I’ve always been hesitant when it comes to dogs in video games. Are they going to get hurt? Am I going to be the one that will be forced to hurt them to defend myself (thanks Doesthedogdie.com for all the spoiler-free warnings ahead of time)? Thankfully, that is a non-issue in The Last Friend, a tower defense/beat-em-up by The Stonebot and published by Skystone Games.
The Last Friend puts you in control of Alpha, a silent-type protagonist whose one goal is to save all dogs in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Alpha isn’t on this journey alone though. His right-hand best friend is T. Juan, a chihuahua that does all the talking for the duo. With 40 dogs to save, Alpha and T. Juan travel through four different themed areas in their trusty R.V. to fight baddies, make dog-loving friends, and free/pet every single dog.
What may be the first thing to jump out is how similar the game is to Plants vs. Zombies, the 2009 mobile game by Popcap. Instead of planting sentient attack plants, Alpha builds turrets that the dogs digitally control (there are no dogs hurt during the playtime of this game), in a familiar three to five lanes arena. However, there is one major difference between the popular tower defense game and this one. Alpha is actively involved in each fight.
He punches, kicks, and throws the enemies around to help his furry friends fight the many different kinds of baddies. Alpha also plays a key role in the different types of fights that happen. For instance, in one level, you’re defending your R.V. from bandits with the help of your dogs, the next, you’re running through a maze, and occasionally, fighting bosses alone as Alpha. I loved the variety of levels because each type never felt stale. When I got tired of defending the R.V., I found myself trying to solve a puzzle or running through a gauntlet.
Next, let’s talk about my favorite topic, dogs. What I felt most while playing is that The Stonebot clearly are dog lovers. Each dog breed from the Corgi (my personal favorite) to the Pug looks cartoony while also fitting perfectly in the universe. Plus, when I found out what each breed could do, my first immediate thought was, “oh, that makes so much sense. That’s clever”. What do I mean by this? Well, take the Newfoundland for example.
Newfoundlands are famous for being water rescue dogs and they’re a passive healer. With the Newfoundland equipped, Alpha is able to heal other units. Then there’s the feisty Pomeranian, THE definition of big dog energy condensed into a tiny creature that’s 90% fur. They control a fire turret. Each of the 40 dogs that you save doesn’t overlap, is upgradable, and has abilities that make sense for what that breed is known for.
Each dog, Alpha, and the R.V. can be upgraded to fit your playstyle. And upgrades become vitally important when you get to the later levels. Upgrades aren’t hard to come by, thankfully. Dogs are upgraded with dog treats, the R.V. is upgraded with stars you get for completing side objectives, and challenge rooms to upgrade Alpha. Many upgrades aren’t the most exciting but they do add up quickly. Particularly with the dogs, the upgrades activate a second form that can be built mid-combat or enhance a passive ability.
However, heed my warning. Spend the upgrades wisely as you may find yourself in a sticky situation when you move to the next area as those are the moments that have the roughest difficulty curves. While the new enemies are manageable and unique, the difficulty comes from learning how to handle all the new ones. Thank goodness for this shakeup though even if it does get tough. Immediately throwing 3-4 new enemies at you in a new area eliminates my one big problem from Plants vs. Zombies getting stale from knowing how to handle easier enemies and getting overpowered before the harder enemies show up. It’s a fantastic mix that always kept me on my toes.
As for the story, it’s unmemorable, and that’s OK. There is no real grand quest, no greater mystery. The story really is just about a dog lover saving dogs. There is dialogue at the start and end of most levels. However, it doesn’t really build on itself. It’s more funny quips or threats that T. Juan and the looming enemies are throwing at each other before the fight begins. The true growth and joy come from freeing each cutie and having them join your team!
This is the long-delayed switch port, and the wait was worth it. The Last Friend feels right at home here. I previously played this game on the PC when it first launched. While the keyboard and mouse worked fine, nothing matches playing a game like this on a controller. Specifically, from my experience, the game just plays better on the Switch. This may be because there are just fewer buttons to use yet the controller layout for how to perform each action just makes more sense. Plus, it runs great too! In my playthrough, I didn’t run into any hitches which feels odd for a port, and may attest to the work The Stonebot has done since delaying this release.
While not being memorable for its story, The Last Friend shines brightly with its mix of level variety, beat-em-up combat, and dogs. There are no stale moments, which is hard to pull off for a Tower Defense-style game. Even after thinking you have a handle on how to conquer a level, a new curveball is thrown your way. Overall, Every dog lover at The Stonebot just showed how great man’s best friend truly is. There is love and care in almost every aspect of this game that will make The Last Friend stick with me for a long, long time.
The Last Friend is available now on PC and will release on Nintendo Switch on April 21st, 2022.
NOTE: My dogs are featured in the Hall of Fame. This was the agreed-upon payment for helping the team film some preview footage prior to its release on PC.
The Last Friend
Overall, Every dog lover at The Stonebot just showed how great man’s best friend truly is. There is love and care in almost every aspect of this game that will make The Last Friend stick with me for a long, long time.