To make sure I have a good variety of articles for Adventure Rules, I tend to be playing two to three games at any given time. I like to have at least two between two different console options so that when one console is in use by my partner or child, I can hop on the other instead. Currently for me those games are Pyre for the PC and Chicory: A Colorful Tale for the Switch – when my partner is using the computer to stream or play multiplayer with friends, I can play Chicory. When my child is playing Luigi’s Mansion 3 or Mario Kart, I can play Pyre. But the two are proving to have some additional synergy beyond just their availability on different platforms.
Pyre is a fantasy sports RPG about teams of exiles competing for freedom from their life sentence. It has a relatively short core loop that repeats and contributes to a meta narrative about a national revolution. The game progresses whether you win or lose your matches, but there are clear narrative consequences for failure. Matches are fast paced, mechanically dense, and at least for me are challenging to overcome.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a coloring adventure game about a dog who takes up a magical paintbrush to restore color to the world after its original wielder begins struggling with depression. It’s a chapter based narrative game with simple puzzles, some mild platforming, and low-stakes boss battles. The game emphasizes coloring, creativity, and a compelling narrative about two characters with rich internal lives and struggles.
There’s not a lot that you could change about these games to make them even less related to one another, but honestly that’s what makes them work so well together for me. Each one scratches a different itch in the styles of fun. If you’re not familiar with the concept, these are eight different ways in which games can appeal to us and they have a lot of value in terms of understanding what kinds of games you enjoy and why your favorite games resonate with you so much. (If you want more than that basic description, I’ve got an article on the topic here.)
The primary style of fun in Pyre is challenge, the need to overcome difficult obstacles by mastering complex systems. The game your characters play in Pyre, called The Rites, meaningfully increases in difficulty as you progress further in the game. Enemy teams get more powerful mastery abilities and more useful talismans to upgrade their abilities. Every “season” of Rites seems to add new mechanics to factor into your play. In my most recent season I got access to bounties – money making opportunities for performing specific actions during a game – as well as a mechanic for making matches even harder in exchange for more rewards. As matches are getting harder and I find myself losing more, I find a need to engage in another type of fun – submission.
Fun via submission in gaming is daily practice, or at the very least repetitively engaging in the same task repeatedly to improve, gather resources, etc. Doing your daily activities in Stardew Valley is submission but so is getting your dailies challenges done in Dead by Daylight. For Pyre, fun by submission comes in the form of the practice games and challenge Rites provided by Sandra in order to improve my skills as a player. There are key techniques I am going to need to improve in order to be good enough at Pyre to defeat my opponents. I have a weak passing game and I tend to forget to jump into flying enemies to force them to drop the orb. I also tend to panic in the heat of the moment and press the wrong buttons when I’m flustered. Only through consistent practice will I know the controls well enough to hit the correct key at the moment of truth even if I’m a bit thrown off.
Challenge and submission are common types of fun I engage with and when I don’t have them in my gaming rotation, I tend to get bored. That’s the value of Pyre – it pushes me to learn a challenging system and try to get better in order to have good outcomes in my game. I particularly enjoy trying to master the different characters and selecting abilities that best accentuate my play style. But unlike most games that scratch this itch for me, my starting skill level in Pyre is pretty damn low. It’s a lot harder for me to make progress and achieve victory in this game because it is built around skills I’m bad at. After some hard losses – especially in the Liberation Rites where the game really rubs it in how bad it is to lose because of the consequences for your characters – I have a hard time wanting to jump back into Pyre because the challenge feels discouraging rather than motivating.
That’s where Chicory comes in. In my first impressions of Chicory I shared that I wasn’t sure I was in the right headspace to appreciate the game. Chicory primarily appeals to types of fun that aren’t really my jam: expression and sensory fun. The simplicity of the boss fights and puzzles weren’t enough to keep my attention and in the early hours, the story hadn’t picked up enough for the narrative to really grab me. But after getting my ass kicked in Pyre for awhile, suddenly a game where I could kind of just meander through the world without concern of major consequences seemed pretty nice, actually.
I think it helps a lot that as I get deeper into Chicory, I’m finding styles of fun that do appeal to my preferences. Expressing myself through my creativity in coloring the blank maps may not hook me all that much, but the sense of discovery when that coloring reveals a puzzle solution or a new mechanic to experiment with is rewarding for me. The world is littered with little puzzles that end in the discovery of a cute new outfit or a brush style to change up your coloring. I could not care less about the textures I can color with, but just opening the box and receiving a reward for discovering that I could blow up a wall or finding the right series of launchers to a specific platform feels good to me.
I’m also getting to the point in Chicory where it feels like the narrative is going to occupy front and center. I’m slowly learning about the world and its key characters in a way that appears to be setting up some truly compelling story beats. Some of that story telling comes from dialogue or puzzles but some of it is environmental. In the most recent temple I explored, someone had used the Wielder’s Brush to mark up some of the sacred texts and make them about butts instead, with another Wielder constantly chastising them. Was Chicory the mischievous butt-loving Wielder? Is this an early hint at the stifling of her creative impulses that led to her current depression? And what’s up with the eldritch beings I keep having to fight? Chicory’s story continually presents me with mysteries I’m excited to see through to the end.
The way these two games interact for me has helped me to continue to engage with and appreciate both. Chicory bores me if I play it for too long but Pyre makes me want to throw my keyboard out the window if I play it too long. The ability to switch between them gives me the space I need from each to appreciate it. Pyre pushes me to develop my skills and and gives me a meaty, mechanical game to practice regularly. Chicory has a delightful story with low stakes that gives me a valuable break when I just need to relax. Between the two of them, I’m covering a huge range of styles of fun and having a great time playing video games.