of their heads as a distraction first and go on a Bruce Lee kicking rampage first? Or simply dive in the old fashioned way and pump them with shotgun shells while spinning to safety? Flashier moves strung together will net you more points, but you can still usually opt for the more straightforward engagements if you wish.
You’re also tossed a pretty steady stream of new twists on the gameplay and level design to keep things from feeling stale. One stage may have you leaping from swinging wires like George of the Jungle, while the next will have you flipping groups of switches to power up elevators and open a maze of pathways. Yet another might have you ricochet gunfire off posts in order to trigger a distant explosive to take out a group of foes. Pedro thrives when it balances straight-up action with these creative twists, and it usually maintains this balance nicely without being overwhelming or jarring.
Still, there are occasional stages that can feel a tad gimmicky and cumbersome for their own good - areas with an excess of obstacles, door-opening levers, or health-melting laser beams. These are fine when used sparingly, but in abundance, can bog down the swift and smooth pacing, and thus, the enjoyment. There’s also a subtle feeling of flimsiness to some of the mechanics. While most of the core features are solid or at least functional, a few of the more advanced-level moves can be dicey, like the dual pistol split-fire, Donkey Kong-style barrel riding, and lining up trajectories of item kicks. Aiming your weapons can feel a bit imprecise and ambiguous, even when wielding more accurate guns like sniper rifles. Thankfully, given the versatility of most of the game design, a mastery of such moves isn’t a requirement, though perfectionists who seek S rankings and leaderboard dominance might have some headaches.
While the game doesn’t exactly come with a myriad of features - the campaign being the only source of the content - you get can get a lot out of what is available. On top of the 40+ level campaign, there’s also a 3-tiered difficulty system, where the borderline tricky gameplay gets jacked up to crazy levels. Here, the game strips down some of your assets like dodge-assist and partial health regen, and makes the enemies noticeably sharper. The aforementioned leaderboards for each stage also add to the appealing arcade sensibilities, and gives incentive to return to previously beaten levels. Completion time is also tracked, allowing for speed runs, which seems tailor-made for the free-flowing Sonic-like nature of Pedro.
My Friend Pedro ultimately proves that you can successfully teach an old dog new tricks. At its core, the game feels like a retro-style 2D shooter - though it fleshes out the formula with some amusing themes, funny dialogue, innovative mechanics, and plenty of curveballs. It’s an intense gore-fest, but one that doesn't take itself too seriously, and isn’t afraid to have fun. Traces of its more humble Flash origins can certainly be picked up, but overall, developers DeadToast Entertainment have managed to craft a delightfully fun and zany shooter, and a thrilling ride from start to finish.