Having stylish combat is one thing, but making it effortless on the other hand is the real secret ingredient that elevates an action game to greatness. 2019 has been an exceptional bumper year for the action games-oriented combat and My Friend Pedro would almost certainly join those ranks, though you’ll just as likely find yourself tripping over its unwieldy inputs.
Your gas mask-wearing protagonist wakes up in an abandoned warehouse with no memory of who they are, apart from the fact you’re now pals with a sentient banana because, well, reasons. The absurd plot’s somewhat immaterial but you’ll quickly find yourself taking down murderous assailants left, right and centre from gangsters to bounty hunters to sewer-dwelling gamers. There’s no shortage of variety in the level design, with each area introducing new environmental puzzles or weapons to keep you on your toes all set to an excellent pounding electronic soundtrack, which seems the natural go-to for ultra-violent games these days (perhaps it’s the Drive effect).
The key to playing well is by maintaining a score multiplier for every consecutive kill, which appears on the bottom of the screen as a slowly shrinking circle. Kill another enemy in time and that multiplier ticks upwards but if it shrinks away entirely, it resets. You’re also rewarded for stylish kills since you’ve got a number of handy traversal techniques such as wall-jumping or pirouetting like a ballerina to dodge bullets, and even dual-wield pistols and uzis to shoot two targets at the same time from any direction. Hell, you can even take down an enemy with a swift kick, or by kicking an object into their face, or setting off an explosive canister. It all adds up to make Pedro the ultimate 2D John Wick simulator.
At the same time, pulling off all this badassery isn’t easy. Well, it shouldn’t be since the best action games are about mastery in order to hit the elusive S rank. It’s just that Pedro’s controls make it an awkward climb to begin with. It often feels like you’re spinning one too many plates, as you’re trying to balance your aim with platforming acrobatics (incidentally, dodging also throws off your aim) and that’s before you’re thinking of switching up your combat options, from swapping weapons, remembering to reload, or deciding whether you have time to angle the trajectory for kicking an object into someone’s face.
Naturally, things get overwhelming quickly. Fortunately, you have the ability to slow down time to help you out, which is frankly essential when enemy count ratchets up and the bullets are flying. But it also becomes another thing you have to manage, not to mention it’s awkwardly mapped to the click of your left analogue stick by default, which is far too easy to trigger by accident when under duress. At the same time, I found it difficult to find a more satisfyingly intuitive place to remap it, when I’ve already got buttons for dodging, reloading, dual-aiming, kicking, or weapon switching. When you lay it out like that, that’s an awful lot of inputs for a 2D action game.
At least it shows leniency in other areas, with generous checkpoints, no instant deaths, while even taking damage doesn’t penalise your multiplier - on normal difficulty, you’re also given one last chance to dodge a fatal bullet.
Getting through My Friend Pedro’s 40+ levels won’t take long at all, but the point of action games aren’t their length but just how compelling the mechanics are to warrant replays in order to master the combat to hit those high grades and leaderboard positions. With no extras to unlock, that kind of glory is all that Pedro has left to get you replaying. However, when a game’s mechanics feel frustrating to execute, the compulsion to play it again but better also wavers, and unfortunately I just found myself tripping over My Friend Pedro more times than was comfortable.
My Friend Pedro (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
My Friend Pedro can be an absurdly stylish action game when everything aligns but you’ll just as likely find yourself slipping over its unwieldy controls.