REVIEW | My Friend Pedro

this game is bananas

Generally, the only time a banana speaks to me is when one of them whispers “you should’ve eaten me instead of that pork pie”. I’ve learned to ignore the taunts, and find that if I leave bananas to blacken in the fruit bowl, they either get thrown away or turned into banana cake. Win-win. Joke’s on you, you insensitive yellow bastard. According to this latest offering from Deadtoast and Devolver Digital, however, not all bananas are evil. In fact, the tutorial section of My Friend Pedro is presented by a chirpy little ‘nana who wakes up our masked protagonist and cheerily walks him through the basics.

Being greeted by a talking banana (Pedro) really sets the tone for the rest of the game and though the appearance of this fruity friend isn’t explained – to begin with, at least – it soon becomes apparent that you’ll need his help to escape the predicament you find yourself in. Subsequent progression through the story is mostly told by Pedro himself, who tends to pop up at the beginning of levels to provide some narrative context or, if you’re lucky, an amusing anecdote.

The plot itself is standard Hollywood action movie stuff (sentient fruit notwithstanding) but the snarky, postmodern dialogue keeps it fresh and entertaining. Much like another Devolver-published masterpiece, The Messenger, the writing in My Friend Pedro is cheekily self-referential and even earns bonus geeza points by incorporating British colloquialisms like “nutter” and “leg it”.

On the surface, My Friend Pedro appears to be your basic ‘run around, kill everything’ action-platformer, but it packs a fair few gameplay mechanics that add substantial depth. More importantly, these mechanics continually provide new and entertaining ways to murder people. Shooting a frying pan into the air and watching bullets ricochet towards nearby enemies is especially gratifying, as are many of the game’s dramatic set piece moments, none of which I’ll spoil here. By the end game, you’ll have learned enough tricks to adapt to any situation, even when the odds are heavily stacked against you.

The first technique you’ll learn is how to duel-wield and aim at two enemies at the same time. Soon after, you’ll learn about ‘focus’ mode, which allows you to slow down time. Combining these two elements alone is great fun but when you do it whilst pirouetting in mid-air, popping off a new weapon you’ve just picked up and landing gracefully amongst the pile of corpses you’ve created, you’ll feel like the world’s biggest badass. Of course, it’s all in the name of mindless violence, but you can’t disengage your brain entirely if you want to master the complex controls required to pull off these moves.

The controls are probably the weakest part of Pedro’s considerable arsenal, however. Loose platforming is forgivable in earlier sections, but as the game begins to demand more accurate traversal it becomes an issue and can lead to the occasional frustrating death. Thankfully, your hero respawns quickly and close to where he died. Even still, tighter controls would have been welcome. It’s also far too easy to activate focus mode (triggered by pressing in the left analogue stick) whilst attempting to crouch, so mapping the slowdown power to its own button would have been preferable.

“From the majestic hyper-violence and bullet-time ballet, to some genuinely funny writing and WTF moments, it’s just so unapologetically over-the-top.”

Another minor frustration is that there’s no way to tell how far you’ve progressed through the game without exiting to the main menu. From here you can access a level select screen that displays your progress, as well as options to tone down the screen shake and gore, although I’d advise leaving both of those alone as they really do add to the visceral joy of the Pedro experience.

It’s not all choreographed chaos and pistol-packing parkour though, as there are occasional sections where you’ll need to adopt a more considered approach. These stealthier, light-puzzling moments not only punctuate the frenetic violence; they also allow you to plot out your next few moves in order to maximise your combo multiplier. The challenge of stringing together these combos in elaborate new ways is the key to achieving a respectable grade, which you can then show off to your friends via the online leaderboards. Since it’s possible to roll credits in just a few hours – on the default difficulty setting at least – the competitive draw of high score chasing endows My Friend Pedro with significant replay value.

Stylistically, this is a game largely comprised of gritty, industrial environments, backed by gritty, industrial music. There are exceptions to this during the game’s occasional psychedelic sections, which put some of Undertale’s most trippy moments to shame, but regardless of the setting the presentation is slick throughout. Modern touches like dynamic camerawork and ragdoll physics (all the more hilarious in slow motion) are brilliantly implemented and it’s refreshing to play an indie game that feels 100% contemporary.

Personally, I appreciate when independent developers go beyond the relative comfort of pixel art & chiptunes and strive for more ambitious presentation. In the case of Pedro, one could argue that they’ve tried to make a Tom Cruise movie on a Jason Statham budget, but even that is part of the charm. As if it were ever in doubt, this is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

And that’s the brilliance of My Friend Pedro really. From the majestic hyper-violence and bullet-time ballet, to some genuinely funny writing and WTF moments, it’s just so unapologetically over-the-top. If you can throw away your moral compass, or even extrapolate a deeper meaning from the madness, then the unhinged creativity and all-out action offered by My Friend Pedro is not to be missed.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.