Chicory: A Colorful Tale review

By Heidi Nicholas,
Any new game that came from Wandersong creator Greg Lobanov was always going to be high up on my must-play list. Comparisons between Chicory: A Colorful Tale are inevitable, but there’s something about the colouring book-themed childlike joy of Chicory: A Colorful Tale which just proves that, even without our beloved bard, it can stand on its own two paws as a magical experience.


In Chicory: A Colorful Tale, you are not Chicory. You are, in fact, working as Chicory’s janitor, while Chicory themselves is the Wielder — the only creature in Picnic Province capable of using The Brush to paint colour into the world, until that Brush is handed to you. Like with Wandersong, the focus isn’t on a fabled hero but on a ‘regular’ person, and on how their actions, and their decision to stand up against the darkness, affects the world around them. You choose your name (everybody in Chicory is named after food — my character was Biscuit) — and then you’re suddenly gifted with the awesome power of The Brush, and flung out into a black and white world where all colour has vanished, to make what you can of it. This idea of being entirely unprepared is reflected in your initial experience with The Brush, and your first few goes at splodging some colour into the world will most likely look and feel a little wobbly. As your confidence and experience grows, so does your relationship with The Brush, and soon you’re finding new brush styles and unlocking new traversal opportunities, and flinging The Brush around like a pro.

Chicory: A Colorful Tale review

Chicory is wonderfully paced so that colouring in the world never begins to feel even a little stale. Each new region you travel to has its own colour palette, meaning you’ll switch up your style without even realising it, and the addition of new brush styles — plus the option of creating your own — keep it a novel experience. You’ll find new ways to explore by interacting with colour; like a plant that’ll fling you up onto a ledge if you try to colour it in, or an orb that will explode and obliterate the rocks blocking your path. If, like me, you sometimes get overwhelmed by just how much there is to colour, then fear not — there are also brush options to help fill in large areas. And you’re not just colouring; you’ll also be picking up litter, finding lost children, buying plants, placing decorations, delivering mail, and, of course, interacting with the inhabitants of this weird and wonderful world for another of Chicory’s greatest strengths: the dialogue. An initial interaction will likely yield a few funny lines, but keep talking and you might unearth an emotional conversation about a lost friend, secret fears, or an affecting discussion about self-worth. In other words, Chicory, like Wandersong, is happy to punch you right in the feelings on any given occasion.

Chicory: A Colourful Tale

One drawback, however, is that it’s not always 100% clear what needs doing next. This uncertainty does play into Chicory’s sense of individual exploration quite well, but it can also leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed. There is an adorable gameplay mechanic for getting hints, though: ringing home to talk to Mum and Dad. Mum will give you a general hint, while Dad, who is desperate to get on the phone, will seize it if given the chance and tell you exactly what you need to do. This helps in the short term, but the occasional uncertainty about where to go next leaves Chicory’s story feeling a little less connected and immersive than, say, Wandersong. Another drawback is backtracking. Chicory’s map is made up of different screens, with most of the landscape requiring you to solve puzzles to get to the next area. Until you unlock the fast travel option, this means you often need to backtrack through these puzzles, especially if you’re not sure where you’re going and are just trying to explore, meaning solving and resolving these traversal puzzles can begin to feel a little too repetitive. This is more of a nitpicking concern, and while solving these puzzles just to get where you’re going can feel like a drag, the variety of puzzles is impressive: Chicory is careful to add new puzzle types as you explore, and water jets, exploding plants, bouncy mushrooms, and more await in the Picnic Province.

Chicory: A Colourful Tale

Chicory isn’t afraid to explore some darker themes, and as you might expect, another of its greatest strengths is how it deals with these with kindness and compassion, emphasising themes of friendship, support, and a sense of self-worth. Chicory has relinquished The Brush because they’re suffering with their own problems, while Biscuit (or whatever you have named your character) struggles with feeling like they’re not worthy to step into Chicory’s shoes. Nearly every creature you meet in Chicory has their own issues or worries, and it’s wonderfully wholesome to see our little protagonist doing their best to help and support everyone, while also discovering their own sense of self. Chicory still embraces its more silly and spontaneous side, and the world is full of things to find: new outfits, new brush styles, lost kids, new characters, and a whole lot more, leaving the Picnic Province feeling like it’s bursting with wonder.

Chicory is also careful to ease any sense of pressure on the player. Several times, I’ve been stuck and rang home to speak to Biscuit’s dad, who kindly reminded me that it’s ok to look things up online. While I couldn’t make use of the kind offer, since Chicory isn’t out and there’s nothing to actually find online yet, I do appreciate the sentiment. Like Wandersong, Chicory makes it clear that you’re playing for an enjoyable experience, rather than feeling pressure to be able to do and solve everything at once. One feature which adds a nice layer of immersion to the tale is the feedback you get on your art. With all the colour vanished from the world, several pieces of famous art have been obliterated along with it. While trying to solve the mystery of the vanishing colours, helping the inhabitants of Picnic Province, and also trying to balance the duties of being The Wielder, Biscuit also had the option to help re-paint some of these famous works, putting their own stamp on a piece of the game’s lore. This re-painting took place in an art school, and afterwards, I’d get personalised feedback from the teachers and other students, noting colours I had used, or how detailed my piece was, and this all really lent to the sense that Biscuit is finding their place in the world. Another immersive feature came up after I began finding pieces of furniture and decoration — placing chairs around the world often meant I came back to find a weary traveller having a rest there, opening up some new dialogue and reinforcing Biscuit’s influence over the world.

Summary

The beauty of Chicory’s world is backed up by its wonderful soundtrack. You’d expect nothing less than wonderful from a soundtrack composed by Lena Raine, who also composed for Celeste, and the boss fights in particular feature some awesome tracks. Chicory’s world, music, characters, dialogue, and, of course, painting, all combine to produce a charming game full of love, food, kindness, and art. Although its story often feels a little unfocused, and it can sometimes be more of a chore than a pleasure to have to redo puzzles during your travels, Chicory remains a wonderful experience, and one I can’t wait to get back to.
4 / 5
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Ethics
Heidi spent 12.5 hours painting her way around the Picnic Province, delivering mail, finding lost kids, and collecting new outfits.
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Hey, I'm Heidi! I've just finished studying a Masters in English Literature, but I've been obsessed with gaming since long before then. I began on the PS2 with Spyro, before graduating to the Xbox 360 and disappearing into Skyrim. I'm now a loyal RPG fan, but I still like to explore other genres — when I'm not playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or being lured back into Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3!