Often when playing a video game, there will be a moment where I sit back and say “okay, now THIS is the game.” It is the moment when the game’s core premise feels realized, when both mechanics and narrative are firing on all cylinders and I get *why* the game works the way it does. For me this is often the moment where it feels like the game is really starting; the training wheels are off, the stakes are real, and I’m excited to dig into the real meat of the experience. When I played Celeste, it was the moment when I tried my first B-side. In CrossCode it was the first dungeon. During Pyre it was after my first Liberation Rite. In all of these situations, this moment came early in my playthrough relative to the length of the game.
I didn’t hit “the moment” with Chicory: A Colorful Tale until the halfway point. That’s not to say that everything leading up to the moment was bad or unfulfilling – I recently shared how chapters three through five made a big difference in my feelings about the game. But it’s interesting how so much of the game feels like it unlocks at the halfway mark. The beginning of chapter six marks a pretty significant change in the game’s structure and a shift in focus in terms of storytelling. It was in the midst of these changes that I finally had the moment; I looked at the screen, leaned forward in my seat, and said to myself “now THIS is the game.”
Up until this point, the player character (you choose the character’s name and gender so I’ll be referring to them as Pasta with she/her pronouns) is swept up in a series of events that don’t leave a lot of time to think. She takes the magical Brush that restores color to the world, encounters terrifying monstrosities as she is encouraged to investigate various locations, and ultimately learns that those monstrosities are apparently coming from Chicory herself. The experience is very guided with various characters giving you specific instructions on where to go, and with your lack of powers naturally gating you out of many parts of the game’s world. This changes with chapter six when Pasta begins a series of trials that are designed to officially designate her as the new Wielder of the Brush. Chicory gives her vague directions – head to the four corners of the map – and then hippity hops off while leaving Pasta to choose her path for herself.
This narrative openness is accompanied by a new openness to the world as well. By the beginning of chapter six Pasta has every brush power but one, enabling her to navigate almost every type of terrain and solve any puzzle. Instead of the mechanical aspects of the world forcing you down specific paths, you can go essentially wherever you like. Want to revisit old areas to color them in, collect any litter or clothes you missed, and complete side quests? You can do it! Want to climb the snowy mountain to the northwest before dealing with the rainy forest to the southeast? That’s your choice! The freedom to decide your path and set your own pace combined with the fact that almost no parts of the world are off limits encourages exploration and discovery.
Mechanically, each new region you explore as part of the Wielder trials is distinct and features unique puzzles to solve. On the aforementioned mountains, harsh winds reduce or extend your jumps depending on the direction. They can also blow around clouds that you can ride in, or push explosive bubbles to distant rocks. Figuring out how to manage the wind is key to climbing the mountain. In the rainy forest, touching the petals on large flower platforms moves them in a specific direction or changes their elevation. Maneuvering platforms into the right position so you can traverse them helps you collect special flowers you need to progress the story in this region. Having fresh mechanical challenges for each area that push your traversal abilities in different ways keeps each chapter engaging and makes them more memorable.
From a story perspective, the narrative during the Wielder trials shifts focus from being driven by a series of events to instead dive deep into the characters. Chicory and Pasta are both characters who struggle with their mental health and their relationship to their art. Their struggles are different from one another and challenging in unique ways, but together they can start to unpack the difficult feelings they carry and work together to heal. As you explore each region you run into Chicory periodically and learn from her. She teaches Pasta about being a Wielder and the history of the Brush, she shares her own experiences with the trials and where her mindset was at the time, and she shares about her strained relationship with her own mentor, Blackberry. Each conversation peels back another layer about Chicory but also shows you a bit more about Pasta, too, and both characters shine all the brighter for the time dedicated to exploring their emotions.
As an artist myself (a writer and – once upon a time – an actor), there were pieces of both characters that resonated with my own experience. Chicory’s story hit me a bit harder because perfectionism is a struggle that I deal with in all aspects of my life, but like Pasta I also worry that I’m not worthy and that others around me believe I’m not deserving of my role. Seeing these two characters support each other and work through the fact that at some point they’d also hurt one another is a touching tale. It excellently models being honest, apologizing for breakdowns in communication, and using introspection and reflection to understand ourselves and have a healthier relationship with our self-perception. The friendship between these characters is a touching one, and I enjoyed seeing them grow closer in their understanding of one another and themselves.
By the time I finished Chicory, I was the most positive about the game that I had been during my entire playthrough. It took a decent chunk of time for Chicory to reach the point where I felt as if it was firing on all cylinders. But once it got to that place, I was deeply impressed with what the game was doing. The world feels great when your access to the full suite of traversal abilities maximizes exploration. The puzzles are satisfying and never stick around too long before you are encountering new types in a different region. And the discussions between the two main characters shows a touching relationship that fully explores the relationship between creativity and mental health. While I do wish it worked up to this point faster, Chicory is an excellent game that I eagerly recommend to those who have not tried it yet.
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