Chicory: A Colorful Tale (2021)
Developer: Greg Lobanov, Alexis Dean-Jones, Lena Raine, Madeleine Berger, A Shell in the Pit
I'm so excited to be putting out this review about two weeks after release, as this is a game I've been looking forward to for a long time. I backed this game on Kickstarter without a second thought because it was being headed by Greg Lobanov, creator of Wandersong (currently still #2 on the Sleepy Toadstool ranked list). I only began supporting new Kickstarter projects was in 2019, and Chicory: A Colorful Tale is the first of those supported projects to come to fruition. It's exciting to see the brand new game all ready for you on day one after being there for the first announcement for it. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a top-down adventure game in a coloring book world that's yours to create. Chicory is incredibly emotional, relatable, and charming in its story and characters while also managing to make anyone feel creatively uninhibited with its unique gameplay.
The first thing you're asked to enter when you start is not your name, but instead, your favorite food. Except, almost everyone in this world is named after a food so it turns out you did just enter in your character's name after all (the name I gave, "Bread", eventually grew on me). In the world of Chicory, one artist is assigned to be the "wielder" of a magical brush that gives color and art to the province of Picnic. You play as a small dog works as a janitor in the Wielder Tower, where the current wielder lives. This protagonist a big fan of the current wielder, a bunny named Chicory who appears to be vastly talented. You're working hard at cleaning the studio, when suddenly the room shakes violently and all the color is gone, leaving everything blank. Thinking you caused it with your cleaning, you go alert Chicory of the situation. Instead, you stumble upon the magical brush on the ground outside of Chicory's locked door. Deciding to fix the problem yourself, you snatch the brush and proceed out of the building to paint the town. After some adventures, you decide to return the brush to Chicory, only to find she has renounced the brush and doesn't want it back. She's clearly not doing okay, but she doesn't want to be bothered, so you proudly take on the task of wielder. You're gutsy and determined to continue painting everything back in as well as fighting the mysterious root of "corruption" that seems to be making black trees appear throughout Picnic. In the town of Luncheon, where you live, towns folk will ask you to paint their homes, design logos, and help put the color back in their town, which you're happy to do. The trend continues as you travel on, with everyone you meet asking you, the new wielder, for help with anything and everything.
As you would expect from Lena Raine, the music in Chicory is absolutely stellar. It portrays both the serene, peaceful, bubbly world of Picnic as well as the incredibly heavy and stressful moments, such as boss fights. Did the boss fight music sometimes remind me of Celeste? Yes, but that's definitely not a bad thing. There's also a beautiful, powerful lyrical track to top it all off. The art is just as the description says - like a fresh coloring book. That means it's got incredibly crisp, clear black lines in a blank world. It makes color pop incredibly well, whether you color in an object, a character, or just run your brush across the screen. Since you are essentially responsible for coloring in the world, it can look incredibly different depending on what you choose to do. Through most of the game, you're limited to a palette of 4 different colors, with the colors depending on what area of Picnic you're currently in. However, a later in the game you're given the freedom to be a little more creative (I won't say more than that). You can also give your character a look all of your own using the incredibly vast number of clothing items you can find everywhere. One incredibly wacky and amazing feature of Chicory is the ability to make animated gifs out of anything you draw. This includes both drawing in the overworld and drawing paintings as part of the your art class sidequest. I think it's genius, as obviously everyone loves gifs and it encourages players to post about their creations to social media.
Much like in Wandersong, each character in Chicory is quite fleshed out and has a lot to their story that you can discover if you spend time talking to them. One of the most emotional parts of the game for me was actually a side-quest story with non-protagonist characters that completely caught me off guard. This is what made it so worthwhile for me to play this game to the fullest. Even when I knew I could go to the end part of the game, I continued exploring to fill my map, finish sidequests, and find new clothing items. As I've said before, I'm not a completionist, so it was definitely story and exploration based motivation for me to continue to do as much as I could before beating the game. The only side quest I didn't really "feel" like completing was the art lessons where you'd draw a given assignment, only because completing one after the other got a little tiring and the tools to do so were fairly limited. It's probably possible to beat this game in 10-15 hours, but I ended up spending almost 20 hours on it. The gameplay, at least on mouse and keyboard, works perfectly as it should for what it's supposed to be. You can control the protagonist with the keys, while using the brush with the mouse. This is especially helpful with boss fights, which can actually be tough and require a good bit of coordination. The game is extremely forgiving, however, and isn't meant to be difficult to beat - it gives you many accessibility options to change your experience with bosses. Puzzles involve using the paint in clever ways in order to reach previously unreachable areas.
Without going in to it too much, I can say that Chicory is wonderfully joyful and silly while also being quite dark and heavy. It deals with very real topics of depression, impostor syndrome, and grief. This is important to know going in. However, it deals with these topics incredibly well, and your character is able to both help others and be helped by others when going through a very difficult moments. Also, as someone who's not an artist, it's still pretty clear that this is a story about what it's like being an artist - the good and the bad. Complex issues about who's a real artist, what others expect of you, and never being "good enough" are at the root of the story's conflict. Chicory made me see from a different perspective by playing a protagonist who was so wholeheartedly passionate about what they wanted to do, and yet was still very overwhelmed by people's demands and requests made of them.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is, without a doubt, one of my favorite games of 2021. There's nothing quite like it and it nails the "drawing game" mechanic in a way that other games I've tried have not. Greg Lobanov has officially created two indie games that I deeply love, both of which use creativity as a gameplay tool, so I'm definitely a big fan. I highly recommend this game to any fans of Zelda-likes, deep story games, and anyone who knows what it's like to be an artist. It's a game for anyone, really, as it's so accessible and even has a two-player mode. It's a genuine and compelling story of friendship, community support, and self-love. You could spend even more hours on it than I did if you decide to color every space on the map, or find every gift item in the game. There's just so much wonder and fun in every nook and cranny of Chicory.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is available on PC and PS4/PS5.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 19 hours