Chicory: A Colorful Tale review – a cute dog on a charming, poignant adventure of colour and darkness
A word of warning: don’t play Chicory: A Colorful Tale on an empty stomach.
That’s because the entire world of Picnic is named after food, from the central town of Luncheon, to every single character you meet. That includes the player character, a cute little janitor dog named after your own favourite food. And so begins the journey of Spaghetti.
Chicory isn’t really a game about food, though. It’s a game about art and creativity. Spaghetti, you see, unexpectedly joins a long legacy of Wielders who paint Picnic with a magic paintbrush when all colour is sucked from the world. Worse, a mysterious corruption appears to be spreading from Spaghetti’s hero, the titular artist Chicory.
As with designer Greg Lobanov’s previous game Wandersong, Chicory is one of those rare games where just controlling it is fun. That’s because of its central painting mechanic. The game takes place in a top-down view, and with the right stick and a squeeze of a trigger paint can be sploshed over every surface, like a giant interactive colouring book.
Naturally this is done to solve puzzles in the world: by painting or erasing, platforms can be moved, pathways uncovered, or exploding bubbles can be triggered. Later you can swim across surfaces in your paint like a Splatoon squid.
But equally, you can simply paint the world however you like and then take a seat on one of the many benches to admire your handiwork. You can even use collected pre-shape styles (and design your own) in your artistic endeavours. At the end of the game, an overview of the map shows off your final masterpiece.
The magic paintbrush certainly has shades of Okami, but it’s the Zelda series that’s most influential here – specifically Link’s Awakening in its phone booth hints and cute, almost dreamlike, feel. There’s even an elf hat to wear!
Collecting new power ups for the brush allows you to explore more of the overworld as well as puzzle-filled dungeon areas. And you’ll need to defeat some ingeniously designed bosses that put your painting and positioning skills to the test – including a brilliant take on the familiar “mirrored self” boss trope.
The focus on artistic creativity extends to the music as well. There are some musical moments, like sonic feedback against bosses and even a singing minigame, but more so the intimate small ensemble score from Celeste composer Lena Raine really drives the atmosphere. Between delicate woodwinds and lilting guitars, the music ranges from heroic to melancholic in true Zelda fashion.
That melancholy is important. Visually Chicory is all cute animal characters, but beneath that is a poignant tale of mental health. The game spins the cliché of the troubled and tormented artist into a relatable tale of self-doubt, depression and perfectionism, of finding purpose and being vulnerable, of not only leaving your own legacy but living up to those who came before. Corruption creeps in at the edges of the screen as Spaghetti, the little underdog with big dreams of being worthy, struggles on their journey.
For all its colourful (yet black and white) cartoon characters, Chicory isn’t afraid to delve into darkness through its frank and touching writing.
The lack of colour, though striking, does occasionally affect the gameplay. It can be tricky to judge height levels and perspective without colour to guide, and the painting controls are a little loose, which makes some later puzzles trickier than they need to be. The PlayStation controller’s touch pad can be used too but it’s not particularly accurate.
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Yet it’s all so adorable and charming that any slight faults are easily forgiven. And with plenty of side quests and collectibles – not to mention your own artistic license – there’s plenty here to keep you going.
Chicory is a celebration of creativity and self-expression that’s positively bursting with heart, even in its darkest moments.
4 / 5
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is available now on PlayStation 5, PS4 and PC.
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