Slick, surreal, and just a little silly – say hello to my little friend. (My Friend Pedro, that is.)
You’ve all seen My Friend Pedro by now. You probably saw it before Devolver Digital’s big push for it during this year’s E3 and in the run-in to release. You might not have realised it was My Friend Pedro at the time – social-first game development can grab an audience before a game even has a name, in some cases – but it’s so striking, you can’t have scrolled past it without noticing.
It’s one of those video games that’s made for gifs. The stylish pirouettes. The compact rolls. The aerial acrobatics. Lashings and lashings of exquisite murder. A talking banana. In the hands of a skilled proponent, and cut down into bitesize snippets of murderballet, My Friend Pedro is a powerhouse of performance that sells itself. They barely even have to try.
In the hands of an average chump, like your reviewer here, My Friend Pedro is less impressive. It’s no less fun to play, but the action is a lot more staccato, less fluid. That no doubt comes from playtime and practice. The players recording the game’s gifs and trailers probably have hundreds, if not thousands of hours with the game. They know each level and each sequence inside out. That’s how they’re able to scorch through Pedro’s levels like a balletic tracer bullet.
The rest of us will treat it more like a cover shooter at first, crouching behind boxes or inside doorways while we decide what to do next. The moves are still impressive and the improvisational Jason Bourne/John Wick power fantasy still excites, but until you get good and learn the sequences you’re doing it carefully, room by room, three or four goons at a time.
From waking up in a dank basement with a bump on the head – and with the help of tutorials and tips from your floating, talking banana buddy, Pedro – you’ll need to get good, and quickly. Luckily, the masked hero has plenty of skills at their disposal, over and above jumping, kicking, and basic right-stick aiming.
You can wall jump and swing on ropes, a staple of any action platformer. The tap of a shoulder button will execute a pirouette, perfect for dodging bullets. If you dodge while diving it will look cooler still, and you can use the spin to spray bullets in all directions like a tracksuit-wearing firework. You can dual wield, and perform the classic multi-directional split shot, by holding down another shoulder button and aiming in the opposite direction. These basic skills are complemented by more advanced techniques, like kicking a frying pan into the air and ricocheting bullets off it to kill goons around corners, or passing through the environment on a rolling barrel or skateboard.
It gets fiddly and hard to manage during busy moments, so the best skill in the hero’s arsenal is the focus ability. Clicking in the left analogue stick will slow time, allowing you more time to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge through My Friend Pedro’s 40-ish levels. More time to think, adjust, and act in the heat of battle means more impressive choreography. You know that lobby scene in The Matrix? This is it, in video game form.
When you finish each level there’ll be a short video of your best move, akin to Overwatch’s play of the game, along with a score and overall grade for the level. If you’re the sort of person who will play levels hundreds of times over to get perfect ratings, this will be music to your ears. With bonuses for speedy finishes, no-death runs, and playing on harder difficulties with all the assists – like focus and health regeneration – turned down, the best scores are only really accessible on the harder difficulties (and for the best players).
You’ll need to play My Friend Pedro a lot to achieve the best ratings, but it’s clearly possible. We’ve all seen the gifs and trailers.
If you’re like us, on the other hand – a solid C-student who’s just happy to be included – there’s still plenty of fun to be found. My Friend Pedro isn’t overly difficult (at least on the standard difficulty), while the autosaves and resets are forgiving and damn-near instantaneous. The only real punitive outcome from death is on your score, which is important in preventing players from bouncing off in the early stages.
But if you are looking for further depth and challenge? You’ll definitely enjoy trying to ace every stage in My Friend Pedro on the tougher difficulties.
Game: My Friend Pedro
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
Developer: DeadToast Entertainment
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: June 20, 2019