Too few games allow you to ride around on a skateboard and shoot bad guys by deflecting bullets off a frying pan in their general direction, all while some synthwave bops play encouragingly in the background. This kind of creatively liberating violence was one of the reasons why I was so drawn to My Friend Pedro last year, it looking like scratching a very lovely RUINER and Max Payne itch that I didn’t know I had.
Having whooped and hollered my way through sword-wielding nerds, decrepit gangsters, and some oddly cheery bounty hunters, My Friend Pedro was a game worth waiting to peel. While it’s not a perfect experience and one that’s significantly marred by a flat final third, if you want to recreate childhood memories of slow motion fights all while a banana commands you to kill, My Friend Pedro will probably be your favourite action game of the year.
My Friend Pedro is an effortlessly stylish descent into madness and mayhem that starts as it means to go on: With you mowing down bad guys as coolly as you can. Playing on PC via an Xbox One controller, its controls are responsive after a brief adjustment period; the rolling does feel slightly “off” to begin with. Once you’be grown accustomed to dual wielding two pistols, it’s time for the bloody dance routine to begin.
Pedro does a great job of easing you into its increasingly chaotic world, starting you off with just a pistol before eventually making your way up to an assault rifle that also lobs grenades, among other tools of destruction. It feels like the playground re-enactments of your youth come to life, you magically avoiding bullets and overcoming overwhelming numbers without breaking a sweat. While I realise I am in the absolute minority on this one, my younger self believed Enter the Matrix to be one of the coolest and most fun games ever made, and Pedro reminded me a lot of that wide-eyed little chubster as I pirouetted my way through its varied levels.
There’s a frantic but welcome pace and sense of urgency to Pedro, your score for each level tied to how quickly you can kill enemies — the more you kill without much pause, the higher the multiplier becomes. While the aforementioned assault rifle or shotgun is enjoyable, there’s something wonderfully early 2000s about just dual-wielding pistols or uzis instead, especially as Pedro allows you to split your aim. With an Xbox One controller, this work by using LT to lock on to an enemy and the right stick to target another before ripping away with RT. Dropping from height while shooting bad guys either side of you in slow motion is a simple delight that never gets old, no matter how many you mow down.
While the odds are stacked against you with most levels featuring at least a couple dozen enemies to blast your way through, you have an unusual equaliser: Your ballet skills. Your unnamed protagonist can spin around to dodge fire whether stationary or flying through the air, and can also utilise the environment for some parkour or wild stunts. Basically, if you see a zipline in My Friend Pedro, you’re about to be in for a very good time.
Your slow motion is governed by focus, which replenishes very favourably with it lasting for a long time regardless on normal difficulty. This means you are pretty much free to utilise it whenever you want — and you should. Pedro really feels like a captivating dance of death when you’re jumping over heads in your own sweet time to line up headshots, or breaking through glass windows with a shotgun in hand as a helicopter tracks you from above. Everything exploding while you take part in some graceful genocide will likely often leave you mouth agape. It’s an experience so unashamedly brash and all the better for it that it’s hard to properly convey how so just through words alone.
Pedro is also seemingly reticent to allow the player to get too comfortable with how it works, it swapping things up fairly regularly. The brunt of your time with the game will be spent side-scrolling through rooms of baddies, but Pedro revels in flipping the script with sequences that include a bonkers trip to the subconsciousness involving propeller hats, a parachute-less skydive, and even a good ol’ motorbike chase. Bolstered by a decent sense of humour and a loveable banana, it’s almost always a pleasure when My Friend Pedro wants to show you something new and weird.
However, My Friend Pedro seems to panic in its final third, it straying too far away from the simple joy it is for its majority and veering into puzzle platformer territory. The latter levels, which involve deactivating lasers and jumping around them ad nauseum with little actual combat (the game’s whole USP), can’t help but feel like unnecessary padding. It left me feeling a little disinterested and underwhelmed just as I was beginning to really get into the game’s kooky rhythm and rack up some impressive kills.
It’s a short game, taking me 3-4 hours to beat its story on normal difficulty, but if it was a more concentrated experience throughout, I wouldn’t mind it being even shorter than that. While speedrunning maniacs will no doubt find a way to rack up ridiculous scores and times on the more staggered later levels nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel like it killed the game’s momentum dead when it should have been offering Contra levels of insanity instead.
Another critique of My Friend Pedro is its story, or lack thereof. There’s a reason why I’ve yet to mention it, and it’s because it’s really just dressing for the main course: Skateboard-based murder in a dystopia. Still, it would have been appreciated for its narrative to have a bit more meat on its bones, or for the banana to actually talk like he does in the reveal trailer with an actual voice. Instead, he just speaks gibberish — I will never not be disappointed by that oversight, or that the story generally never takes off at all.
Even though its latter sections left me slightly jaded, they haven’t stopped me from going back through the earlier levels and constantly trying to get higher and higher scores: Something that I can see myself picking up as a hobby. I even have a world record for the first level at this time of writing, but I know it won’t last. My Friend Pedro is built to be obsessed over by speedrunners and perfectionists, and I can’t to see what kind of lunacy players can pull off.
Even with an underwhelming final third and a paper-thin plot holding it back, My Friend Pedro is a fruity and exhilarating ride.