My Friend Pedro is a side-scrolling, twin-stick, bullet-time, arcadey shooter-platformer. It has also been one of our favourite gaming experiences of the year, entertaining us on flights to and from E3 (which, for a game of this size, should be enough to both see the end credits and to hit some high scores). Victor Agren's first full game is also a very Devolver-ish title in the sense that it's both retro-styled and violently action-packed, meaning it should cater to any fan of the label's typical lineup.
Gameplay is king here, as the whole experience is built around the main movement and shooting mechanics. This system allows you to control the protagonist - an amnesiac assassin guided by a talking banana - in a very accurate and rewarding way. Basically, you can walk and aim in different directions (twin-stick-style or keyboard + mouse), allowing you to deliver 360º shots while avoiding hazards and moving around the 2D stages. Add to this some deliberately floaty physics, the ability to trigger slow-motion and dodge bullets, and the help of a locked-on secondary target (which means two directions for dual-wielded weapons), and you'll get an immensely satisfying premise, so much so that it's probably the best bullet-time gunplay we've had since the times of Max Payne or FEAR.
It's clear that Agren has been honing the system for some years now, ever since its Flash-based original prototype in fact. As such, the response is very accurate most of the time, and the levels are well thought-out for the most part. It's all about 'dancing' through the incoming bullets while looking for the best angles and positions to hit back. Jump, shoot, take cover, reload, go slow-mo, grab a zip line, then roll to a hook, dodge some bullets, air-kick someone in the face, start again.
As you progress through the levels you must foresee the movement and locations of enemies, as well as how the environment and its dangers are laid out. The main goal (other than your satisfaction) is to score S ratings, and that means turning up the difficulty level, killing all the enemies, taking the least damage possible, acting swiftly and - above all else - trying to keep the combo multiplier running, which also involves being stylish. This, of course, reminded us of other classics such as Viewtiful Joe and kept us coming back for more.
Every stage feels like it offers something new, at the same time introducing new weapons, interactive objects, and fancy moves. The game peaks when you start dealing with shotguns and the metallic elements, allowing for some delicious bullet rebounds, such as plates or even frying pans. You can find these frying pans on the ground, kick them or shoot them up, then keep them in the air by shooting at them, while the bullets are delivered to several unsuspecting targets.
Not all of the ideas are as rewarding in terms of pace and engagement. It's not that any of the stages feel repetitive, given the dev's determination to keep things fresh (and some of the ideas are great, almost turning the game into a puzzle), but some of those concepts are just not as inspired, and the environments themselves do feel repetitive at times. We're not so sure either about some of the skateboarding sections and the way crates block your way at times, nor about the psychedelic mid-act, even though it introduces a fancy propeller hat.
The comic-like story, setting, and dialogue make for some hilarious moments (beware for haters and angry gamers), and the localisation for different languages is top-notch, which is something we appreciated. The game is well-polished and runs fine, which is a must for this kind of accuracy-based experience, but it looks kind of ugly and rough around the edges, which somehow detracts from the on-screen bullet-hell spectacle.
When the dust has settled though it's lots of fun and we see ourselves strengthening our friendship with Pedro every now and then during the summer, as its core gunplay and platforming is just so tight and rewarding. It's perhaps not as sharp and elegant as the recently-launched Katana Zero, to draw a bit of an unfair comparison as they're not exactly the same, but My Friend Pedro is another addictive addition to Devolver's ever-growing lineup of quirky action-packed hits.