It’s a good time to be an indie developer making games for the Nintendo Switch, and the most recent title to prove that point is My Friend Pedro.
From developer DeadToast Entertainment, the formal entity by sole designer Victor Agren, and renowned indie publisher Devolver Digital, My Friend Pedro is an evolution of Agren’s Flash experience fans of Adult Swim web games might have played a half decade ago. Now as a full-fledged console title, it’s easily one of the most stylish and aesthetically distinctive games I’ve played in quite a while. Even as a $20 indie game meant to be played over just a few sittings, what makes the game truly shine is both its replay value and how it pushes you to engage with its perfection-demanding higher difficulties.
The core conceit is simple, particularly if you’ve ever played Hotline Miami or any of the titles it inspired. You’re a masked killer with a penchant for gunning down bad guys, and this time around, there’s a surreal talking banana to tell you where to go and what to do. Oh, there’s also a pulsing synthwave soundtrack, naturally, and tons of gory violence. What makes My Friend Pedro stand apart is how, like Hotline Miami, it can turn even the most casual of players into score-chasing obsessives and speed runners bent on earning a coveted A or S rank in every one of its 40 levels.
My Friend Pedro shares a lot of its DNA with another recently released indie game called Katana Zero, both of which take a few well-established game ideas and stitch them together in a stylish package. The two titles are Devolver-published games from tiny teams and revolve around a signature slow-mo feature, and both are targeting console gamers solely on the Nintendo Switch, with Steam releases to reach the PC crowd. In Katana Zero, you can slow down time to deflect or dodge bullets with a samurai sword. In My Friend Pedro, you’re slowing down time to make gun shots more precise and yourself more acrobatic. You’ll also look badass while you’re doing it.
My Friend Pedro has a few truly spectacular touches that make it different from your standard bullet time shoot ‘em up. For one, there’s a unique, albeit rather convoluted, set of aerial maneuvers you can pull off to earn extra points and look even cooler while you clear a room of bad guys. Those include flips midair that require that you slow down time, flips off of walls and ledges, shooting in two directions simultaneously, and spinning while grounded or while flipping to dodge bullets.
Do all of these at once — a feat that is not all that easy given the sometimes cumbersome console control scheme — and you can shower an entire room with bullets in pretty much all directions, while dodging enemy fire as you spin and somersault. At the advice of a friend, I remapped the slow-mo feature from the L3 position to the right bumper button on Switch, and I started playing almost exclusively on the Switch Pro controller when I wanted to be more precise with my aiming. That helped a lot. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll feel appropriately like a Keanu Reeves character, equal parts The Matrix and John Wick.
The other nice touches are environmental items and vehicles that mix up the standard breach formula, which can feel overused after the first few dozen times you’re forced to break through a closed door or jump through a pane of glass into a room full of enemies. For instance, toss a frying pan into the air and you can shoot it with bullets from the other side of a sliver of open window to deflect and rain down bullets in a room you’re not even standing in. There are also motorcycle and skateboarding sections that take the standard mix of frenetic action and slowed-down acrobatics and put them on fast-moving rails.
But beyond the relatively thin story and the initial gleam of the slow-mo shooting, what’s going to make My Friend Pedro click for you, or not, is whether you’re really interested in score chasing. That’s where the true depth of the game comes in, and it’s not going to be for everyone.
My Friend Pedro has a steep learning curve for players intent on trying it at its higher difficulties, which is required for those shooting for high scores on the leaderboards. You can achieve A and even S ranking on normal and hard, but you’ll have to toggle on “bananas” mode for the extra score boost to come anywhere near a top 10 score. And I imagine the players who do go deep with My Friend Pedro will predominantly be gunning for the highest scores possible, as there’s not really a reason to replay levels otherwise.
That said, the game never thoroughly communicates central concepts — like the fact that getting hit by an enemy bullet will drastically lower the time you have to continue chaining the combo, or that chaining combos requires you carefully time when you down your last enemy to give you enough buffer to reach the next. Or that you can adjust aim assist if you find yourself needing more precise, manual aiming to avoid taking damage and potentially spoiling a combo, which in turn spoils an entire run if you’re going for a high score. You’re left to figure out those tricks on your own.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the first stage, I discovered that chaining a combo for every single one of the 21 enemies was possible, and about 45 minutes later, I had actually achieved it through a mix of trial-and-error problem-solving and speed-running prowess. I saw my high score skyrocket, earning me an S ranking and a spot at number five on the global Switch leaderboards.
Granted, it was day one, and my performance has since been eviscerated, but it was a stunning revelation to figure out the secret to the upper echelon scores and I was given a rather satisfying reward as a result. Chaining every enemy in a single combo becomes much, much harder in later stages, so I haven’t been able to come close to the top 10 on those levels.
Keep in mind that this is a game that’s designed around these kinds of obsessive replay sessions. At $20, you’ll still get your money’s worth if you do just play through the main story and perhaps try a few of the levels on harder difficulty settings, but there’s not a whole lot to spend your time on unless you really want to dig deep and plan those perfected runs.
That said, the magic of a devilishly simple game like My Friend Pedro is in pulling you in with its flashy appearance and keeping you around with its depth. Just prepare to hit replay... a lot. It takes a while to nail a perfect run, but it’s well worth it when you pull one off.
My Friend Pedro is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.