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The Last Friend

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Skystone Games
Developer: The Stonebot Studio
Release Date: April 21, 2022


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Switch Review - 'The Last Friend'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 2, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Last Friend brings in an army of super-powered dogs to help players drive back the violent mutants and gangs of the apocalypse in a fun, fast-paced hybrid of Tower Defense and Beat-Em-Up.

The titles for games can sometimes be misleading, and The Last Friend is proof. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's a horror game, a dramatic walking simulator, or even an action game with a sad ending. Boot up the game, and you'll find that it is none of the above. You'll also find that it is a game that many fans have been waiting for.

The story goes for a typical setting with an atypical premise. This is a postapocalyptic world, similar to that of "Mad Max." You're named Alpha, and you're a man of few words. Your chihuahua, T. Juan, can speak and has a great many other talents. As you drive along in your RV, you witness a roving gang that's kidnapping dogs. As a dog lover, you cannot let this stand, and you go on a crusade to stop the abductions while also stopping the mad gang leader, who has aspirations for world domination.

The game is broken down into two gameplay styles. The first is tower defense by way of Plants vs. Zombies. You start off with three lanes of approaching enemies, and that later expands to five. You build turrets, and the scrap that falls from enemies is reinvested into building more turrets. Every level you complete gives you access to more dogs, which means more turret types, including water cannons that slow down enemies, mines that are explosive booby traps, and excavators to get more scrap.

The dog biscuits that you acquire in each level can be used to upgrade the dogs, and you can also spend extra scrap to make them construct more powerful structures. Stars are given for completing levels, and you can use them to reinvest in the RV for more abilities, like starting with more scrap or giving your turrets a larger health bar. If you're very familiar with Plants vs. Zombies, you'll find everything here to be the same but with a dog-powered aesthetic. Considering that console players haven't seen this take on tower defense in a long time, the return of that style alone is worth celebrating.

The other gameplay style here is the beat-'em-up. Alpha isn't content to just be a human caretaker of turrets and resource collection, so you can make him go up and down lanes to fight enemies like in Guardian Heroes or Dead Island: Retro Rampage. You can punch and kick foes with some basic combos, and you can even throw them into other lanes to spread out the action between yourself and your dogs. Like the dogs, Alpha can also get upgrades from completing special missions, and he can take some dogs with him to get special abilities, like a strength power-up if his health drops below 30% or the ability to heal turrets while standing next to them.

The addition of a person on the field administering punishment keeps you engaged, since you can't create a bunch of highly leveled-up turrets and watch them do the work. The addition of co-op also makes the game more fun, as evidenced in the console ports of Plants vs. Zombies. The Last Friend modifies things a bit to compensate for the addition of more active characters. For one thing, you have a good number of stages that span the length of several screens horizontally, so there's room for turrets and fisticuffs. Your dog selection is limited to five per level, so you have to balance things out between turret types and whether you'll have a dog specifically for Alpha. The selection is really down to four, since you'll always have T. Juan as a permanent roster member. Failing a level occurs when the RV gets destroyed or Alpha dies, so you'll need to be careful and not get too hurt in a skirmish. Thanks to these restrictions, the game is fun to play without you feeling like you're bulldozing through it.

There are a few minor issues with the game. For one thing, there's not much left to do once you defeat the game. You unlock a boss rush mode, which is nice if you want to max out every dog in the game. You can also replay the levels to get all three stars, but there's a good chance you might have already accomplished this on your first runthrough. That leads to the other complaint about the game, which is that it isn't overly difficult. You will still die a few times when trying to learn the patterns for each boss, but it doesn't take long to figure those out or find cheap ways to eliminate them. There aren't variable difficulty levels to select from if you want a challenge. You'll easily wipe out the game in about roughly six hours, and the difficulty doesn't increase if you bring a friend along. To be fair, the levels never feel like a slog; the tower defense elements and beat-'em-up action never get old.

The overall presentation is solid. The music is good enough to get you hyped for the next fight, and the sound effects have just the right amount of punch to make each hit feel satisfying. There are no voices in the game, but dog lovers will like that each dog you rescue has a distinct bark when they are petted. Graphically, the game goes for a slightly angular look, with a varied color palette that's a bit muted. It's distinct and looks quite nice, especially in motion. The game runs rather well in both portable and docked mode, and it even does so if you fill up every lane with every possible unit, making for a good example of how Unity can run well on the Nintendo system at 60fps.

The Last Friend is awesome. Those who have been looking for a game similar to the first Plants vs. Zombies will instantly fall in love with this, as the core gameplay mechanics faithfully emulate that. The addition of an active participant in the fight gives you much more to do than resource collection and frontline maintenance, while the multi-screen battlefields and boss fights feel like a natural evolution of the formula. It may feel too easy compared to PopCap's classic, especially if you play the whole campaign in co-op mode, but that's a small price to pay for having this game style make a comeback. Unless you absolutely crave a strategy game that will tear you to bits at first glance, The Last Friend is a title that's well worth playing.

Score: 8.5/10

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