chicory - brightening up the world

the splash page for chicory, featuring an anthropomorphic cartoon dog seated on a bench surrounded by colorful flowers. a giant paintbrush is propped alongside the bench.
the splash page for chicory, featuring a cartoon dog seated on a bench surrounded by colorful flowers. there is a giant paintbrush propped by the side of the bench.

in chicory: a colorful tale, you play as an enthusiastic anthropomorphic dog who has been working as the janitor for the wielder, an artist whose job it is to use a magical paintbrush to give color to picnic, the world in which you reside. at the beginning of the game, though, through unknown murky dismal shenanigans, all the world's color has disappeared -- along with chicory, the current wielder. you and the abandoned brush set of on a quest to find chicory and brighten the world back up again.

an image of a cartoon dog standing in a hallway with many portraits on the wall. the entire picture is black and white and a conversation bubble says, "It's fine that all the colors just vanished for no reason!!"
this is fine.

what follows is an absolutely charming adventure game. i was hooked from the first splashes of paint i got to throw on the blank coloring-book-style canvas of the world. the game encourages playfulness -- there's an ever-changing range of color and style options available to help you decorate the world, and you're largely given license to color any way your heart desires. fill in every screen in monochrome? doodle hearts on all the trees? make the grass tie-dye? put anarchy symbols on every building? yes, yes, yes, yes! if you don't like the color palettes the game provides you (each area has its own default set of colors to choose from), there is an npc who will let you make your own and use whatever colors you like.

an image of a cartoon dog standing in a cave with many rocks and fungal growths springing from the walls. the entire scene is painted in shares of pink and oranges.
i don't need to be an arist to enjoy painting chicory's world bright.

finding your own way to do things is an overarching theme in the story, which for all its fluffy pastel aesthetics, delves heavily into issues of depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and how to figure out your path in life when you're used to staking your self-worth on what you do for others. the main story gets heavy, but it never feels mired in its own weight. your path through the world of picnic is studded with encounters that make it all the more rewarding as you come to terms with what it means to wield the brush. you are not a trained artist like most wielders, simply someone who had the brush thrust upon you almost by accident, constantly plagued by doubts that you will ever be good enough.

it's the little encounters that help lift chicory's story from interesting adventure to a full-color delight. running into my sister in a cafe to have her tell me that it's okay to say "no" sometimes to the million and one demands that people make on my time felt like a pointed reminder for real life. after losing my own plant-loving brother in real life these past years, there was a quiet peacefulness in slowing down from the main quest to help a koala create a worthy garden memorial for the best friend he was mourning. even if you don't do any of the side quests, the game always reminds you of the effects your art -- no matter how you've chosen to approach it -- has on the world. characters you run into frequently stop to let you know how they feel about the job you're doing coloring in their previously black and white world.

it's a lot to pack into a cosy little game about painting, but chicory's story pulls it off elegantly, keeping me as invested in the story and my relationships with the other characters as i was in creating wildly fantastical rainbow forests.

queerness

you play as an anthropomorphic dog of unspecified gender, and romantic relationships are never a part of the storyline.

can i see myself in...?

...maybe! all the characters in this game are anthro animals, which will be a definite high score in this category for some readers! but you don't have to be a furry to find plenty to find the characters relable as they navigate burnout and anxiety and finding their own footing (with the support of some loving family and community.)

cuddliness

there are no dogs or cats you can pet, only dogs you can be! you can if you choose spend a lot of time searching for pretty cute lost kittens, although they are not pets, they are missing children.

prettiness

the artwork in this game is a pure delight, and best of all, you get to co-create it! you're given essentially a coloring-book world full of cartoon creatures and settings, and an ever-changing set of color palettes to fill it in however you wish. you can change up your paint jobs as often as you like, and take as much or as little time painting in detail (or not) as feels good to you.

time constraints

the game can be saved anywhere. it's simple to pick up, play for a few minutes, then save and quit. the controls are fairly simple, without a high bar for re-familiarizing yourself with them.

friendliness

an image of a cartoon dog standing in a telephone booth beside a little house. caption on the screen says, "Call home and get a hint on what to do next?"
if you're ever lost, your parents are just a phone call away!

 

the game provides options for making the boss fights easier as well as skipping them entirely. outside of boss fights, there's a very well-done built-in hint system in the game if you are ever stuck on what to do next. using telephone booths stationed around the world, you can at any time call home to get encouragement from your mom and a suggestion on where to head, e.g. "if i were you i'd head to the wielder temple". if your mom's suggestion doesn't unstuck you, at the end of each call your dad makes grabbyhands at the phone, and your mom offers to let you speak to him, mentioning how he just loves to give the most detailed advice. if you choose to speak to your dad, he'll tell you very explicitly what to do next, e.g. "head one screen left and one screen up, then do ___".

unrelated to gameplay, but every time you run into your parents or sister in world they are extremely sweet and encouraging and it always put a smile on my face.

watchability

once more, relying on my parnter for input in this section -- they were a consistent couch companion as i played. they felt the game was very enjoyable to watch; it didn't require constant attention to follow the story so was a nice backdrop for whatever else they were doing. the dialogue was visually distinctive enough that even if they weren't paying close attention it was easy to notice when scenes were happening and look up. the music was gentle and peaceful outside the boss fights. the character designs, backgrounds, and paint effects were all very visually pleasing and interesting to watch. they felt that the player's direct input into creating the game environment gave them a greater sense of investment in what was going on than some other games they've spectated lately.

accessibility

the design of chicory made me feel the creators put a lot of conscientious thought into accessibility.

  • controls: i played on switch. there was an option to choose between right vs. left handed controls, to choose whether or not you need to hold down buttons for actions vs. toggle on/off, and to change the cursor speed.
  • visual: options menu provided an "eye strain" option that would give a light or heavy warm filter. there were also options to change the text style and scroll speed as well as disable text effects, screenshake, and flashing effects. the game involves a lot of painting, however, there is no point in the game where you are required to differentiate between the colors at all.
  • audio: you are not required to listen to anything in order to complete this game. there is no vo in this game so all story requires reading the dialogue, which comes in clear legible dialogue balloons. the options menu provides an option to turn off the "wet sound" effects (i am told that by default many painting actions make a kind of wet noise that may trigger misophonia if not disabled.)
  • other: there is an option to turn content warnings on and off. i especially liked the way they handled content warnings. if you have them on, you receive a warning before a scene and decide whether you want to continue. rather than a binary "skip/don't skip" option, you can answer "yes", "no" or "i'm not sure"; if you choose "i'm not sure", it will explain how to fast forward at any point if you need to nope out of the scene.

stylishness

there is a constantly growing array of outfits to pick from in chicory. you may find them in gift boxes hidden around the world or receive them from other characters, you can swap for them at the clothing swap, you can even design your own shirt if you like. i made sure to always have my pup dolled up in the PERFECT outfit when it came time for boss fights. no evil psychic emanations were going to catch me slipping!

recommendation

very heartily, if you enjoy poignant adventure stories about finding yourself and helping others along the way, adorable animal-people, or getting to go wild with coloring in or out of the lines. if that doesn't sound like your thing, we'll be reviewing plenty of other games in future!

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