Banana split personality

It’s no secret that My Friend Pedro has been my most anticipated game for, well, years. Announced way back in 2015, this game has seen its fair share of conventions leading up to its official release. Now, after over three years of development, Pedro is finally here and it’s nearly everything I wanted it to be. From its optional bullet-time mechanic to its insane amount of gore, Devolver Digital has delivered a shoot ’em up for the modern age that’s bursting with life… and plenty of death to follow.

Based on a flash game from 2014, My Friend Pedro follows a masked vigilante as he shoots his way through 40 levels of the strangest criminals imaginable alongside a talking banana named Pedro. If that makes no sense to you, then this game is already achieving what it set out to do. From here it only gets harder to comprehend, as the game’s story is more confusing than those car commercials where the dogs are driving around town and nobody’s stopping them. Seriously, why is nobody stopping them?

But I digress. My Friend Pedro plops you right into the middle of the action, and while you traverse the levels across 7 varying “worlds” you’ll always be wondering “just what am I doing here, exactly?” Part of the fun is to disassociate your mind from the action at hand, however. Who needs a hefty plot that makes you think when the gameplay is this entertaining? Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Pedro lacks any real emotional depth, with the game’s terminal twist leaving me feeling more “meh” than “no way!”

There’s a certain kind of game that can get away with a forgettable narrative, and that’s one with gratuitous violence to fill the void. In this department, My Friend Pedro does not disappoint. Over the course of the game, I collected at least five different guns, from pistols to sniper rifles, all of which can be dual-wielded, making for completely varied playstyles and kill bonuses. Bonuses are the aim of the game, as My Friend Pedro is all about having the highest score; simultaneously the game’s biggest draw and its biggest flaw.

During the game, every kill adds to a score multiplier at the bottom of the screen. This encourages players to replay levels in hopes of gaining a higher score (either C, B, A, or S ratings). If you know my gaming preferences, you’ll understand why this was a massive letdown for me, as I don’t appreciate a lack in substance in exchange for replayable levels. I’m no trophy hunter and I’m no high score chaser; I play games for entertainment purposes. Having a bland story and an underwhelming amount of content typically makes for a dissatisfying game, so why did I find myself enjoying My Friend Pedro so much?

In typical Devolver fashion, My Friend Pedro doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I would’ve preferred it to be a bit more humorous, I did find myself chuckling at a few lines as the “story” unfurled, though now they’ve all been forgotten. The gameplay throws some laughs into the mix, however, with the most over-the-top kills garnering onscreen prompts like “handsome,” “lovely,” and my personal favorite, “rad!” Furthermore, the violence is so extreme that it transposes into comical territory, with the ability to kick severed body parts at your enemies or twirl across a room as you shoot wildly in every direction. This alone should draw any self-respecting shooter fan to give Pedro a shot (no pun intended).

One of the most unique and gratifying mechanics of My Friend Pedro is the optional bullet-time ability. At any time, slow-motion can be toggled with the push of a button, which not only makes for some of the most pleasing blood splatters you’ve ever seen, but it can also help with timing shots perfectly and splitting bullets with a lot more accuracy. To be honest, though, you’re mostly going to use it when you’re smashing through a giant glass window on a skateboard or swinging on wires above a room of baddies, shooting down at the gas tanks by their feet. It’s just that awesome, so why wouldn’t you use it for such a purpose as this?

Another great moment to use bullet-time is when driving, which sadly isn’t in the game enough. Pedro‘s boss fights are few and far between, but they make for some intense and downright puzzling moments to keep the mind alert. The game’s first boss fight occurs while racing down a busy highway on a stolen motorcycle, and after playing this level at PAX East 2019 I knew this game would become a favorite fairly quickly. The second time around, this high-speed chase is just as thrilling as ever, with slow-motion not only favorable for timing the perfect shot at incoming explosives, but also for ramping off those sweet, sweet jumps.

On foot, gameplay continues to be frantic and wild, for the most part. Puzzles are so varied throughout each world, from heavier enemies that require bigger guns or disabling shields to platforming segments that require perfectly-timed jumps while dodging an onslaught of enemy bullets. With a multitude of traps, levers, and traversal methods to discover, My Friend Pedro‘s gameplay never feels dull. Unfortunately, certain puzzles can halt the player’s momentum and bring about some unnecessarily trying segments. Couple this with the fairly shoddy controls when rolling, and you’re bound to find some less-than-amusing moments along your path.

As far as controls go, I must admit I’m rather impartial to the Switch as a whole. Considering I’ve never played the flash game My Friend Pedro is based on, I find it fitting that I played this game on a console I’ve barely experienced, save for some Smash Bros. and Mario Kart. I found the bulkiness of the Switch (even in the Joy-Con charging grip) to be uncomfortable and impractical, and would’ve much rather preferred to play Pedro on a PS4 or Xbox One. While I can’t speak for the PC gameplay, it might be better suited for a system like that over the Switch. The PC version may also feature less frame rate drops and better graphics than its Switch counterpart, as I feel there was a downgrade of sorts when compared to the game’s promotional material. While it may seem harsh to criticize the Switch so much, it cannot be neglected that there are significant frame rate issues and the visuals just aren’t as fancy as they’d originally seemed.

Is My Friend Pedro the godsend that I’d hoped for all these years? In its entirety, no. The game has quite a few gameplay inconsistencies, a bland story that left me underwhelmed, a basic and upsetting soundtrack full of generic techno beats, and not even a challenge mode to continue the free-flying slow-mo action. However, at its core, My Friend Pedro is a delightful romp through a dystopian future where bloodshed is the name of the game. It’s unfortunate that a game so entertaining on the surface can be so riddled with flaws underneath, but this is the case with Devolver’s latest epic.

Will I ever find myself returning to Pedro? Sure, if DLC is released or I yearn for another taste of bullet-time (which surprisingly I often do). But currently one playthrough was enough to get a feeling of everything My Friend Pedro has to offer, and while I was expecting a product as sweet as banana pudding or a delicious bananas foster at the end of this three-year wait, I left feeling more as though I had slipped on the discarded peel.

Score: 3 out of 5

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