A wonderful wholesome tale.
If there was one title that I’d heard a lot of great things about last year that I didn’t get around to, it was Chicory: A Colorful Tale. Released as a surprise shadowdrop at the end of the last Indie World presentation, its unique style immediately caught my attention. Using the fundamentals of a Zelda-like experience, Chicory weaves its own tale about art, being creative, and the pressure of living up to the expectations of yourself and others. It is really something special that anyone looking for a wholesome and cozy experience needs to dip their brush into.
In Chicory: A Wonderful Tale, you play as the Janitor (who in my playthrough was named Calamares) of Wielder Tower. The wielder is a powerful artist that wields the Brush, a magical artifact that can bring color to the world. However, one day all the color in the world goes missing and the current wielder, Chicory, has decided to discard the Brush. It's up to Calamares to go around and restore color to the world and take over the responsibilities of the wielder. As soon as you leave the tower, splashes of corruption start popping up all over the land, and it's up to Calamares to figure out why these have appeared and how to combat these growing problems. The story is incredibly well written and has a lot of heart and character poured into it. Calamares is not just a silent protagonist but has their own personality and interaction with others. I genuinely loved how the story goes out of its way to embrace creativity, but also show the darker side of what being a Brush-wielder actually means. Chicory is the titular character and her growth and change made me really care for her. It's been a while since I’ve played such a wholesome tale of exploration, but Chicory: A Colorful Tale made me feel good about each little thing I did.
So what do you actually do in Chicory? The best comparison would be a title like Link’s Awakening. You explore a densely populated and varied world with tons of characters who need your help to color the world around them. The brush is your main method of interaction. At any time you can swipe or move the brush across the screen to paint the world in one of four colors. This is later expanded by using specific brush styles that change the shape and pattern of the brush. There’s no limit on paint or a requirement to paint specific parts. You can color in characters, objects, plants, trees, houses, decoration and strokes of paint whenever you want. At first I thought it would be rather cumbersome to color every little aspect of the map, but the brilliance is that you will probably not have to. Thanks to its cleverly designed world and mechanics, you may just almost automatically color in most of the places you visit, just to make traversal easier. This is where the different brush-mechanics come in. As you grow stronger and fight off the corruption, you will grow your bond with the brush and unlock new abilities. These are simple, but often change how you can explore new parts of the world, like the ability to jump or to swim through your own paint. All these little additions make discovering new places a joy and the world gets a lot easier to traverse as well.
The heart of the game, therefore, is not in combat encounters, but rather in basic puzzle solving. Dungeons often involve finding different ways to proceed and open doors, access paths or make your way across large gaps. I genuinely loved how little the game pushes you towards fighting enemies unless there’s no other option. This is where the corruption encounters come in. During these moments you fight against corruption in painterly battles. You dodge attacks by moving out of the way and use the brush in a couple of creative ways to damage the corruption. One of them sees you fighting a negative version of yourself, during which all your brushstrokes are mirrored by a negative brush. Only the other brush can harm the corruption, and that requires some clever thinking. I really enjoyed how the game uses all its options to make you feel as non-violent as possible, while still making you interact with more traditional game-y elements.
It is the world itself that truly shines, though. There’s a large cast of characters you meet along the way: from older brush-wielders to citizens of the different towns and cities you come across. Each one has a lovely animal-design, but also a clear personality. None of them feel like throw-away characters, and you are actively encouraged to talk to them multiple times to learn their viewpoints or get additional advice. Speaking of advice, the game also has a wonderful hint-system, in which you can call up your mother for additional information and help. In case that hint is still too vague, you can get your dad on the line who explains in detail where to go next. It all feels part of this fully-realized world and that made me want to see the game through to the end. An important aspect of that is the stunning soundtrack by Lena Raine. She channeled some absolutely remarkable tracks that often feel like Ghibli, but are warped and distorted during boss battles. It is truly one of the best soundtracks in recent memory and always fits the atmosphere the game is going for. If anything, just listen to the soundtrack that accompanies the big city of Dinners and tell me that it doesn't feel magical while also being a bustling city.
Chicory is magical most of the time, but sometimes there are minor inconveniences that hamper the experience a bit on Switch. For one, the controls can be a bit hard to grasp. You control the brush via the touchscreen or by using one of the sticks while holding the left trigger. This combination tends to work fine, but I often found the brush speed to either be a bit too slow or that I just couldn’t input precise paint strokes that way, especially when used on the door puzzles in which you have to color in dots. That can work a bit to its disadvantage. While the touch screen controls do solve that issue, I found that the game sometimes freaks out when switching between these control schemes. One time the brush got stuck after I swiped my finger off the screen and when I placed my finger in the middle of the screen the brush immediately made a stroke from its last point on. This is not something that ruins the experience, but it is definitely noticeable. Certain puzzles also don’t benefit from how the game uses perspective. This can make it hard to figure out how to proceed to new areas and can result in needing to redo certain jumps or backtrack to get back on the right path. Finally, some loading screens can freeze and take quite a while to load when moving to new areas. It’s not too much of a problem, but it’s definitely noticeable when most areas load incredibly fast and some take upwards of ten seconds to load in.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is an incredibly enjoyable and wholesome experience. Its characters are so charming and endearing; its graphical style and world design encourages creativity and wants you to color the world back in. The soundtrack is stellar and completes the package on display here. It's a game that can be enjoyed for all ages and if you decide to pursue all the sidequests, complete the decorating minigames, and find all of the collectibles, you can certainly spend a lot of time in the world of Chicory. My only gripe is a personal one—that I didn’t play this game last year—because without a doubt it makes for a wonderful late addition to the best of what 2021 had to offer. I cannot wait to see what Greg, Lena, Em, Alexis and Madeline will make next, because Chicory can’t be described as anything other than a piece of modern art.