Review: Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Store page / View this review on Steam
I think we can all agree that “Zelda, but a coloring book” is a gem of an idea. I don’t mean an actual coloring book, I had that when I was a kid, and I must say I preferred the genuine NES article. No, I mean taking the adventuring, puzzling, and fanciful stylings of Zelda and wrapping them around the ability to paint your surroundings in a game. Chicory pursues this idea with all the light and heart it can muster, giving you not only command of the world’s hues, but also every opportunity to solve puzzles or problems with a stroke of your brush. And if that’s not enough, the story takes on themes more meaningful that I was ever expecting of such an adorable outing.
Chicory is the Wielder, the most recent in a long line of artisans who command a magical Brush that can bring color to anything. It’s a big job, maintaining the very appearance of existence, and it becomes dreadfully complicated by a sudden disaster that saps all the colors from the world. You might think that correcting this mishap would fall to Chicory, but it doesn’t! It falls to you, the faithful janitor of the Wielder’s Tower, as you discover the Brush left unattended and set off on a journey of hope and discovery. Along the way, you’ll learn more about the Brush and its many capabilities, meet tons of residents who may help you or require your help in turn, and uncover the source of the strange malaise that has cost the world its colors.
I know I mentioned Zelda a lot earlier, but I want to be clear on where the similarities end. Chicory is a top-down adventure game where you travel the world in search of new powers that let you into new areas and so on. Your main method of interacting with the world is the Brush, controlled by either the right stick on your controller or the mouse. With the Brush, you can freely paint any object or surface on your screen, choosing colors from the immediate palette for that region, and laying down strokes in any way you want. Characters will react to your painting, certain objects will change based on their painted state, and as you gain more abilities, you’ll be able to interact with your own paint in new and exciting ways.
There’s a lot you can do here, but what you may have noticed I didn’t mention was combat. There’s no fighting in Chicory, no monsters roaming the countryside to dispatch or dungeons to clear of evil. There are… events that occur that I don’t want to spoil, but they provide a welcome and impactful counter to the generally chill and light-hearted exploration that comprises the vast majority of the game. There’s no end of collectibles to find laying about, from garbage to outfits to new Brush styles to use in your work. Side quests abound, ranging from finding lost kittens to taking entire art courses. That last one is particularly illuminating of how detailed this game gets with its immersion, as your teacher and classmates will comment on the exercises you participate in with wonderfully insightful feedback.
It’s not just the details that contain such insight, either. What starts out as a quest to save the world from some unknown menace evolves into something far more likely to hit close to home. The themes of this game go into some very personal vulnerabilities, and touch on topics like self-esteem and personal motivation. It can actually get pretty heavy at times, balanced by the charm of the world and the writing but still cutting right to the quick. I wouldn’t warn people away from this one, there’s definitely an overall positive and supportive message to the game, but just be aware that there are very real feels in this one, and they’re not always going to match the adorable atmosphere.
Personally I see the depth of Chicory’s message as a huge strength, and it’s just one of many to be found in this wonderful adventure. All of the characters you meet charm with their own distinct voices and engaging writing. Your powers expand far beyond what you might imagine, and enable you to reach some unexpected secrets. And on top of it all, it’s simply a relaxing, pleasant journey. The world of Chicory is serene, beautiful (as much as you make it), and open to all sorts of wanderings and explorations. It’s a fantastic game to just be in, and every part of the design supports that warm, wonderful atmosphere.