Review: Chicory: A Colorful Tale

Posted 1 month ago by Zoey Handley
Chicory review

We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents

No matter how much time passes, I still feel like an ant among giants. I had been reading Destructoid for nearly a decade before I decided (with a lot of pushing from those around me) to put myself out there, and now I’m here writing for you. I often ask how someone like me ended up here. It’s honestly scary.

What happens when I run out of things to talk about? Will I get to a point where I just keep repeating myself? What happens if I burn out? I’m not joking that it keeps me up at night. I want to write something meaningful, but you can’t just force something like that, can you? What if my next article misses the mark? What if a joke doesn’t land? Why do people bother reading what I write? There are better writers out there.

What the heck, Chicory, stop poking me right in the insecurities. Just let me brood alone!

Chicory I really look up to you

Chicory: A Colorful Tale (PC [Reviewed], PS4, PS5)
Developer: Greg Lobanov
Publisher: Finji
Released: June 10, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

Long ago, I wanted to be an artist, but that aspiration was crushed by a series of poor instructors. So, I’m not an artist. I became so devoted to writing that I feel like I can only dabble in other creative endeavors, but writing is like art, right? It’s an art.

It’s at least close enough that Chicory immediately struck a chord with me. You play as a protagonist named after your favorite food who works as a janitor for the current “wielder” of a magical brush, the current wielder being the titular Chicory. One day, all the color is drained out of the world. You find the wielder’s brush abandoned and, if you’re like me, just decide to take it without permission. Here we have the imposter.

The protagonist then just decides to use their newfound powers to help people, whether that’s by painting their donut or clearing a rockslide. A lot of people, it turns out, really like their work and offer encouragement, but others aren’t so enthusiastic. That power wasn’t deserved, was it? You didn’t put in the practice or hard work, so why do you get such prestige?

Hold on a second, I need to have an anxiety attack.

You wouldn’t really expect it from what you see on the surface. Chicory is a disgustingly cute game. The world is completely in black and white, but you can paint it as you see fit. Each area gives you a palette of four colors to play with, and you can paint everything from furniture, to the characters, to your own bad self. If you want to, you can just sit back for a while and paint the world like one of those adult coloring books that are supposed to be comforting.

There are many practical reasons to paint, as well. Every puzzle comes down to painting the right thing the right way, gaining new abilities along the way that allow you to proceed to new areas. Most sections involve you doing light puzzle-solving on your way to the boss. It’s not too far removed from the Zelda formula, but there’s less emphasis on dungeons and you get your new ability after the area is complete; not in the process of.

Between that, you chat with the NPCs and help them with their problems, or even take an art class. The story advances organically during the critical path, which was a bit of a relief. I never felt like I was being held back or pushed along, even when I totally was. A lot of the time I felt like it was up to me what speed I took on the main objectives. Otherwise, I was free to just chat to the various characters and hear their opinions on art; what appeals to them, what it means to them, and what they expect from you.

Hold on a second… Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…

Chicory Adzuken's awesome Dtoid painting

It helps that the cast is amazing. Not every person you bump into is impactful, but many have their own things going on. Estranged friends, secret admirers, dreamers. In a way, it reminds me of EarthBound’s dialogue, the way that it paints a sunny veneer over heavy subjects. A lot of the time, you’re just giving people a push by helping them. When you help one single mom admit her feelings to another, it’s her doing it, you’re just there for support. When you convince the artist to keep putting themselves out there, you’re simply showing them the way.

The protagonist themself goes through a lot of growth, first being enthusiastic about wielding the brush, but eventually becoming consumed with self-doubt after feeling the pressure of the role. The NPCs that help them just give passive advice, but it legitimately feels like the wielder couldn’t do it without their support. It’s amazingly impactful, accomplished simply through clever and meaningful dialogue.

Chicory self portrait

Is Chicory fun to play? Heck yes. The puzzles are simple, there’s no combat outside of the well-done boss battles, but it maintains a brisk pace and an excellent variety of situations. It frequently flips the script and presents something new. I never found the game too taxing or challenging — never had to call my parents to get a hint — but it felt just right. Each success didn’t feel empty, but rather made me feel clever.

The painting mechanic is always satisfying and continues to grow throughout the game. Whether you’re actually putting that brush to use by graffiti tagging the background or painting your emotions on a blank canvas, it’s quick and easy. Like I said, I’m not an artist, but Chicory doesn’t expect you to be. There’s little accuracy to the painting in the first place, especially since it has the expectation that you’re using a mouse or joystick, so there’s nothing to get overwhelmed by. Do your best, and maybe your painting will look similar to what you envisioned.

Of course, give it a couple weeks and we’ll probably see people replicating Rembrandt in the game, but that’s a little off-message. We don’t have to live up to that, as long as we’re having fun.

One sec… Z, Y, X, W…

Dead-end failure

The cynic in me was waiting to see the game break down beneath its ambitions, but it never really did. Nothing about it felt loose, rushed, or unpolished, it was as it should be. It’s a solid experience, even if you’re not particularly the creative type.

But if you are the creative type, if you’ve dealt with self-doubt, the well-intentioned sting of criticism, the frustration of hard work going nowhere, directionlessness in a world that exploits the imaginative, the fact that “the best” doesn’t really exist and “good enough” is a constantly moving target, then there is potential that Chicory: A Colorful Tale is going to hit hard. There’s a possibility it will speak to you. It may drill into your grey matter and rent space there. It’s going to make you breakfast and leave you to clean up the mess.

Not only is Chicory a fun game, and not only did it speak to me on a profound level, it also made me want to be a better me. I’m not exaggerating nor using hyperbole, it’s a well-built experience with a tremendous amount of heart. It wants you to be you, and it wants you to know that the best you can do is always good enough.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

9.5

Superb

A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.

Zoey Handley
Zoey is a gadabout gaming hobbyist. She's been playing video games all her life and is a lover of both new and retro games. She enjoys digging in the dirt and picking out the games that are perfectly fine if you clean them up a bit.