Chicory: A Colorful Tale is like if Mario Paint, Undertale, and Link’s Awakening came together to have a party. It’s a game that wears its heart on its sleeve, and has as many clear-eyed emotional things that it wants to tell the player as it has brush-styles, colours, and characters. In this 2D action-painting-RPG-adventure you play as the wielder, who has been bestowed a magical paintbrush by the previous wielder, Chicory. With this brush, you can colour anything on the screen using the right analog stick and some combination of the DualSense’s triggers. You can change the brush colours and thickness, acquire different patterns that can be assigned to the D-pad, and fill in any of the game’s locales or characters at any time. These changes remain in the game permanently, though you can erase or change them at any time. When you pull up the mini-map, you can see each one of your changes to the game’s world recreated faithfully in miniature, and it’s an awe-inspiring way to show the player all the effects they’ve had on the game’s rich world.
While Chicory’s paintbrush mechanic is the core pull of the game, it offers a fairly traditional and robust action-adventure game as well. You’ll be solving puzzles — most are Metroidvania-esque traversal ones, as well as environmental puzzles that feel pulled right from The Witness — talking to different cute animal characters, talking again to cute animal characters until they run out of new things to say to you, hopping from screen to screen hoping to find new hidden paths and nooks and crannies filled with collectibles. As you defeat bosses in the game, you unlock abilities that help you progress in the world and reach areas you were unable to before. One of the most fun ones to use is an ability right out of Splatoon, that allows you to dive into the ground and slide through any area that you’ve already painted. If there are obstacles blocking your way, you can paint through the obstacles and slide through them, if there are any tiny bits of space that you can see in between the obstacles. Once you acquire this ability, you can also paint large swaths of every game screen and just splish and splash through these areas at record speed. There are a shocking amount of collectibles to find in Chicory’s bespoke world, as it has managed to fill every little bit of space with some sort of prize or secret path. They are all cosmetic items and additional brush modifications, and not required to progress at all in Chicory, but they are there for the acquisition-minded player to pour more hours into what is, generally speaking, a leisurely, short experience.
The game veers on the easier side, and is as accessible as you’d like it to be. Chicory has the most clever hint system that I have ever encountered. The game is littered with phone booths, where you can call your parents to catch up. Your mother offers to give you a little hint if you’d like it, and when you’re finished talking to her, you can see your raccoon father in the back just itching to hop on the phone, and your mother asks if you’d like to put your father on to tell you exactly what to do next. The dynamic between your parents and the animations are hilarious, and I would recommend getting the full hint at least once just to see it, but this offers a great deal of options on how to play the game. Likewise, there is no death in Chicory. The only times you’re ever in any sort of danger are with the bullet-hell boss battles with dark monsters at the end of a dungeon, inside of charcoal-coloured trees. These boss battles are fun, and offer a chance of pace and an opportunity for the game to flex its music and animation muscles, but there is really no way to lose them. This is all to say that while some secret paths will have you scratching your head on how to best proceed — one infuriating section that caused me to use the hint system was when I couldn’t find a little tiny sliver of path above a river that I had to use my Splatoon ability to go through — the game practically begs you to continue playing and just see everything. There’s no player-shaming here.
Chicory’s world at first seems almost primitivist, but there are a healthy variety of characters, side-quests, and areas that belie its apparent simplicity. It’s packed with dialogue, different perspectives, and details, especially once you get to the showstopping city of Dinners, which is overwhelming in its business and little side-stories. You’ll be asked to draw signs to help a pizzeria with marketing, find lost kittens, reunite families, help a snake have a rooftop rager, and more. The game uses every inch of its real estate to tell little stories, many which will have you smiling or laughing. The core story of Chicory is the wielder finding their place in the world as an artist, coming to terms with their limitations — there’s a touching, slightly meta conversation with your in-game sister about learning to say no to the game’s litany of sidequests and character demands — and solving what is at the root of the darkness encroaching on the game’s world and colours, which seems to be connected to Chicory. It takes a good-and-evil story of darkness versus colour — a trope often used in these games about creativity — and uses it to riff on the purpose of art, our responsibility to those around us, and even covers heavy topics like mental illness. I found the storytelling in Chicory more gripping and invigorating than its unique painting mechanics, though those feel amazing to use as well.
It takes a bit to get used to all the different painting options Chicory offers, but once you get the hang of using the right analog stick and triggers you’ll have the tools to make your custom mark on the world, if you so desire. The DualSense fully utilises the haptic feedback on the triggers by making the player feel resistance from different surfaces and objects, and really attempts to simulate the squishiness of brush strokes. I also found some bits awkward to move around and use the brush simultaneously, and there are times where you’ll get stuck in the wrong plane or inside of a bit of pathway that you didn’t intend to get stuck in. Some of the game’s movement lacks precision. Navigating the game’s circuitous screens early on — prior to getting the ability to fast-travel — can sometimes feel like a chore if you missed something or forgot to pay attention to a hint. There is no mini-map, and you have to bring up the game’s menu to look at a map of the entire world when you are wondering where the area you have to go is situated. The game’s world is small enough that you won’t be confused or lost for long, though, especially with the aforementioned hint system. For me, I preferred to explore and listen to all the stories and jokes the game had to offer. The great thing about Chicory, is that these are both valid ways to play and enjoy the many foods and animals around you.
From its customisable mechanics to its fully-realized world of characters, Chicory rises above the trappings of the 2D Zelda-like genre to create an enriching tale all its own. It’s one that can be enjoyed by a variety of players on a variety of wavelengths.
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