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‘My Friend Pedro’ Review: Bananarama

‘My Friend Pedro’ delivers enough amusing and exciting gameplay to avoid becoming stale throughout its relatively short lifespan.

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My Friend Pedro raises a good number of questions. Why does this man have a talking banana as a friend? Is the banana real, or a figment of his imagination? How can he get his limbs like that? Am I supposed to be following what’s going on here? Does any of this matter if I’m having a laugh? It’s safe to say that the game probably doesn’t care for those, or any other questions — don’t ask, just enjoy.

I’d have liked to tick the obligatory box of explaining to you what the story is for My Friend Pedro, but it’s told through only a couple of lines of text before some (not all) levels, where it needs to be deciphered from Pedro’s rambling musings. The plot is so quickly overshadowed by the cacophonous carnage on screen that it became inconsequential to the point where I’ve already forgotten, and have no idea what was going on. Pedro is pretty unconcerned with giving players reasons to slow-mo bullet-slice their way through hundreds of goons, so I was relatively unconcerned with the reasons why everyone wanted to kill the protagonist. Maybe they hate sentient bananas; who cares?

You try explaining what’s going on here, because I give up.

 

Thankfully, My Friend Pedro‘s gameplay is perfectly suited to bite-sized levels of increasing difficulty, and the story is totally irrelevant. Much like trying to follow the completely pointless narrative in a game like Trials Rising, if a game splits up its action into tight, isolated moments of madness for a few minutes at a time, then it’s just not worth it. There’s a reason why there’s never any story in a Super Mario Bros. game — they just shut up and let the people play.

That said, gameplay effectively works as if you broke all Max Payne’s limbs and threw him and a banana down a corridor. My Friend Pedro wears its intentions firmly on its banana peel from the very start; you take on levels where you’re tasked with annihilating all the enemies in side-scrolling environment by blasting away while rolling, jumping, flipping, swinging, and even skateboarding. A click of the left analog stick will enable your ‘bullet time,’ which slows the whole thing down and allows for the type of brutal, balletic precision Chow Yun Fat would be jealous of.

YAAAS! Eat that! I am a GOD!

 

The levels aren’t long, but they usually pack in a wide variety of jumps to make, obstacles to overcome, wires to swing on, and windows to smash through — all in slow motion, if you want. ‘Bullet time’ refills when you hit shots — so it can technically go on indefinitely — but perhaps one of the most satisfying elements of the gunplay is being able to position yourself and aim in slow motion, then return to normal speed just as your shot hits to truly amplify the brutality. It manifests like a mix of Super Hot and Hotline Miami in 2.5D, all looking very cool, all very violent, and acting as a conveyor belt of tightly-designed shooting galleries setup for you to cause as much bloody chaos as your imagination and reactions can conjure up.

Levels are scored and graded after completion, dishing out points and multipliers for kills, lack of deaths, time taken, and difficulty. My Friend Pedro implores you to dip back in to each level for that precious S ranking and global leader board bragging rights. I’m not entirely sure what will increase the ‘Game Score’ barometer, but it’s safe to say that variety is the spice of life here. Constantly switch guns, kickflip the rideable skateboards into enemy faces, ricochet bullets off of frying pans you just launched into the air, knock people out by booting severed heads at them — you’ve gotta be experimental, baby!

Better frying pans than PUBG.

Without a level-based system, the game would become very repetitive (it’s repetitive anyway, but so are several games with a similar hook, and it’s not always to their detriment), but by keeping the action confined within concise, punchy levels it remains pretty satisfying throughout. Late attempts to focus more on intricate platforming are a disappointing deviation from the straight-up action — they’re awkward and occasionally unresponsive — but variation is definitely attempted frequently. It’s almost a cliche at this point to label a game like this as “perfect for the Switch platform,” but the type of quick-fire (and really slow fire) bursts of action that Pedro is all about syncs almost perfectly with the system’s handheld, pick-up-and-put-down, capability.

“Syncing almost perfectly” with the Switch’s handheld function contains an unfortunate caveat to everything positive about the game — a caveat that has been labelled against the Switch before, and will likely be again. My Friend Pedro may look like a simple game, and its premise most definitely is, but it is a distinctly fiddly and twitchy game to play. This is exacerbated tenfold by the tiny buttons and unresponsive sticks on the Joy-Con.

Holding L will focus aim on one enemy for you, allowing you aim at another. Fiddly, but awesome.

 

The default controls have a click of the left analog stick activating bullet time, but I found this either refused to work or wouldn’t turn off when using the stubby little nub on the left Joy-Con. The only option I could take was to reassign slow-mo to a shoulder button, which only helped matters a little. Hand cramping was another issue that reared its head time and again, and it’s a real disappointment that such a fundamentally handheld-appropriate experience really needs to be played in docked mode before it feels like you have full control over the action.

Docked mode also doesn’t do much to help push the graphics of what it a very basic-looking game. Admittedly, games like this and Trials have never needed to be real lookers because their gameplay hooks are simple and addictive, but did My Friend Pedro really need to be so gray and dull to look at? Explosions are blocky and unrealistic, and the aforementioned Max-Payne-with-broken-limbs wasn’t just a cheeky intro line — the animations need to be filed very much under performance over presentation. This dude is a flippy, floppy mess that is so determined to shoot where you’re aiming — despite facing the other direction and being in the middle of a backflip — that he will snap and dislocate every damn fibre in his body to deliver your request. I would, however, be lying if I said it didn’t add to how ridiculous and funny this game is to play.

Smooth moves, Limbs Boy.

 

My Friend Pedro isn’t breaking any boundaries or telling a memorable tale, but it adeptly delivers bonkers, bloody action with a hefty dose of batshit insane for good measure (try understanding what the final boss is all about). There’s not much to it, and there’s not an awful lot for it to hang its hat on, but what it does do is deliver amusing and exciting gameplay with enough variation and replayability to avoid becoming stale throughout its short lifespan. It’s one of those games you’ll pick up and have a bash on while something else is downloading or you’re on the toilet, and that’s just fine with me.

 

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes heading out for a sesh of Bakamitai karaoke in Kamurocho.

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