In The Last Friend, you play as Alpha, a silent protagonist who is guided by T. Juan, a poncho-wearing, talking, and RV driving chihuahua, through a post-apocalyptic land to free dogs from punks and then turn those dogs into weapons against said punks. If that sounded a bit crazy, that’s because it is. The game has a zany sense of humor, which may not be for everyone, but is consistent through the story and characters.
As the story progresses, T. Juan does most of the talking and exposition, as Alpha, despite being human, speaks only through grunts and grumbles. Through their journey, they meet other colorful characters such as the mysterious mentor, Lone Wolf, who teaches Alpha new moves, and Legit, the pyromaniac influencer who serves as the game’s first boss.
But that’s enough about humans, the real stars of the show are the dogs. At the end of most levels, Alpha will find and rescue a new dog. In a Pokémon-esque manner, the dogs are initially named after their breed, but the player can change the names as desired. This was one of the most enjoyable moments for me, as giving the dogs interesting and perfectly reasonable names such as Deathdriver or Professor Fuzzy Bum made me feel all that more attached to them. You can check on your dogs at any time on the world map, by choosing the option to camp you are taken to a screen where you can hang out with them and make upgrades to your RV. And yes, you can pet them. Arguably more important, each dog brings with it a new combat mechanic.
The combat system in The Last Friend is a chaotic mix of classic beat ‘em up with tower defense. This means you control Alpha, who punches and kicks waves of oncoming enemies who are trying to trash his van. Alpha also uses scrap, a currency dropped by enemies, to place dog-operated weapons through the levels, each one has a unique effect. T. Juan the chihuahua has the basic turret, which damages enemies, but Wet Blanket the Barbet fires water bullets which slows them down and can put out fires, and Turtle the German Shepherd can build a shield that halts the incoming enemies. Other dogs, such as Crep the French Poodle and Olivia Newton-John the Jack Russell Terrier enhance Alpha’s abilities, giving him more health points and speed, respectively.
The player is limited in how many dogs they can take into combat, however. And there is the strategy to making the choices, as some dogs may work better against specific enemies or together with other dogs. In some rare levels, specific dogs are required, and in those cases, the player is informed of that before starting the encounter.
The strategy, however, is diminished in some levels where the player is not allowed to bring or construct any turrets. Those levels are usually “challenge levels” which lead to new abilities for Alpha, or boss encounters. The choice to limit the players in that way when so much of the game is designed around the dogs and the turrets is a strange one and those levels were the least enjoyable of the group.
Overall, The Last Friend is a fun game, best enjoyed in short bursts as the gameplay can get a bit repetitive with time. While some level design choices can undermine the strategic layer of the game, it was a joy to be part of the pack.
Publisher: Skystone Games Inc.
Developer: The Stonebot Studio, Ludus Games
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 30 Sep 2021
Genres: Action, Indie, Strategy
Pictures of the game: Screenshots, taken by the author.
Disclaimer: The reviewer got a review copy of the game for free.