Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a cute game about painting — is what you might think after a cursory brush with a trailer or some screenshots. It’s not true.
Chicory is much more than just about painting, being both a solid puzzle adventure and one of the precious few games that builds its message into everything you do. Chicory might not give you the creative freedom it inspires, but it’s a beautiful and essential game nonetheless.
The Nature of Art
Chicory opens with a nod to Disney’s Fantasia. A lowly janitor (you) cleans the home of their exalted employer, Chicory, the current Wielder of the Brush and governor of all things artistic. As with Mickey Mouse, the temptation of taking on a power greater than their own is too much for our hero, named after your favorite food (Cheese, in my case). Or perhaps it isn’t a power too great for them to handle.
Something happens when Cheese starts painting the room. The world’s color vanishes, and Chicory (the rabbit, not the game) falls into a deep slump. Is it because the unworthy Cheese took the brush, daring to set their talent and vision on par with the exalted Wielders? Despite what others might tell you as Cheese tries putting things to rights, that’s not the case.
A Colorful Tale says everyone can be creative, and is, and should be. Unlike other games, and even Chicory’s own secondary message, it’s not a shallow statement either.
Everything Chicory has you do reinforces this idea, as Cheese recreates the world through their own imaginative lens. Not everyone likes it, but that’s not the point. Cheese, and by extension you, are doing the same thing people recognized as talented artists are doing, and there’s little difference in the task and outcome aside from vision and style.
That applies to established artists as much as it does aspiring ones, with Cheese the amateur becoming the teacher to their Chicory-the-Wielder, weighed down as she is by anxiety and the expectations of others.
Chicory handles its messaging more elegantly than some, such as Undertale, though some of its corollaries do come across as shallow. Naturally, messages of love and acceptance are always a good thing, but I’d like to see heartfelt games move away from generic greeting-card style platitudes and support these statements with something more substantial.
A Colorful Adventure
I expected plenty of creativity out of Chicory, but what I didn’t expect was such a solid Zelda-lite adventure with vibes similar to Link’s Awakening and a quirky cast of characters to match. It’s a multi-regional, screen-scrolling world with spooky forests, rocky mountain ranges, caves, and a surprising number of puzzles revolving around your paint abilities.
The puzzles never challenge too much, but it’s enough to warrant a sense of satisfaction as you solve them and pieces fall into place.
The “lite” part of the “Zelda-lite” description is more from Chicory’s refreshing, low-stakes approach to adventuring. Chicory is easily one of the most relaxed and relaxing games I’ve played, outside the few unexpectedly tense boss fights capping off each area.
The soundtrack is soothing, and painting the world is (almost) as calming and healing as you’d expect from a game that’s essentially an interactive coloring book.
“Almost” because Chicory limits the effect you can have on the world, at least for the first several hours. Each major area gives you only four colors to work with, which doesn’t offer as much freedom as it might seem.
Colors don’t mix, and most objects absorb paints in big chunks, e.g., treetops can only be one color. That said, I understand how much extra effort these things would require, and what the team accomplished already is impressive enough.
Attending some of the game’s many art classes helps Cheese learn new patterns and brush types, though it would have been nice to see the freeform style in several of the mini-games apply to the rest of the world.
Still, I was more than content working through the world, coloring what I felt like, and always speaking with the world’s flawed and loveable animal inhabitants because Chicory’s writing and characterization are excellent. I might not have colored every screen, but I made it a point to speak with everyone and enjoyed watching their smaller stories unfold alongside Cheese’s.
As warm and refreshing as it is earnest and rejuvenating, Chicory is genuinely a game like few others and a joy to play. Even if, ironically, it sometimes limits the same creative capacity it encourages, Chicory also lets you know that’s fine. Whatever anyone else might think, the adventure you play and choose to create is what matters.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5
Review copy provided by the publisher