An adventure title that flips between an explorative corridor and interesting scenes of gameplay, The Last Show of Mr. Chardish is held together by its strong narrative. Combined with a beautiful, rough around the edges art style and unique execution of the plot, what we get is a game that really impressed. By the end of its short playthrough, I was most struck by the different ways the title expressed scenes and with how well it stuck the landing.
The Last Show of Mr. Chardish is available now on Steam for your regional pricing.
STORY – THE STRUGGLE OF THE STAGE
It is obvious from the start that the largest inspiration for this game is What Remains of Edith Finch. Initially presenting itself as a walking simulator, as the story unfolds, we get a glimpse into the history of the theater and the life of Mr. Chardish himself. There are somewhat ephemeral notes and audio clips to collect that flesh out the narrative even more, but much like its influence, we learn the most through self-contained gameplay diversions that explain things more artistically.
We begin the game as Ella, an actress who returns to the now-derelict theater she once called home. As she takes a stroll through the landscape and the building itself, she listens to an audiotape of the last interview with Robert Chardish before he died. We learn that he started the theater with lofty aspirations and a love of the stage but never achieved the success he desired. Ella eventually left to move on to larger projects, and the rest of the story is an exploration of how the loss of his partner and the struggle to continue affected Robert’s life and relationships.
I was immediately drawn into the storyline, as the setting, pacing, and performances are all incredibly well done. Voice performances are more than just reading lines, and the acting in this title is compelling and emotive. What’s more, even beyond the writing and performances, the set-pieces are crafted to invoke the theme of each story beat. Ella’s interstitials are reflective and solemn, as she is maneuvering the bones of a once beautiful theater, and each of the five interactive plays is distinct from the others, allowing each part to effectively project a different moment in time.
The idea of unfolding the tale of how a small country theater slowly fell apart might not sound very compelling, but it’s the interactions between the actors and the acknowledgment of their flaws that help ground the story while also presenting it as fantastical and imaginary. Robert is a bad manager, hurts those around him, and spends his life suffering from his loneliness, but on stage, he is great.
However, as much as it succeeds in telling the tale of Robert, Ella is underrepresented as a supporting character. Considering that we control her in each intermission, we never learn key things to flesh out her story. What did she do after she left Robert? What, beyond his death, brought her back? How did she feel in the time between? The game does a great job doing what it claims, that is, telling the last tale of Mr. Chardish, but I can’t help myself but want more, both about and for Ella as a character.
GAMEPLAY – A VARIETY OF EXPRESSION
In actuality, the game features six different gameplay mechanics. We start playing as Ella as she explores the space, progressing through the ruins of the old stage, collecting old papers, and moving from room to room. Each story section is expressed through items that she finds in the rubble, such as an old mask. When she puts it on, we are moved to different spaces, the imaginative expression of each of Robert’s plays.
The first, Solitude, is about the initial loneliness Robert experienced when he opened the theater. He moves through a world, and to progress, must solve puzzles using theater lights. In this display of the story, the lights create items wherever they are pointed. For example, a pathway might be inaccessible, but by dragging the lights to the correct position, a staircase will appear.
Later on, we take the form of a pair of robots escaping a factory, a bird flying towards freedom, a child fighting the pests of his youth, and repaint the world with the colors of love (and a giant paintbrush). Each stood on its own and were delightful in their own way, as they required different skill sets and approaches to reach the end of the level.
Being placed into a new area with new mechanics was exciting each time, and I liked how there weren’t any repetitive elements that carried through each scene. There are overarching themes, of course, like the art style and the ever-present audio narration that really provides the story. But at no time was I concerned with the message of the plot falling short because of an intended mechanic.
There are hidden audio collectibles to discover in each section of the game, just as there are hidden notes and paper items to collect during the intermission areas as Ella. These provide additional context to the main storyline, and often the audio is a supporting quote or conversation to the ongoing narrative.
The sound clips are nice additions to the story, but the notes are, more often than not, just bits of filler to find and grab throughout the theater. I’m talking about instructions for hairstyles, invoices from vendors, and notes between the cast that don’t really expand upon anything substantial. They are a nice set-piece but considering the size of the game, quite unnecessary. I have to think that these moments might have been better suited for additional character development.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – TWO SIDES OF A COIN
When it comes to talking about the graphics, there are two things we need to talk about. First, I want to praise the art style. It’s colorful and fun but almost intentionally rough, like an artist’s painting before it’s had time to dry. There are visible strokes everywhere, making the game look like a cross between an art piece and a PlayStation 2-era adventure title. It all looks striking, and even between the different play areas, there aren’t any set-pieces or environment elements that appear jarring or out of place.
They do, however, have a problem with pop-in. We are, of course, talking about the sudden “pop” of graphical elements into a scene; this is most commonly found in the resolution of certain textures. A common example is with terrain; oftentimes, in a game, you’ll notice that it suddenly “pops in” as the game struggles to load the necessary texture.
Well, in this game, I dealt with pop-in of objects and entire level areas. I was repeatedly forced to reload checkpoints or pause the game until the level finished loading before I could progress, especially in the middle third of the game. It was an extremely frustrating ordeal, but what was most unnerving is that I didn’t have any issues when playing the demo, which performed so well that it sold me on the final product.
This all being said, considering the relative size of the overall title, waiting through a few seconds of visible load times isn’t a deal-breaker. Heck, it might even be more interesting to watch the process in place of a traditional loading screen. I was, of course, further pacified by the continuous play of the soundtrack.
Speaking of the soundtrack, a curated version is also available on Steam. Instead of a large batch of raw audio files, the developers hand-picked the most thematically impactful tracks and put together an album that showcases the sounds of the game. It’s very easy to disregard the background sounds of a video game, but in this case, it ended up being as impactful to the story as the vocal work. I’d like to specifically note the Anger level and its accompanying music, which really fit the themes and actions of that particular area.
The Last Show of Mr. Chardish was reviewed on PC. A key was provided by Hydra Games.