The problem isn’t that so many games are centered around guns and violence. That would be a far larger pop-culture discussion than any one medium should shoulder. The issue is that so many games that are built around gunplay essentially ask the player to do the same thing: point and shoot.
“My Friend Pedro,” however, tweaks the formula, a slick little indie game that feels authored rather than built by a committee. While violent — and essentially insane — the game concocts a loose, corporate-revenge plot that ultimately becomes an excuse to play at being a stunt coordinator.
Taking a relatively wide-angle lens approach to the action, “My Friend Pedro” asks players to plot out the action scenes before engaging them. Once movement begins, a press of a button allows us to enter a slow-motion mode, where one can assign multiple targets or entertain some ballet-like spins (spins, of course, evade incoming bullets).
In turn, “My Friend Pedro” asks us to rethink video game action, with moments of what would normally be cringe-inducing bloodshed turning into a grand dance. Think of it like playing “John Wick,” which itself is getting a hotly anticipated game with a team led by Mike Bithell, who developed the indie game “Volume,” another title that emphasizes time-based gameplay.
Like “Superhot,” these aren’t games that tweak time as a gimmick; instead, “My Friend Pedro” wants us to make use of a full environment, twisting, gliding and spinning off walls, under lasers, on top of skateboards or through dream-like worlds with giant bananas.
So, about that banana.
Lending “My Friend Pedro” either a more macabre bent or a more lighthearted one — perhaps depending on your own depravity — the “Pedro” of the game’s title is actually a talking banana. Pedro is essentially the instigator for all the action, telling us at the start that we’ve been kidnapped and aren’t long for this world — unless we fight our way out.
Playing the game requires that we believe said banana, who tells us that a meat factory — let’s just say they’re obviously not practicing any humane methods — is essentially a front for gun smuggling, Yet Pedro’s presence does lend a nagging, sinister backdrop to all this exquisitely designed action.
For instance, who is sicker — an organized crime outfit or a person listening to a talking piece of fruit? At no point, however, does the game raise such a question. The banana tells us our life is in danger, and when people are trying to kill you and a talking banana is trying to keep you alive, you trust the banana.
Pedro does provide comic relief. An abandoned warehouse, Pedro tells us, was a place the banana once raved. And we venture briefly into Pedro’s homeland, a “Willy Wonka”-ish world of crescent moons, upside-down houses and rainbows. There are some twists at the end, but the game strays from any tough questions.
That’s fine, as one gets the sense Deadtoast Entertainment, essentially Swedish game designer Victor Agren, is largely challenging us to create the most cleverly outlandish action scenes possible (tip: use a skateboard, or the bullet-deflecting frying pan). So perhaps “My Friend Pedro” says something about our world after all, as we live in an universe where a talking, murder-inducing banana can be viewed as whimsical rather than horrific.
‘My Friend Pedro’
Developer: Dead Toast Entertainment
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch