There’s a reason that Max Payne stood out when it launched back in 2001. Its grisly story and cinematic set pieces resonated with a certain audience that grew up watching a particular genre of action movie. These movies weren’t the pious, costumed beat ‘em ups of the superhero variety or the reality-shackled shootouts of, say, John Wick or even Collateral, where the stars spend months training under military personnel and special ops soldiers to most accurately portray the various stances and movements of real killers. No, the action movies I and many others grew up watching were driven by muscular acrobatics, environmental ingenuity, and an amount of bullets that can only be described as bucketloads. Yes, those were the good old days, when guns were still merely toys in the hands of tiny gods we called action stars.
The easiest way to describe My Friend Pedro is to say that it’s a side-scrolling Max Payne, borrowing from Remedy’s genre-busting debut both in terms of its main mechanic and its core influences. But as much as the game relies on the kind of nostalgia driven by a slow-motion hero that’s double-fisting pistols, it also leans heavily into a different nostalgia, one that’s deeply influenced by wall-jumps and combo scores, culminating in one of the most satisfying shooters we’ll get all year.
Like any shooter starring an antihero worth its weight, My Friend Pedro is a revenge story. The mask-wearing, manbunned protagonist wakes up in a butcher’s basement without any memory of how he got there. All he knows is that he’s talking to a floating banana who’s telling him to get the hell out or he’s next on the butcher’s daily specials board. That’s all he needs to hear before he’s off, blasting his way through hundreds of goons on the bloody road to self-discovery.
It’s pretty clear right off the bat that My Friend Pedro has different ideas about how a side-scrolling shooter should play. You don’t start with a gun. Instead, the first offensive moves that the game teaches you are how to wall-jump and how to roll. Then you get your gun. This is because, in My Friend Pedro, painting the walls with the blood of your enemies is only half the equation. The other half is looking good while doing it.
Every kill grants you a certain number of points. If you kill an enemy while performing another action—say, wall-jumping—you get more points. String these moves together quickly enough and you raise your combo score, culminating in a ranking at the end of each level. As far as I can tell, your score has no bearing on the events of the game, but it does encourage a fast-and-tight playstyle that gives My Friend Pedro its charms. Swinging, dodging, flipping, kicking, and shooting, all in slow motion—which you toggle on and off—culminates in a bloody ballet that allows for player creativity and the kind of standout moments that will make you want to bore your friends with an exhaustive recap.
But there’s a more practical aspect to My Friend Pedro’s more acrobatic moves, and that’s because the entire game is a puzzle-platformer disguised as a shooter. Aiming isn’t so important here. What really matters is how quickly you can assess a screen composed of different switches, levers, and gizmos, all while killing cleverly placed enemies before they kill you. Save for a few standalone moments, each level builds upon the last, with new mechanics paced thoughtfully so that you never feel like you don’t know what to do or how to proceed. While the puzzles themselves might be easy to figure out, executing their solutions without taking damage while also keeping your combo score as high as possible can be challenging, especially at the highest difficulty level. Using your slow-motion ability obviously makes things easier, but that’s like saying jumping makes Mario games easier. The entire point is to strategically utilize this mechanic, which drains over time but also recharges when you hit enemies. Even still, when half a dozen enemies are shooting at you all at once and you’re trying to split your aim between two different goons with one button, dodge with another, aim with your right thumb, move with your left, and time your jumps perfectly, it can get tricky fast. The only time My Friend Pedro felt a little out of its element was when it leaned a little too much into its platforming side, though even those levels had a sort of hallucinogenic charm.
You might not even notice that there’s an interesting story going on in the background, but My Friend Pedro manages to weave a darkly satirical narrative with some truly funny moments that also undercut the inherent tragedy and gruesomeness of the protagonist’s quest. I never thought I’d feel feelings for a talking, bloodthirsty banana, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. It’s not going to win any awards for its story, but My Friend Pedro does a lot with a little and concludes on a surprisingly bittersweet, morally complex note.
My Friend Pedro wears its influences on its sleeves—from Hong Kong action flicks to Max Payne to Tony Hawk—and fully leans into the elements that make those things great. It both cows to the genres that made it and displays them in a dingy new light. In that way, it’s like a Tarantino move in game form, both a callback and distinctly original. Trust the banana.
|Publisher: Devolver Digital • Developer: DeadToast Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.20.19|
My Friend Pedro is an enthusiastic, stylish take on the shoot ‘em up genre that’s elevated by its complex level designs and clever puzzles. It combines so many mechanics from so many games that you might lose track, but these elements all come together to create a unified, singular experience. If you ever wondered what you’d get by crossing Hard Boiled and Super Mario Bros., it would look a lot like My Friend Pedro.
|The Good||Platforming, puzzle-solving, and shooting in slow motion create compelling setpieces with cinematic flair.|
|The Bad||The segments that lean too heavily into platforming can slow down the pace.|
|The Ugly||Blowing a guy’s head off then kicking it at his friend is a pretty grim way to keep that combo going.|
|My Friend Pedro is available on Nintendo Switch and PC. Review based on Nintendo Switch version. Review code was provided by Devolver Digital for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|