Staring at a blank page is intimidating for artists of all forms. The potential for what your work could become, the stress of missing the mark, the inability to just . . . start. It can be overwhelming, and before you know it, frustration looms.
Staring at the (partially) blank page of Chicory - A Colorful Tale, I felt no pause. I only felt a welcoming opportunity.
It's as if somewhere inside of me I knew, from the start, that the artists who worked and worried day and night to make this game had pushed through the uncertainty to make one of the most creative and enjoyable games I've played in my lifetime.
Just the Facts
Developer(s): Greg Lobanov, Alexis Dean-Jones, Madeline Berger, Lena Raine, A Shell in the Pit
Publisher: Finji Co
Platform(s): PC*, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Release Date: June 10, 2021
Key provided by Finji Co.
Chicory - A Colorful Tale is a game by Greg Lobanov, Alexis Dean-Jones, Madeline Berger, Lena Raine, and friends, as its title screen fades up to let you know. Published by Finji Co, Chicory released on June 10 for PC, Mac, PS4 and PS5, and I implore you to not let this one slip by.
In Chicory, you play as a sweet little dog who works as a janitor for the most important person in the Picnic Province, Chicory. Chicory is the Wielder of the Brush, a tool that provides the world with its color. She's the latest in a line of Wielders — protectors and creators of the world's colors who have been around for nearly as long as people have ever known. Your character, the sweet pup who you name in an unexpected way, has been fascinated with the brush, Wielders, and more specifically, Chicory, for a very long time.
"Amongst hard-hitting lessons, Chicory plays with obvious tropes and deals out moments that make you laugh and cry in equal measure."
So when the world's colors suddenly vanish and the all-important brush is found just laying outside of Chicory's room, gone oddly quiet . . . our eager fandog takes it upon themselves to wield the brush and help out! From the town of Luncheon all the way to the mountains of Elevenses, our hero will find a way to bring color back into the world, helping folks solve their problems along the way.
Without spoiling too much, Chicory goes places. It tackles a great many heartfelt subjects throughout its 12-19 hour story.
It's about what it means to be an artist, about the all-consuming beast that is depression, about facing imposter syndrome and dealing with failure.
But it's also about finding ways to persevere and making new friends. It's about the joy of creating, and how the things you spend your life looking for can fall into your lap.
During my journey through Picnic Province, I was constantly surprised by Chicory's endlessly charming cast and the fantastic writing that accompanied each interaction. Amongst hard-hitting lessons, Chicory plays with obvious tropes and deals out moments that make you laugh and cry in equal measure. It isn't anything brand spanking new, with its humor and charm reminiscent of several Mario RPGs (Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga, Paper Mario) and its sudden shifts into heavier subjects bringing to mind fellow indie darling Undertale.
As you'll see throughout this review, it's the level of quality present in every facet of Chicory that takes it from "a game reminiscent of" all the way up to "a game better than."
Chicory is a 2D Zelda-like adventure game that might stand as better than a majority of those games, in my eyes. Scrolling from screen to screen, you'll take your pup through a giant world map, solving unique art-based puzzles and doing tasks for the folks you encounter. To progress each chunk of story, players will complete dungeon-like zones that culminate in some of the most exciting boss battles I've had the pleasure of playing.
Chicory's main gameplay conceit is simple: painting. With an empty black-and-white canvas waiting on each new screen, you are free to pick up your brush (using mouse or controller's right stick) and begin painting life into the world around you. Each region has a specific four-color palette that you can cycle through. But how, where, and why you paint the world is up to you.
Beyond simple creative freedom, the brush is used to solve any and all problems you may run into. The mileage Greg and co. get out of this one simple mechanic is staggering. Puzzles where you have to paint floors to reveal the answers, interactions where folks ask you to paint their house in a specific way, boss battles that ask you to furiously swipe away at an enemy while dodging their incoming attacks.
It may seem impossible, but it truly never gets old. As you progress, your bond with the brush grows as well, unlocking new abilities and stacking new concepts onto an already clever mechanic. Much like those Zeldas I mentioned, each new ability forces you to reconsider the way you interact with the world and to revisit regions, better equipped.
