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May 2021

The Last Show Of Mr. Chardish

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Hydra Games
Developer: Punk Notion
Release Date: Nov. 5, 2020


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PC Review - 'The Last Show of Mr. Chardish'

by Cody Medellin on April 14, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Last Show Of Mr. Chardish is a reflection on the power of creative expression as you explore a variety of magical, hand-painted worlds and piece together the story of your past.

The success of the walking simulator has led to scores of them over the past decade. Most are notable for being breezy adventures, some with no semblance of challenge, focused solely on telling an interesting tale. Some try to break the mold by doing something interesting or unexpected to grab a player's attention in the increasingly crowded genre. For The Last Show of Mr. Chardish, that hook comes from actual gameplay.

The Last Show of Mr. Chardish takes place in the mid-1970s, and you start the game in the role of Elle, an English actress who has found success in America. She is at a hotel in a small English town, beckoned by a letter from Richard Chardish who has since died. A playwright, actor, and theater runner, Mr. Chardish happened to run the theater that gave Elle her big break. You find your way to the theater, which is in a state of disrepair, and you wander around the premises and view notes left behind by others, while also going through some of the big plays the theater has hosted in the past.

Your journey through the theater is accompanied by a recording of Chardish's final interview with a radio show that is a significant catalyst for the tale. While you explore, the interview goes through the history of Chardish's work, working back chronologically instead of forward. Learning that this is how you explore the plays, you get to see how it all ends and then work your way backward so you end up at the beginning just when the theater was getting its big break. Instead of a somber story, you get a celebration of Chardish's life.

That story flow is heavily reflected in the plays that you encounter. As the name would suggest, "Solitude" encapsulates Chardish's life on stage told in actual chronological order, going from working with a small crew to ending up being on the stage alone. "Symmetry" might be bathed in a sci-fi light with the actors playing the role of robots, but the disguised apocalyptic setting also conveys a sense of loss at the end. "Anger" becomes an anti-fairy tale, as a musketeer keeps fighting only to lose everything. "Ascension" tells the tale of a bird trying to break free and fly to the greatest heights he can. Finally, "Daydreaming" sticks to the fairy tale structure as a man discovers how to paint the world with the help of a magic paintbrush and a flutist. Each tale does a great job of telling a captivating tale while also being a good metaphor for Chardish's life.

One issue some people may have with the story is how it relegates Elle to a background role. It makes a little sense since the story is about Chardish, and the focus is on him. However, the story paints Elle as a big enough part of Chardish's life that hearing more about her and why she made the decision to leave the troupe would further flesh out Chardish's timeline. The story still comes off well, but it wouldn't have hurt to add more from Elle.

As far as gameplay goes, the theater portions play out as expected. You walk around the abandoned theater, opening doors and picking up objects of interest to flesh out the story. There aren't any real puzzles to solve, and just about any interactive object has a bright dot on it, so it's difficult to miss them. Aside from that, the only big thing you're looking for are the masks that take you into the plays once you don them.

Once you're inside a play, the title moves away from the central walking mechanic and instead focuses on more traditional gameplay mechanics. The catch is that each play focuses on one mechanic rather than slowly combining all of them as you get closer to the end. "Daydreaming" has you painting the world with a giant brush, occasionally triggering events as a result of the world's introduction to color. "Anger" sees you in combat as you use your sword to beat up on bees and chickens. "Ascension" begins with you darting toward targets before taking on flight.

The more interesting mechanics are in the early plays. "Solitude" is all about manipulating light to make objects and passageways appear, and while "Symmetry" may have standard platforming portions, there are moments when you control two robots at once. None of the mechanics are ever placed in situations that pose a real challenge to the player, but they create a more interactive experience when compared to other offerings in the genre.

The Last Show of Mr. Chardish is short, running around 90 minutes if you simply complete the story beats. That sounds very short on paper, but it feels like just the right length when you're playing; it never gives itself time to feel stale or slow down the story pace for the sake of padding. If you want the experience to last longer, the game features several sound spots scattered throughout each play, and they take on the form of a light ball or gramophone or jukebox. Activating these spots provides the player with a snippet of dialogue from some of the characters of the theater, and they either accentuate or contrast the play in relation to the things happening to the theater at the time. They aren't essential to understanding the story, but those who value plot over action will appreciate the further insight that the sound spots provide.

The presentation is brilliant. Audio-wise, the soundtrack is tremendous, with each tune contributing heavily to make each play feel whimsical or epic. This is especially notable in the play "Anger," which starts off fancifully, but the march to frustration gradually becomes apparent. The soundtrack does a lot of the heavy lifting to get the story to that conclusion. The voice acting is also well done, with the small cast pulling off a solid job in their inflections and delivery of each line.

Graphically, the only issue is the same one that plagues most Unreal Engine-powered games, as there are some areas where detailed texture pop-in is readily apparent. Other than that, the game is impressive in the visuals department, specifically during any of the plays, which are all displayed with a mix of papier-mâché and a watercolor style that looks beautiful. It's also impressive as far as keeping the frame rate stable while there are tons of objects and particles on-screen, as seen in places like "Anger," which floods the screen with confetti during that play's final moments.

The Last Show of Mr. Chardish is a gem of a title. Although some may wish that the story encompassed more than just one character in a detailed manner, the tale is fascinating due to the subject matter and the flashback/reverse order in which the tale is told. The actual gameplay sections are engaging even though most of it is rather simple, and the inclusion of a few secrets rewards those who would rather spend some time exploring each play rather than rushing through them. It's short but feels perfect in length, and those who enjoy a good narrative would definitely enjoy this game.

Score: 8.5/10

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