On the surface, My Friend Pedro doesn't look like it adds much to the genre. Outside of the games strange seemingly acid-fueled story about a man, his talking banana companion and a mountain of bodies left in their wake. It's clear right off the bat, that Pedro isn't here to take itself seriously. That lack of seriousness could be a detractor for some, but the throwaway story leaves the gates open to focus on the thing we came for. Gravity-defying acrobatics with a heavy dose of slow-mo murder.
My Friend Pedro is a side-scrolling shooter that will test your reflexes and combat-creativity as it challenges you to find the smoothest path through any given level, all-the-while peppering unlucky bad guys with ungodly amounts of lead.
Playing as a nameless protagonist (we'll call him Fred from now on to make things easier), you'll have to use all of the tools in your arsenal if you want to clear levels with any semblance of style. Style is vital in Pedro as you'll be graded on your performance at the end of each level, with your time, kills, deaths and combos taken into account. Stringing together different kinds of kills is immensely gratifying throughout the four or so hours it'll take you to reach the end. From kicking a pan in the air and ricocheting bullets off of it into enemies out of your line of sight or dropping down between two unsuspecting foes and splitting your aim so you can eliminate both of them in one fell swoop before you even hit the ground, there's potential to experiment around every corner.
Rushing through the game would be missing half the fun. Pedro comes into its own when you start to focus on the art of the kill. Going through a level for the first time, I often made silly mistakes leading to some less than smooth action and a handful of deaths. Going back and refining your run is where you'll start to understand the nuance of combat and movement.
The smart level design encourages you to stay on the move and figure out the best lines to take as you jump, roll and pirouette your way through the chaos. Playing on the Switch in handheld mode, it can get a bit much as you grapple with the equivalent of finger yoga in an attempt to press all the required buttons at the right time. Controlling your character is relatively straightforward with movement feeling strangely floaty. This loose feeling to the character's movement feels odd at first, especially when combined with the downright ugly animation. I got used to the movement pretty quickly, but I can definitely see some being turned off by it from the get-go.
Fred uses his arsenal to deadly effect as you target multiple enemies at once and figure out the fastest way to clear the screen of baddies. Will you go in with dual Uzis in a spray and pray move or will you equip the powerful shotgun and spin around enemy bullets as you get in nice and close for a giblet producing blast to the face. The combat in Pedro, is just plain cool. Being a mega-fan of gun-fu films like The Matrix or John Wick, I found myself constantly grinning as I explored new ways of dispatching my hapless enemies.
Obviously, with shooting playing such an integral role in Pedro, it all comes down to the controls. Right off the bat, I had a bit of a hard time in handheld; I often struggled when trying to pull off a handful of inputs at the same time. Moving Fred with the left analogue stick, and aiming with the right feels responsive once you get used to the floaty-ness. When dual-wielding, you can target two enemies at once, which involves hitting the ZL button to lock on to the first enemy, freeing you up to free-aim at any others. Pressing L will make Fred spin around, thus dodging incoming bullets.
The problem here is that trying to do all of this while jumping with the B button leads to plenty of mistakes as you put your hand in positions that would make a contortionist blush. Thankfully, the developers have included full control remapping. After playing with this for a while, I found that mapping my jump to the right analogue stick click made my runs infinitely smoother. I highly recommend jumping in and finding the proper control setup for you as it creates a massive difference and will alleviate those hand cramps from extended sessions.
I remember seeing a GIF on Reddit for My Friend Pedro a couple of years back and being instantly enamoured by the insane looking action. I did, however, worry that I'd have trouble pulling off anything even remotely as cool, but I'm pleased to say, I had plenty of GIF-worthy moments of my own. I can see some finding the combat a bit on the repetitive side, but the developers pepper in different gameplay sections throughout the story which will see you flipping a motorbike down a highway one moment, to platforming across a trippy dreamscape with disappearing platforms and a high-powered propeller-hat. These moments of levity help to break up the frantic action that makes up the meat of the Pedro experience. Platforming can feel a bit unwieldy, but it never leads to too much frustration.
On lower difficulty, enemies provide little threat during the early levels and regenerating health makes things even more accessible. Turn the difficulty up, however, and you'll be punished with death for the slightest of mistakes. Enemies mostly stand in place as if they've been nailed to the floor, which at times make them seem more of a shooting gallery than a threat. This works for the game though, because the developers place these enemies in tricky positions, which forces you to use all of the tools and abilities in your arsenal. As you progress, new mechanics which add a bit of puzzle solving to the platforming are introduced to keep things feeling fresh. One level will see you dealing with exploding mines that gravitate towards you when shot to riding a skateboard across a rooftop while blasting away at the unlucky foes in your path. These changes help keep the game from feeling too stale but can lead to pacing issues. It can be irritating when the action slows as you're forced to flip levers to move platforms around to progress when all you want to do is more shooting.
My main gripe with My Friend Pedro is the games art direction. Outside of a few moments, the levels themselves blend into one another and feel like bland backdrops to the otherwise impressive shooting. The art direction or lack-there-of feels like a huge missed opportunity and makes the game look like it came straight from the early 2000s. Compared to other games on the platform, it's a real shame the devs couldn't have put as much effort into the look of the game as they did with the stylish shooting.
If you're a fan of Devolver Digital and their titles like Hotline Miami, you'll likely find a lot to love in My Friend Pedro. The game is loaded with bloody action and is perfect for anyone who likes to go back through completed levels to chase high scores. Perfecting runs in Pedro is a tonne of fun, but if you're the kind of player who likes to blaze through your games and then move on to the next, Pedro will probably leave you wanting.
While I enjoyed my time with the game, I wish it could have been a bit more memorable. I hope it does well enough to get a sequel and that the developers funnel more resources into the art direction and story. It's a solid first effort, and I can see heaps of potential if we are lucky enough to see an eventual sequel.