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In a year already groaning under the weight of so many excellent games, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is the best surprise yet. Lead developer Greg Lobanov's (Wandersong) latest effort as part of collaborative studio Finji is part colouring book, part top-down adventure, and all charm. Let's get this out of the way early because I'm absolutely bursting to share my love for this one with you: Chicory is easily my favourite new release so far this year, and an absolute treat from start to finish.
Chicory puts us in the shoes of a young dog with dreams of becoming the next Wielder, a sort of chosen hero tasked with using an ancient magical brush to bring colour and life to the world. We're told early on that each Wielder over the years has brought their own style and flair. Our canine protagonist - who I named Pizza - is the number one fan of (and janitor to) the incumbent Wielder: the titular Chicory.
Take a look at the trailer for Chicory below!
Events swiftly take a sour turn, and a world suddenly and unexpectedly robbed of all colour calls on Pizza as the new Wielder in place of the MIA Chicory. With brush in paw, it's up to Pizza to get to the root of the malaise that has reduced the world to black and white by helping friends, exploring dungeons, and restoring colour to the world.
Exactly what has happened and why Chicory has renounced their position as Wielder are mysteries that reveal themselves over the course of the adventure. Suffice to say, the answers are heartbreaking. Chicory isn't afraid to go to some very real places, and Lobanov handles sensitive subjects like anxiety, depression, and even impostor syndrome with great care and respect. There are no silly problems in Chicory. Everything that every character struggles with, no matter how big or small, is worth hearing out.
Characters talk about their issues and struggles in a real, honest way. There are no spoilers involved in saying there are many things you'll take away from Chicory by the time the credits have rolled. I was left weighing up the liberating notion that it's okay to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to live up to expectations we assume others have of us. You do you, basically.
Others may connect more with what the game has to say about the inevitable toll of toxic productivity, or the fact there's no shame walking away from things we used to love when they stop being fun and start becoming a burden. Whatever your take-away, Chicory offers up some things I think we all needed to hear after the gruelling events of the last year or so.
It's not all being reduced to tears by cute convos between cartoon dogs and rabbits, though. There's plenty of adventure to be had in Chicory, too. The game is actually a lot more like The Legend Of Zelda than I was initially expecting, a cheeky bonus that will always net extra points in my book. Its massive world is full of secrets, puzzles, side missions, and wonderful characters to meet. I was constantly reminded specifically of the Game Boy classic Link's Awakening, in large part thanks to Chicory's gorgeous island setting and adorable animal residents hiding a much darker, stranger story.
Thankfully, where other Zelda-likes are too-often beholden to their influences for their own good, Chicory has a clear identity and unique mechanics all of its own. The world itself is designed much like a classic 2D Zelda, split into multiple screens consisting of villages, caves, forests, beaches, and dungeons. The further you progress, the greater your bond with the brush becomes, which in turn unlocks new abilities that allow further exploration. My favourite trick by far allows Pizza to swim through paint, Splatoon style, but there are plenty more fun skills to unearth that constantly challenged me to consider my surroundings in fun new ways, and track down new secrets in areas I thought I'd already thoroughly explored.
As you'd expect from a game that revolves around a magic brush, painting is a huge part of the experience. Pretty much every puzzle and dungeon (or dungeon-like area) will ask you to whip out your brush (controlled by the touch pad or right control stick on PS4/PS5) and make a real mess.
In some areas it's as simple as using glow in the dark paint to make your way through a cave. In others, it involves really examining rooms for clues to work out the right symbol to draw on a locked door in another room so you can progress. The vast majority of these puzzles are fairly light brain teasers, in line with the relatively relaxing and laid back nature of the adventure. But there are still one or two late-game challenges that left me scratching my head for a good few minutes before the solution finally presented itself.
Fortunately, Chicory is more than willing to help out with a generous hint system that often tells you where to look next if you'd rather get on with the story rather than wander aimlessly. I should also stress for any colour-blind readers out there who are concerned Chicory won't be accessible to them, being able to recognise or use specific colours is at no point required to progress. You can absolutely play this game and solve its puzzles regardless, something Lobanov was keen to ensure throughout development.