"It's the level of quality present in every facet of Chicory that takes it from 'a game reminiscent of' all the way up to 'a game better than.'"
Puzzles start out simple, but as each new system is introduced, they become increasingly clever and difficult, leading to some satisfying eureka moments. And the boss fights. THE BOSS FIGHTS. They serve as the crescendos for this masterwork, playing out like powerful music videos, keeping you on your toes as you adapt to each fight's conceit. These fights can be a bit hard, but the team has a beautiful suite of accessibility settings in store to ensure anyone can make it through.
All of these things add up to an incredible, sometimes meditative, sometimes wondrously chaotic experience that keeps a perfect pace all throughout.
Graphically, it's a little hard to talk about Chicory. Each world is presented beautifully with a monochromatic coloring book aesthetic, with thick lines and a light details, not dissimilar to the adult mindfulness coloring books that gained popularity in the last few years. Animations have a smooth fluidity to them, with nature swaying as it should and characters moving to and fro as they idle in conversation.
But the hard part comes in discussing your contribution to the overall art design. As stated previously, the world is colorless and it's up to you to decide how to bring it back. For the most part, this painting is an unnecessary thing. If you feel the slightest bit intimidated, you can ignore a lot of it and move on. But believe me when I say that Chicory makes the process of coloring in this world — encouraging even just a splash here and there — a welcoming one.
With its satisfying color palettes and a near-promise that you'll never be able to color within the lines, Chicory's art brings out the child in you. It feels like finger-painting in the early going, both in its messiness and overall joy. As you progress, the game only unlocks further abilities, and before you know it, you've got a full artist's toolbelt. As new skills are doled out, so too are further opportunities to flex your artistic muscles, like the art classes that ask you to recreate pieces (represented in my hilarious recreation of dog art just below), and the gigs you can take redesigning logos for in-world shops.
Playing with the art tools in this welcoming and cozy game made me actually experiment with my artistry in ways I was always too afraid to in other settings. I actually tried to recreate art as best I could and always came away with a deeper appreciation of my abilities. I enjoyed figuring out how best to use each region's color palette, sometimes feeling myself unable to leave a screen until each element was given a proper color.
Your Picnic won't be my Picnic, on a fundamental artistic level, and I love that. As you wander through the land, you'll be reminded of why you painted an area the way you did, and for me, that was always a treat from beginning to end. (Though I did end up regretting just how much I used the paintbucket tool towards the end. . .)
What WILL remain the same in our Picnic Provinces, though, is the absolutely killer soundtrack from composer Lena Raine. Best known for her award-winning work on Celeste and Minecraft, Lena is operating on an entirely different level here in Chicory. With a soundscape alternating between "jaunty and relaxing," Raine perfectly complements each scene. Moments all throughout this game go from pretty neat to a league of its own, all thanks to Raine's soundtrack.
Knowing that Lena is a fan of Final Fantasy 8 — my favorite Final Fantasy with the best soundtrack of all time — I have to imagine the general FF8 influences I heard in bass riffs and laced throughout had to be nods, right? . . . Right?
Games like Chicory are the reason I started video games are good. In the same way that games like Celeste and Undertale came across as artists operating at their highest potential to bring us genre-defining indie hits, so too does Chicory.
I first introduced people to this site with a letter about how the name, video games are good, came from my near-constant (and involuntary) declarations of the phrase while playing certain mind-blowingly special games. How these moments where art pulled such strong emotions out of me were worth celebrating, worth chasing after. And how games were the only medium that did that with any real regularity.
As I approached the end of Chicory, wiping tears out of my eyes and grinning like a fool, it became immediately apparent that this game had broken through as one of those special games. As one of my favorites of all time. At some point I knew where Chicory would rank in my books, and it blew me away. I didn't think we'd get here so soon, but . . .
video games are good and Chicory - A Colorful Tale is . . . TRANSCENDENT. (10/10)
+ fantastic soundtrack, simple and constantly evolving painting gameplay hook. a piece of art that asks you to contribute as much as it asks you to appreciate
- i just want more
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