My Friend Pedro's best moment is the first time you get to use a frying pan to kill someone. This is an action game that bends over backwards to make sure you look cool, where every kill is meant to make you feel special, and the frying pan is the best realization of that vision. The bullets in My Friend Pedro will ricochet off certain objects, and if the angles line up just so--as they do the first time you encounter a frying pan--you can kick the kitchen implement into the room ahead of you, and then take out all the enemies in that room by shooting the pan, watching as bullets ping off it and cut through anyone standing nearby. It's glorious.
In these moments, My Friend Pedro feels like a beautiful, brutal ballet. Indeed, the game is entertaining for most of its runtime precisely because of how over-the-top and theatrical its kills are. Killing enemies by shooting a frying pan, ricocheting your shots off a sign, or kicking an object right into someone's face is entertaining. However, it's also a game that has fewer tricks up its sleeve than it initially suggests, and will run through most of its good ideas just past the halfway point. That’s not to say that the game gets bad--it’s fun all the way through--but it starts to feel less inventive and exciting than those pulpy, crazy earlier levels do.
You play as an unnamed, masked protagonist who is accompanied on his violent journey by Pedro, a talking banana who acts as both narrator and instructor throughout the game. It’s clear early on that there’s something a bit off about Pedro, and while there are some eventual "reveals" to contend with, he’s mostly there to lend the game a sense of weirdness and to offer hints and tips as you go. There's a thin plot, but it's easily ignored--the only really important information is that you need to run through each level killing all the enemies, and if you kill every enemy quickly without dying, you'll get a higher score. There's a score multiplier that allows you to chain kills for more points, and trying to compete for a solid spot on the leaderboards is a good incentive to replay earlier levels on more challenging difficulties.
As you chain together kills through the game's 40 levels, you have opportunities to shoot enemies while going down zip lines, riding on top of rolling barrels, jumping through windows, skateboarding, and bouncing off of walls. You can activate your focus at any moment to line up your shots and time your bullet-dodging spins perfectly. If you have two guns equipped, you can aim them independently, letting you dive right into the middle of a group of enemies with twin uzis blaring in different directions.
Shooting your enemies is a joy, for the most part, but the combat isn't without its faults. The game's default auto-aim assist locks you onto the nearest enemy or potential target if you’re pointing your aiming reticule in their direction, which can sometimes make it more difficult to pull off the stunt you’d envisioned. If an enemy is standing in front of an explosive canister, for instance, aiming past them for that gratifying explosion is difficult because your gun sight won’t pull away from them. Thankfully, you can turn auto-aim down to almost nothing, which gives you more freedom at the cost of making the game a bit more challenging overall.
My Friend Pedro suffers a bit from a lack of enemy variety, and while the style of goon you're facing changes over time--you fight assassins in the second set of levels, then professional gamers not long after--the main difference is that some of them have more health than others. There are some slight variations, but most enemies can be taken down in the exact same way: by pointing and shooting, with or without theatrics. Your enemies will shoot back with increasingly powerful guns, and while you can feel untouchable when you’re diving into a room in slow motion, they put up enough of a fight, even on "Normal" difficulty, that you need to be careful.
Every now and then you might have to deal with a sentry gun or a minefield, too, but the game is at its best when you’re proving your superiority to organic enemies. Those slow-motion dives into hails of enemy bullets that visibly crawl through the air towards you are obviously inspired by The Matrix, and My Friend Pedro gets closer to capturing the feel of that film's shootouts than many of the myriad games that have paid homage to it. There are also a few boss levels to contend with, which are brief diversions that make some attempt to mix things up, but even these peak with the first one. The game runs through most of its ideas for creative ways to kill people pretty quickly, and while that sense of wonder never quite dries up, its truly great moments become more spaced out in the second half.
In later stages, the game features numerous platforming sections as a way of keeping things fresh. They're never complicated enough to require you to really think them through, and several of them suffer from the game's finicky controls. While the movement controls are fine for combat, they're often hard to contend with when you're trying to traverse tricky terrain. When you're asked to roll and jump and slide down ropes with great precision, as you sometimes are, the game stumbles, as the controls don’t lend themselves well to exact platforming. This only really becomes a major problem right near the end, as the final few levels get extra demanding.
The level designs also grow uglier as you go, too--when Pedro explains that you're fighting gamers in the sewers because video games tend to feature sewer levels, it's funny, but not funny enough to justify the drab aesthetics that the sewers display. That's not to say that these levels are devoid of joy--a late mechanic that gives some enemies shields that need to be deactivated adds some nice strategic depth and most levels serve up at least one or two sections where you can pull off some cool moves--but overall they're not as free-wheeling and enjoyable as the game is in its early stages.
There's some padding, and the game suffers whenever there aren't enemies on screen. It's also, oddly enough, less entertaining when you start to get access to more powerful weapons--the late addition of a sniper rifle feels fundamentally at odds with the game's up-close-and-personal action, and while the assault rifle you unlock in the game's second half is powerful and fun to fire, it’s a shame they didn’t go a step further with its wildness and let you dual-wield the best guns for maximum carnage. My Friend Pedro is greatest when you're close enough to the bad guys to warrant continual cost-benefit analyses of running up and kicking them to death, but sometimes the best way to progress is to take out your enemies from a distance by pointing and shooting without much flair.
But then you get to leap through a window on a skateboard, jump and spin through the air in slow-motion, firing uzis at two enemies at once; when you kick an explosive canister around a corner and pop out to shoot it just before it hits an enemy in the face; or when you jump between two walls, spring out of a gap, and take out two guys with a shotgun before they even know you're there. My Friend Pedro might pepper its later stages with fewer exciting moments, but the moments that make the game fun never fully go away. As soon as I finished the game, I restarted at a higher difficulty, keen to test my improved skills on harder enemies.
There are sections in My Friend Pedro that are as satisfying and thrilling as you could hope for in a game like this, where it nails the feeling of being an impossible video game hero who can perform the unimaginable with great style and flair. There's a lot of appeal in replaying your favorite stages over and over, trying to move up the leaderboard. It isn't consistently exhilarating throughout the entire campaign, but My Friend Pedro is worth playing because it’s full of moments where you can jump down a shaft and shoot in two directions in slow motion, or kill an enemy by kicking the skateboard you’re riding into their face, or take out a room full of bad guys with the help of a frying pan. When it dedicates itself to letting you be inventive and weird with how you rack up your kills, My Friend Pedro is wildly enjoyable.