Chicory: A Colorful Tale (REVIEW)

Jan 14, 2022

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Developed by: Greg Lobanov
Published by: Finji
Released: December 15, 2021 (Nintendo Switch)

Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a beautiful and emotional game. Chicory initially was developed and released in June 2021 on PC and Playstation. The game was released for Nintendo Switch in mid-December. The emotional story and charming world feels at home in the intimate setting playing handheld on the Switch. While Chicory came out in 2021, it will remain poignant for anyone struggling with mental health or finding their place in the world. Chicory’s narrative is deeper than its’ coloring book esthetic may appear. Consequently, it is a moving and engaging experience.

Chicory’s game director, Greg Lobanov, previously released Wandersong. The character designer and animator, Alexis Dean-Jones. Lena Raine, the composer for Celeste, is responsible for Chicory’s excellent soundtrack. The combined creative team and character designs give Chicory a timeless feel. Their work creates not only one of the best games of 2021 but a game that will remain relevant and moving for future players.

Story

The player is the janitor for Chicory the current magical brush wielder in a long line of brush holders. When Chicory goes missing, it is up to the main character to find them. Early in the story, the main character (each player can name the character) discovers a darkness creeping into the world and removing the color that the brush wielder supplied. This darkness is something that all brush wielders struggled against and comes to represent both a physical threat and an emotional one. Mental health concerns are tactfully addressed in Chicory and become part of the central story. The main character wrestles with self-confidence and imposter syndrome. While Chicory wrestles with depression. As the game progresses, more layers are added to both characters and the complexity is reflective of our social and cultural mental health and wellness issues.

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Gameplay

Chicory plays out in a top-down view similar to traditional The Legend of Zelda games. Each screen connects to the next to map a congruent map. The only combat is during boss battles, and those have unlimited tries and assists as needed. The developers even include the ability to skip the boss battles for photo-sensitive players. Environmental puzzle abound and are the main gameplay element. Through the use of the magic brush, players paint the environment to grow, shrink, and activate landscape. In true adventure game fashion, many of the environment areas that a player can see require additional abilities to access. Fortunately, these abilities unlock as the game progresses. The brush illuminate caves. Painting the landscape eventually allows that player to move within the paint or up cliffs. These move sets open up new areas to explore.

In additional to environmental puzzles, the main character interacts with a variety of the world’s population. Side quests provide unique dialog and further explore the personalities of both the main character and those they meet. On top of all the exploration and interaction, the world is an empty canvas for the player. Painting the world can be a soothing change of pace. Or painting can create notes and guideposts for the player. I frequently would select specific color pallets for areas that I could not access. Then looking at the map, I had clear markers of where to return to and explore as new abilities opened up.

The game includes a built in hint system where the character calls home for advice about where to next. Even encouraging the character to look online if stuck. All of these systems lower the barrier of entry and reduce the friction for players at any level of experience.

Graphics

A living coloring book is high praise for the graphics of Chicory. The game exists in black and white and allows the player to color the world as they desire. Fortunately, this approaches mirrors the value of self-expression that the narrative explores. Painting requires a time investment. However, the game provides this creative space for players to engage with as they desire. Coloring is needed for some puzzles and side quests, but just as art is subjective so are the graphics in the game. I created lush colorful spaces. And I created clashing eyesores.

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Sound

Lena Raine’s soundtrack and score is something that I’ve listened to outside of the game. It is beautiful and uplifting at times. Haunting and emotional at others. It captures both the cheery upbeat moments of exploration and the self-doubt experienced by the characters.

Concerns

As a reviewer, I often push through a game to get the review finished and opinions out to the public. Chicory encouraged me to take my time and express myself in the world. Consequently, one result is this delayed review. But another result is a deep appreciation for the world and characters the developers created. Furthermore, this resulted in an emotional journey not only for the main character but for myself as a player. Many of the emotional questions raised throughout the game will be identifiable by players. Chicory provides players at all levels of experience the space and encouragement to keep going and believe in themselves.

Chicory a Tale for Today

Ultimately, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is an affirming narrative journey of personal growth and discover. The messages of self-worth and self-confidence are valuable to any player. Chicory’s artful approach to graphics and superb soundtrack foster a creative environment for players to explore and express themselves. Players who make time to invest in the world will find value in the adventure and the art. Chicory is a timeless classic that deserves to be experienced.

Score: 9.2

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