Indie games are great. I don’t mean that in a way that belittles AAA games (or sounds ‘hipster’-ish), simply put indie games can provide poignant challenges to the norms of the industry. Think of the games that tackle mental health issues, or are diverse in their representation, or experiment with how they can be played. How many of those are big budget games?
Chicory: A Colorful Tale, from a small team led by director Greg Lobanov, has easily become one of the games that exemplifies the brilliance of indies. Offering unique gameplay and a story that is contemplative without being cliché, this top-down adventure will surprise you in all the best ways.
You play as a dog quaintly named after your own favourite food, who takes on the role of Wielder: the artist chosen to carry the magical paintbrush that brings colour to the world of the even more quaintly named Picnic Province. But things aren’t quite as simple as running around a real-world colouring book. With the power of the brush comes the problems of the residents; from dealing with cave-ins to designing shop logos. More importantly, however, comes the mysteries of the brush itself as well as its previous owner Chicory.
In a word, Chicory is charming. This is a game that is full of personality and asks you to bring even more. While it is initially overwhelming to be thrown into a black-and-white world with the power and responsibility to colour it however you want, the ability to play around with brushes and colours only gets more enjoyable as the game goes on (and especially once you get the fill tool that saves you so much time)!
Even in black and white, the design of Picnic Province is delightful. With distinctive areas full of quirky characters to meet and lend a brushed-hand to, there is a depth to Chicory’s world that makes you want to explore every inch. There are secrets and collectables scattered around the map to please the casual players as well as those who enjoy working toward that 100%. It even made me excited about picking up litter.
Exploration is important here and is intrinsically linked to the puzzles which take the place of combat in Chicory, or at least for the most part. The puzzles are clever and satisfying to figure out. At times, you’ll come across an area of map that is restricted by a seemingly unsolvable puzzle. But stumble across that same screen later, after unlocking new paint abilities, and new solutions suddenly become clear and it is immensely gratifying.
Of course, it is not without flaws. Its open-world elements occasionally leave you wandering aimlessly, unsure of where you should be going. This issue isn’t helped by the lack of a quest or adventure log, which is especially surprising considering how much effort is placed on making this game accessible.
In place of a mission log, phone boxes are scattered around the world in which you can call your Mom for a loose reminder of what to do next. Ask for your Dad to be put on and he’ll provide you with more specific details, including explicit answers to puzzles. It’s incredibly wholesome, and for that I applaud it, but having to hunt down the right screen in order to be able access this can be frustrating.
Similarly, while Chicory’s mechanics are incredibly interesting and endearing, they are at times let down by their actual controls. Certain button combinations are tough to maintain and, despite being completely re-mappable, I couldn’t figure out how to make them more comfortable during my play. The consistency of the puzzles also fluctuates, with glitches and awkward mapping sometimes making them rage-inducing rather than enjoyably challenging. Fortunately, these problems are few and far between. It simply is quite jarring when they appear, since Chicory otherwise plays impressively smoothly.
Where Chicory really excels is in its core mechanic: painting. Rich not only in its colours, being able to paint anything and (almost) everything makes the world feel like your own while also supplying you with the tools to manipulate environments and solve puzzles. These solutions feel sophisticated in the way they maintain engagement, often introducing new elements and new ways to manoeuvre through the world with your brush.
Still, it is the way that these elements tie into Chicory’s story that is the most impressive. There is a cyclical self-awareness to its message about creating and trying to be someone in the world: your dog doesn’t believe that they’re worthy of the brush or that what they create is of any worth and so, neither are they. But that’s simply not true. Sometimes all you need is to find someone to remind you of that.
Playing this game as someone who 1) cannot draw to save their life and 2) was using the touchpad of a PS4 controller to attempt to paint, I could relate to my dog Noodles even outside of my own personal experiences with imposter syndrome and insecurity. Chicory knows its audience and knows exactly how to remind them that your value is not tied to your work, your abilities, or how other people perceive you.
Chicory tells a story that is relatively small in scale, but is all the more affecting because of that. You’re forced to forgive the game for its minor flaws by the sincerity that is imbued within every element of the game, and it is this sincerity that makes it so likely to hit close to home for those who find themselves drawn to the colour and creativity that Chicory has to offer…
Tested on PS4
Also available on PC, PS5
Developer Greg Lobanov, Alexis Dean-Jones, Madeline Berger, A Shell in the Pit, Lena Raine
Disclosure a copy of Chicory: A Colorful Tale was provided by ICO Partners
Eyestrain Helper, Font Style and Text Speed, Content Warnings, Toggling ‘Wet’ Sounds, etc. are some of the additional accessibility options within Chicory.