When I first started Chicory: A Colorful Tale, the game wasn’t really working for me. The characters were cute and there were some funny dialogue moments but the simplicity of the puzzles and the emphasis on coloring as a mechanic did little to catch my attention. While I did find the game enjoyable as a relaxing alternative to the more challenging Pyre, on its own Chicory didn’t feel like the sort of game I’d want to spend much time on. Since then I’ve essentially doubled my progress in the game, getting from the beginning of chapter three to the beginning of chapter six. A lot has happened during that time, so today I’ll be sharing my renewed thoughts on Chicory based on my latest experiences.
The basic premise of Chicory: A Colorful Tale is that the titular character has given up her magic paintbrush which gives color to the world. With Chicory out of commission, your character (named Pasta in my playthrough) sets out to fill in all the world’s color after some mysterious force resets everything to black and white. Along the way, you meet previous wielders of the brush as well as facing down eldritch abominations that seem connected to the strange black roots which are beginning to grow all over the world. Mechanically, this means using the power of coloring to solve puzzles and beat bad guys while also filling in the world’s blank spots.
As you advance through the game and defeat bosses, your bond with the wielder’s paintbrush gets more and more powerful. The improvements to your bond translate directly to improvements to your brush, which adds new abilities to your suite. These abilities unlock new sections of the map, such as allowing you to use paint to light up dark areas which would have previously been impossible to navigate. This also includes new traversal options for Pasta such as the ability to swim through paint and jump across short gaps.
I cannot undersell just how much of a difference that the traversal options have made in terms of my enjoyment of the game. The way you move around a space in a game is of great importance to creating a positive experience – some of my favorite games of last year, like Hollow Knight and Spiritfarer, made the act of exploring their worlds deeply fun with cool traversal upgrades. Swimming through paint makes Pasta much faster and creates puzzles around thin passageways leading to secret areas or crisscrossed vines where you have to figure out which path will lead to what platform. Being able to jump allows you to move across varied elevations and expands the types of challenges that the game can present you with.
As Pasta’s abilities grow, the types of puzzles that can be presented to you become more and more intricate. In one particular dungeon, I had to guide paint-eating bugs with big pillars on their backs to positions where I would be able to jump on them in order to navigate environments with lots of vertical space to explore. Out in the wilderness, the ability to swim in paint unlocked very narrow passages that I previously had to avoid, helping me to find a number of useful shortcuts as well as rewards in the form of outfits or brush styles. More abilities means more puzzle types, and more puzzle types keeps the game varied and compelling.
Speaking of brush styles, these variations on the shapes you can make with your brush are generally background thoughts for me. But there is a particular one I learned that was a game-changer in terms of the time saved from screen to screen. That style is the paint bucket, which functions much like the paint bucket does in art software like Microsoft Paint. Clicking on an area with the paint bucket style quickly spreads color all over that space, significantly faster than performing the same activity by holding the brush down in place. This reduced coloring an entire screen to a couple of fast button presses rather than two or three minutes of just holding the right shoulder button at various points on the screen. It cut the time I was spending on something I didn’t like – coloring – so I could focus on the aspects of the game that really worked for me – exploration and puzzles.
Chicory doesn’t just pick up mechanically after the initial chapters – the story behind the events unfolding has quite a few revelations to share. The inner thoughts of the two main characters Chicory and Pasta are key to the arc of the game, although there are also side characters who bring a lot in terms of humor and endearing discussions. I particularly like Pasta’s older sister Clementine who not only believes in Pasta but also provides her some advice on how to care for herself in the midst of everything going on. Because if anything becomes clear the deeper you play into Chicory, it is that the responsibility of bearing the brush comes with a heavy burden.
Chicory is a perfectionist who believes her art is always flawed and punishes herself fiercely for mistakes. Pasta has imposter syndrome and doesn’t think she is worthy of the calling she has inherited. Both characters struggle differently and these unique mental health challenges clash in ways that are deeply unproductive for both parties involved. These scenes are skillfully written and perfectly mirror conversations I’ve had with friends and family over the years when it comes to our own struggles. I imagine that any artist – whether you’re a visual artist like Chicory or you’re a musician or writer instead – will find it easy to relate to one or both of the game’s primary characters.
Five chapters in, Chicory has grown from a game that wasn’t quite working for me into one that I’m much more captivated by. The expanded traversal options and the way they improved the puzzles – combined with tools that minimize the coloring aspect of the game – have worked together to push the gameplay in a direction that is much more consistent with what I am looking for. On top of that, as the story shifts out of the introductory phase and begins to explore the interiority of the characters and their struggles, I’ve found the narrative more compelling as well. Chicory has gone from a game I wasn’t sure I would finish to one I am excited to continue to play.