Bree somehow managed to weasel her way into a game design degree, hasn't stopped playing Skyrim since it first came out and is unrelentingly thirsty for Nagito Komaeda.
PS4, PC, PS5
June 10, 2021
It may not look it, but Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a game about imposter syndrome. It lulls you into a false sense of security, with the cute characters and dialog and with the way you can literally colour the world with a magical paintbrush. Then, out of nowhere, it solidifies itself as a much more hard hitting, and emotional experience.
This moment, for me, was entering a simple black room. The world’s colour inverted and all of a sudden I was trapped in a boss fight with a giant staring eyeball, the music intense and pounding. It felt like such a shock compared to the rest of the experience, and when I was finished with it, the game just… went back to normal. At least for a little bit. Chicory is a lot more than it seems on the surface, and that is what makes it so special.
The game opens with a dog that the player will end up naming after their favourite food. In my case, her name was Lasagne. They are the janitor, employed by the wielder of the magical paintbrush, whose job it is to keep the world colourful. Lasagne has always dreamed of something bigger, of one day being able to wield the brush herself, so when they find the brush mysteriously abandoned by the current wielder.. .well… can you really blame her for taking it for a spin?
At it’s heart, Chicory is a puzzle platformer with RPG elements. While there is an expansive world to explore and characters to talk to, these elements are not the main meat of the gameplay. This comes on each trip to a new area where you will find new elements blocking your progress. You will need to use the brush that you picked up to solve puzzles, or traverse landscapes in different ways.
As you play the game you unlock new abilities for the brush, each one more intuitive and gameplay-altering than the next. First, you can paint, of course. But as time passes you learn how to manipulate your environment, finding different native plants that grow, shrink, sometimes even fling you off into the air. While the paint is the central object you use to control the world, it really does end up being a genuinely smart puzzle game at some points, working out exactly how to move from one end of a screen to another with only the trusty brush in hand.
The brush itself eventually gains new abilities too. Such as lighting up dark areas or even letting you swim through the paint like an Inkling from Splatoon. Eventually you can even swim up walls or through the ocean so long as it is coated in a liberal splattering of paint. Chicory does an amazing job of signposting areas where you will learn new abilities, teasing you with a glimpse of something interesting the next screen over that you are as of yet unable to access. I was amazed at how easily it managed to surpass my expectations with each new powerup. Seeing two trees blocking my path, I waited for the game to give me a way to destroy them. Instead, your paint swimming ability allows you to slip in between them – entirely not what I expected, but entirely more satisfying.
“The emotions and struggles it addresses are very real and intimidating, but it never dwells on them for too long.”
Picnic, the island that Chicory takes place on, is incredibly interesting. Not just to traverse, but also to slow down a little and take the time to talk to every animal that you see on the street. Everyone else is also named after food, and they all manage to be completely diverse and interesting characters with their own side quests, cute and well integrated tutorials, and most of all, opportunities for your character to banter with them. You learn so much about the player character through discussion with the other NPCs, and it gives them a chance to talk about how the quest they have been thrust into actually makes them feel.
Your parents are also a constant staple of the game. You can call home for hints from any phone booth at any time and your Mum will give you a subtle nudge in the right direction. If you still need more help, you can ask mum to pass the phone to Dad and he will tell you exactly what to do from there. It was so cute that I didn’t even feel bad for how many times I needed to get Dad to give me directions because I kept forgetting where I was meant to go next.
The other character you will spend the most time with is Chicory. The character for whom the game is named, like a looming reminder that maybe you were never meant to be the protagonist. Maybe this is just a role you have inherited from somewhere else.
Chicory isn’t doing so well. The fact that they let you take the brush in the first place should be a sign enough in itself, but as you play more of the game you realise that things go a lot deeper. This is where the boss fights come in; you have to travel across the island to defeat the corruption inside a series of evil looking trees, a task that maybe was never supposed to be yours.
Throughout the game, Lasagne often asks herself if she is really the right person to be the new wielder, if maybe there is someone else better for the job, and if she should just give the brush back to Chicory. Despite all the words of encouragement from friends and family, the doubt only grows stronger. There was a point in the game when I realised that Lasagne wasn’t smiling anymore. It was so subtle, and so incredibly powerful.
The province of Picnic leads you along delicately, with plenty of sign posting to keep you eager to learn more about what there is to find. Each area feels different, with new plants, new mechanics and a new track in the amazing soundtrack. The music is subtle and understated, but enough to make every location in the game feel different and vibrant, from the cheery sounds in the big city of Dinners to the calming music in the rainforest. It carries you the whole way though the game, and it really kicks in when you finally reach one of the boss fights. All of a sudden, you are listening to a downright banger.
The boss fights are such an intense tonal shift that every single time they will rip you to shreds, not only with the change in music and gameplay style, but with what each fight actually represents, and what each fight makes you feel. It is brutal, it doesn’t hold its punches, but it never feels… mean. Chicory does an amazing job of maintaining the perfect balance between realism and fiction. The emotions and struggles it addresses are very real and intimidating, but it never dwells on them for too long. Just enough to get you thinking before letting you back out to paint the world. I would dare call it a perfect balance.
Every little detail does such an amazing job of capturing exactly what the game is trying to be. Cute little additions work well, like the ability to change your clothes, decorate your small lonely house, and of course the painting. It feels like such a wonderful escape and so much fun, but it quickly reminds you that even something that seems fun and freeing (like painting!) can still twist into a painful and inescapable desire for perfectionism.
Chicory asks me to draw a portrait of her. I do my best with the keyboard and mouse, and my lacklustre art skills. When she shows me the drawing she did of me in return, my heart sinks. I suck.
Chicory smiles, and later you find the painting hanging up in her room. Maybe you didn’t suck so much after all.
This is what the game aims to teach. That you don’t have to be perfect, that you don’t have to be a chosen one. Everyone in the world has the capacity to do good and no one person should have to wear that burden on their own. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay not to be okay.
Chicory: A Colorful tale is an adorable little adventure with clever puzzles, cute writing, characters and hardstyle. The painting mechanics are incredibly well utilized and keep the gameplay constantly fresh while the gripping story keeps you wanting to play more and more. It also has plenty of secrets and items to find that keep the game replayable if you want to continue exploring. These things alone would make a good game, but the intelligent and heartfelt story is what makes it amazing. You learn so much about the characters and yourself while playing Chicory and it teaches such wonderful lessons that are applicable to anyone of any age. The writing and the world work together so perfectly to create an experience that is both fun and cute, while also being deeply profound. It isn’t a grand, sweeping story. It is small, it is personal and it hits incredibly close to home.