Chicory: A Colorful Tale Review
The first act of violence in Chicory: A Colorful Tale—one in which you’ll need to defend yourself against a miasma of corruption that has taken a physical form—is also its most unexpected one, because of how peaceful and twee the game appears to be. You’re, after all, a whimsical dog wielding a magical paintbrush, and an unabashedly ardent fan of the eponymous Chicory, one of the most prolific artists to emerge in recent years. You’re also working as a janitor at her mansion, cleaning up the messy paint splatters of her studio—an opportunity most fans of real-life artists would have quite literally killed for.
That probably feels a tad incongruent, but if only to bring across that Chicory is more than just an interactive coloring book experience; it’s also a surprisingly poignant story and a disarmingly candid depiction of mental health, along with the ebb and flow of its symptoms. Its deteriorating state is most clearly reflected in its deeply metaphorical premise, with Chicory’s world literally and abruptly drained of color. As an enthusiastic pup named after your favourite food (I didn’t realise the implication of this question which was posed at the start, and thus answered this with “Japanese”—so yes, my character goes by “Japanese” now), you were cleaning up and daydreaming about Chicory’s unbridled talents when this catastrophe happened. In a state of shock, you ran out of the studio towards Chicory’s room, and found her enchanted paintbrush discarded outside. You picked it up, of course, and decided to put some color back into this world again by splashing splotches of paint everywhere—from the now discolored trees to the monochromatic homes.
Every scene in Chicory is an invitation to inject more hues, and I have painstakingly coloured most of its blank spaces with the refined motor coordination skills of a toddler. That is to say this is performed haphazardly, with colors spilling outside the lines, and with only wanton destruction in mind, as I scribbled less-than-polite symbols all over the place and giggled at my unpolished creations. It’s not that the controls for the paintbrush translate poorly to keyboard and mouse, but rather that they are intuitive and precise enough to grant me the creative freedom I’ve always wanted, unencumbered by trifling matters like sky-high expectations and a crippling inferiority complex. There are a variety of ways to paint, too; you can double tap your mouse to eject inelegant splotches of paint, tweak the size of your strokes, and use a variety of brush styles and stamps to smear paint all over the environment. It’s a profound way to highlight one of the themes that underpins Chicory: A Colorful Tale: that you can weaponise your own boundless creativity to battle your inner demons.
Painting like Bob Ross
Like a growing spot of ink that gradually spreads across paper, this theme permeates the game, evident in your growing abilities as you traipse through the chapters, and across towns where most folks you meet are warm and supportive of your new role as the latest superstar artist and wielder in town—the person responsible for filling in and touching up the fading colors of this universe. With your newfound painting capabilities—as granted by a swelling bond with the magical paintbrush—you can better traverse across its playful platforms and terrains: bouncy, inflatable mushrooms can sprout and propel you to higher ground when you add a drop of color on them; some shrubberies shrivel up when you tap on them with your paintbrush; and your paint can illuminate murky caves, the strokes washing over these subterranean environments to replicate the picturesque gradients of watercolor landscapes, and its color tones bleeding into and layered atop of one another. While these elements essentially borrow the language and features of the platformer genre, there’s also an inexplicable joy in exploring how these foliage and structures react to being colored by these new stimuli. These brush strokes act like an extension of your senses—your eyes and fingers—to let you prod and poke at the minutiae in every scene.
Happy little accidents
Such artistry might have felt somewhat shallow if not for Chicory—the famed artist and the core of the emotional odyssey that is Chicory: A Colorful Tale. Yet that’s not even the whole story; ostensibly it’s one that’s framed around her anxieties as a creator, but as you unravel more of the tale, you’ll realise that you’re embarking on a similar journey, too. This is a world that celebrates creativity that not only sprouts from innate talent or from spontaneous spurts of inspirations, but also during periods when gaping helplessness simply swells up in your chest, or when you just don’t feel like creating anything at all. More than once I’ve simply just given up on replicating a painting or drawing something in art class—one of the wellsprings of activities you can busy yourself with in Chicory—and have simply left ugly, muddy stains on the canvas. The offending piece ends up being displayed in a museum as a small monument to my legacy as the resident wielder, its idiosyncrasies simply attributed to a personal artistic style. I think I can live with that.
Chicory flits through its hours of play with earnest, effortless charm that admittedly verges on saccharine at times—some of its townsfolk seem more like caricatures than actual personalities—but it has also helped me to appreciate the heights and mundanity of exploration, discovery and creation. It’s something I haven’t quite been able to for a while in games. I can’t remember the last time I’ve spent at least a few minutes admiring and soaking in my surroundings, and this includes the high fidelity and photorealistic graphics of triple-A, blockbuster titles. It’s to Chicory’s credit, of course, that it can easily do so with bold lines and evocative illustrations that resemble the Sunday cartoons I watched as a child. It’s also to Chicory’s credit that it can tackle the hefty topic of mental health without losing its levity, nor reducing it to a mere obstacle for players to overcome. After all, Chicory isn’t about convincing us that we are all virtuosos underneath our layers of self-doubt. Instead, it prefers to impart the more audacious claim: that we—and whatever we’ve crafted—ultimately matter, even if we feel immeasurably incompetent or broken.