There is also a handful of boss battles, which went from being my least favourite part of the game to one of the best aspects of the entire experience. My first thought was that these incredibly challenging bullet-hell encounters had no place in a game as laid back as Chicory. Given these few bosses are the only times Chicory introduces anything resembling combat, it can be a little jarring to transition from chilled-out puzzles and exploration to brutal Undertale-esque encounters.
Thankfully, it's possible thanks to a generous suite of accessibility options to become invincible, or skip these battles altogether if they really start to trip you up or detract from your enjoyment of the game. Still, if you can handle it, I'd ultimately recommend attempting these fights. They're a big part of the experience, particularly in how they form visual representations of some of the personal issues our lead characters are struggling with.
One encounter, a literal manifestation of a character's self-loathing, was so intense, unpredictable, and violent that it quite honestly moved me to tears and left me in stunned silence. The work of the game's incredible artists, Alexis Dean-Jones and Madeline Berger, hits especially hard in these fights, something I wasn't expecting at all. I suspect I'm not the only one who'll be affected by many of the boss battles in this. It's possible to turn on a content warning from the settings, however, giving players the choice to skip scenes that may have a little too much impact.
Chicory probably has the best range of accessibility options I've ever seen in an indie title, by the way. It puts most AAA games to shame in the process. Given this is a title designed by a very small handful of people, other studios should take note: there really is no excuse not to do better.
Fortunately, for every moment Chicory hit me right in the feels, there were a dozen more ready to put a massive smile on my face. Honestly, I think my favourite part of the whole game is the (entirely optional) ability to colour in every last screen of the world however you want.
You can change the size of your brush, and unlock new styles by exploring to add intricate details and artistic flourishes, or simply hold down the paint button to fill in large areas with one colour and flesh out the details later. I'm not much of an artist, but I found an incredible sense of peace in wandering from screen to screen and taking the world from black and white to full colour. Again much of this comes through the work of Dean-Jones and Berger, who have imbued Chicory with a stylish and distinct aesthetic that still looks gorgeous no matter how you as an individual choose to colour it in.
I'd also submit that engaging with the world in this way encouraged me to look at it in ways I might not look at a regular top-down adventure game, and I noticed so many more secrets and neat details as a result. Almost every screen is hiding a secret or collectible of some kind; as Pizza explores, they can unlock new outfits and furniture by tracking down lost kittens and picking up pieces of trash left scattered carelessly about the world. There are some more substantial side missions too, including designing a new sign for a pizza place and solving the mystery of who stole a hotel suite's entire furniture while the concierge was sitting at the desk with her headphones and blindfold on.
I obviously can't finish this review without mentioning the incredible soundtrack from Lena Raine, whose work you might remember best from the slick beats of Celeste. Raine is able to play around with a much greater range of genres in Chicory, flitting effortlessly from Animal Crossing-style acoustic guitar, to rousing Zelda-esque adventure themes. The aforementioned boss battles also go in hard with some seriously intense electronic pieces. Chicory really is the collaborative effort of an all-star team of indie greats working at the very top of their game, and that shines throughout the entire experience.
Chicory is utterly joyous. It's a warm hug of a game bursting with creativity and surprises. Every inch of the ten-hour adventure fizzes with sheer, unrestrained invention - I already want to play through the whole thing again. This game is an absolute triumph on every level, I cannot stress to you enough. Even when you strip away the excellent gameplay, beautiful visuals, and toe-tappingly great soundtrack, you're left with a story that shows passion and creativity will always win against cynicism and hate. A must-play for all.
Pros: Fantastic music, impeccable world design, moving and consistently funny dialogue, top-notch accessibility options
Cons: It has to end eventually
For fans of: The Legend Of Zelda, De Blob, Celeste
Chicory is available now for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here
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