These bad dudes wanted to hurt my dogs. What other motivation could I possibly need to beat the snot out of them? Fortunately, I was armed with some slick punching combinations, and had a wall of turrets … manned by chihuahuas.
The Last Friend, by El Salvador-based developer Stonebot Studios, is hilariously odd, with a premise anyone can get behind. I went hands-on with it at PAX West 2021, and found a game that was a little bit tower defense, a little bit beat-’em-up, and a whole lot of fun.
Dogs in danger
You are Alpha, a dog-loving tough guy in a postapocalyptic wasteland. You rescue a chihuahua from some dognapping mutants, and embark on a quest to figure out why the rest of the world’s dogs are missing.
With that simple setup in mind, I started my demo. Levels in The Last Friend are a mix of tower defense games, like Plants Vs. Zombies, and beat-’em-ups, ala River City Ransom. The art style was aptly described to me as “Hanna-Barbera meets Mad Max,” as cartoonish figures with mohawks and leather speedos attempt to break through your defenses and destroy your rescue truck. Enemies spawn in waves, and you can place dog-powered defenses in a grid or beat enemies up with your bare hands.
The first level begins with a small trickle of enemies. T. Juan, the dog I rescued, could be placed anywhere in the grid, manning a constantly firing turret. It’s not really T. Juan in the turret, they tell me. It’s a digital representation. That’s why I can make more than one, and why I shouldn’t feel bad if it gets destroyed. Placing a turret costs scrap, which is dropped by enemies.
Alpha’s fists and army of cyber T. Juans made short work of the enemies. Once the last wave was clear, I opened a cage, freeing a trapped dog. Each dog you rescue joins Alpha on his journey and unlocks a new ability or defense. Over the course of the demo, I unlocked dogs that drilled for scrap, formed durable barriers, squirted water at enemies (useful for slowing down foes and putting out fires), and allowed Alpha to heal defenses around him.
Grow your pack
At the completion of a level, you are given a star rating based on your performance. Earning more stars awards you more dog treats, the upgrade currency in The Last Friend.
After a few levels (separated in a Super Mario World-like overworld), I made camp, where I could chat with and pet my doggo friends and purchase upgrades using my dog treats. It’s a nice break in the action, and the strategy of deciding which upgrades to invest in is fun.
As I neared the end of the first overworld, the levels became increasingly difficult. Large enemies with massive health forced me to dodge and fight cautiously. Molotov cocktail-throwing bad guys temporarily set parts of the map ablaze. It was a nice ramp-up in intensity, and made smart doggy deployment a necessity.
In my short time with The Last Friend, I found a funny and charming game. If it can successfully marry its endearing style with the hybrid beat-’em-up/tower defense formula, this could be a doggone good time when it releases September 30 for Steam and Nintendo Switch.