The Last Friend draws from a lot of how we talk about dogs online. It talks about the relationship between dogs and humans in dog-related meme culture distilled to video game form. Humans are “hoomans,” dogs are of course “doggos,” and friends are simply “frens.” You can certainly pet the various dogs in its post-apocalyptic setting and come across a lot of heckin’ good puppers along the way.
Many of these internet jokes have worn away at me over the years (though I still fall back on it, too, when referring to the goodest of good boys). If that language and meme-ification of how we relate the way dogs “speak” sounds like a turn-off to you, that’s fair. But The Last Friend manages to tear through the manufactured framing and struck at the heart of why we assign these goofy personalities and mannerisms to dogs, to begin with. Because they’re not just pets. They’re, well, friends.
But what does it mean to be a four-legged friend in this post-apocalyptic landscape? Canines can’t simply lay around looking cute when their brethren are being kidnapped. Dogs are a commodity: their use is in the weapons they help you create, perhaps echoing the way dogs are commodified in our own increasingly hellish world.
The Last Friend is part beat-em-up, part lane-based tower defense, where each dog you rescue adds a new type of unit for your arsenal as you defend an RV you and your growing collection of furry pals travel in. Each dog you rescue allows you to place a different kind of turret, barrier, or trap on its lanes. In fact, there are so many that I was often overwhelmed by the breadth of options. The standard turret my Chihuahua, T. Juan, spawned acted as the basis of most of my setups. But I used those turrets to also defend the drills set up by my Pumi named DigDug that dug into the ground for more resources, and they were both behind the barriers built by my German Shepherd, a.k.a. Commander.
Those were just some of the dogs building things on the battlefield. There was also a handful helping in more subtle ways — like my Newfoundland, Bella, who repaired turrets I stood next to, or my French Poodle Cher, who provided HP to sustain myself during longer fights. There are dozens of dogs to find in The Last Friend. With each new one, I felt encouraged to experiment with my loadout and the structures I would build. Even if turrets behind an impenetrable defensive wall would usually do the trick. There was enough care put into making each unit feel as distinct as the enemies we faced that, even if I didn’t take a dog with me into the fight, I could at least theorycraft how they might be useful. Assuming my usual bag of tricks failed me.
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The Last Friend is on strong foundations: conceptually and mechanically. Yet I was especially taken in by how it presented a world where dogs create weapons. Developer Stonebot’s art style is vibrant, distinct, and full of charm. Even for a world that is ostensibly post-apocalyptic, it never falls into one color palette for too long. The writing can be cheesy (the aforementioned meme-ification contributes to that), but it more often veered into silly and charming, helped along by exaggerated and expressive character designs for its heroes and villains.
I think that’s my biggest takeaway from The Last Friend. Even as I list out these ideas, I can imagine a dozen different pitfalls or clichés the game could have fallen into. Instead, every single time I worried, Stonebot managed to find a sweet spot. The Last Friend cuts through the noise of my internet-nurtured cynicism and lands somewhere that feels genuine. Even after the WeRateDogs of the world have made dogs in and of themselves a gimmick to be packaged and sold for social media impressions and merchandise sales. The Last Friend feels like it loves dogs rather than wants to convince you that you should. These ones just happen to also man turrets and other artillery alongside being cute as… heck.