Chicory is, basically, a game in the style of a 2D Zelda but with almost all of the combat removed and with the game themed around coloring the world. (At the start of the game, all color has been drained from the world; you’ve got a paintbrush that you can use to paint colors back in.) These all sound like things that I like, and I did in fact end up rather enjoying Chicory, but it took me a while to get there.

It started off pleasantly enough; the initial theme is introduced, you’ve got a village to wander around and some people to talk to, and an initial task to accomplish. Which requires wandering around a forest a bit, discovering how some of the plants interact with your paintbrush, and doing a bit of puzzle solving that follows from that. Then you get to a boss battle (which does involve light combat, unlike the exploration parts), and you get a paint brush upgrade which allows you to reach other parts of the overworld along with a narrative push to go to those other parts.

And that’s all to the good. The only real disappointment there was the painting: at (almost) any given point, you only have four colors to choose from, and very little fine-grained control over your brush. So it’s hard to see the painting as a form of personal expression: it’s more like somebody gave you four buckets of paint and said “if you feel like it, you can slosh these buckets of paint over stuff”. Which just isn’t that rewarding.

The flip side, though, is that I’m actually not much of an artist. So if the game were to go in more on having me express myself through painting tools, I probably actually wouldn’t have enjoyed that? Or at least I wouldn’t have enjoyed that if I had to do it too much; in Chicory, there are a few places that nudge you to do some painting, maybe designing a logo for a store or maybe taking some classes in an art academy. And, in each of those locations, I basically enjoyed doing what I was asked to do (and some of the paintings I ended up with were kind of charming), but also, I only did the minimal amount that each location asked of me.

So, in some sense, I actually think the game made some pretty good choices there: supporting players like me (and, I suspect, like a lot of other potential players) that are a lot more into the narrative and puzzle solving aspects of the game than the creative aspects of the game. I still feel like there’s something missing there, that they didn’t get the tools quite right, but in practice, the painting was fine.


Anyways, after that first bit, the game continues pretty much like you’d expect. You fight a boss, you get a brush power; that gives you an ability to travel past obstacles that you couldn’t travel past before, and also enables new forms of environmental puzzles for you to solve. And, as you travel, you’ll see hints of future puzzles / obstacles that you expect will be unlocked by future brush powers, leading you to wonder a bit about the details of what’s coming. All good stuff; and I enjoyed the puzzles.

But also all a little samey, like I’ve seen this before? Not entirely: having no combat in the overworld is certainly unusual, and the various capabilities that the brush enables are different from, say, the traditional powerups in a Zelda game. So it’s not a pure retread or anything; but I can imagine a game being more novel.

Also, while I’m lightly complaining about things: I’m not so sure about the boss battle combat. I do support having a game that mostly avoids combat but does still include boss battles; one of the best video games of all time does exactly that. Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, though, Chicory has a style where you don’t want the boss battles to be too hard. And, in general, they aren’t, and if you do die, the game just plunks you right back at the current phase of the boss fight that you were at, so you don’t lose much, and if you die too many times, the game starts nudging you to take extra lives.

But also, the combat in the boss battles is all about simultaneously dodging enemy attacks with the left thumbstick while having you paint a moving enemy with your right thumbstick. So you have to pay attention to two different parts of the screen and use your two thumbsticks to control two different actions corresponding to those two parts of the screen. And in some sense that’s actually pretty hard, it’s asking you to something that’s rather more perceptually complicated than a game where you’re running around the boss and trying to figure when to whack it and when to dodge. It’s not as bad as it could be, because most of the time you can either be in a mental mode of “move my character to escape the enemy attacks” or in a mental mode of “move the paintbrush over to the boss so I can damage it”, so in practice most of the time you only have to worry about half of the potential complexity, but still, there is something complex there. And maybe that’s okay! It was just a little unexpected.


So, at my halfway point through Chicory, I was starting to get a little down on the game: it was pleasant enough, but I’d hoped for a little more than I was seeing.

But then I started getting impressed by the game, for a different reason. (And not one I was expecting going in.) The game, of course, has a plot: the world has a single brush wielder, you’ve suddenly gotten put into that role, and there’s something going wrong that you need to deal with, as manifested by the colors disappearing and these weird trees that are starting to crop up.

As part of this, the question of “why was I chosen as the brush wielder, and am I really up for the task?” arises; no big surprise there, except maybe for the slightly unusual wrinkle that your predecessor and even a couple of other earlier brush wielders are still around: they’ve handed over the brush but they’re not dead.

That latter bit turns out to go in ways that I for one didn’t really expect, though. It’s not, of course, shocking for a game that leads off with colors disappearing from the world to touch with themes of depression. But what was a little surprising, at least for me, is that the depression didn’t show up in the main character: the character you play certainly has their difficulties to deal with (generally related to the fact that they’ve been suddenly thrust into a role that they’re not particularly prepared for), but also, the adults around them have issues too.

So Chicory turns out to be a rather lovely game that, in part, has you grapple with the fact that adults and authority figures not only don’t have all the answers, they’re also real people who are going through stuff that can be pretty hard to deal with. And I think the game handles this pretty well: it looks at that from the point of view of an adolescent coming of age who realizes that the adults around them are people with problems, and it also looks at that from the point of view of adults who have problems, and who don’t have things magically figured out just because they’re older and in a position of authority. Chicory handles this all in a kind, nuanced way, not minimizing problems that people have or the effects of those problems but also not treating those problems as reflecting some sort of grand moral statement or anything.

(Except that the game does end with a surprising moral statement, and it’s a good one! So yay on Chicory for that, too.)


So, ultimately: good game. The basic mechanics are solid, so if you like 2D adventure games, you’ll probably like Chicory fine? And it turns out that there’s also something deeper going on; it wasn’t what I expected going in, but once I stopped focusing on what I was expected and started listening a little more to other aspects of the story, I liked what I found.

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