Chicory: a colorful story is as special as Undertale was special. Both games disarmed you with their charm and humor before murdering you with a story full of warmth, love and knee-numbing sharpness. chicory There couldn’t have been a better time for people who need to learn to be kind to themselves and gracious to others.
chicory is a game about a tanuki (the critical Not the title character) who gets caught in a magical brush that can paint the world in all possible colors. Then as Bad Luck wants it, all the colors of the world mysteriously disappear and your character is tasked with bringing color back to the world. But what starts out as a normal, epic video game quest becomes something more personal and heartier than just saving the world.
The first time you brush (heh), chicory seems your typical feel-good indie game. It has a cute art style and relatively simple game mechanic where you use your paintbrush to fill in all the empty spaces in the world with a choice of colors. But in reality, Chicory is a masterfully crafted surgical laser of a game designed to remove all layers of defenses from your soul, leaving you with your deepest insecurities and a desire to do something about it while still managing to be a fun platform game be.
Some games have recently fallen into a trap of acknowledging the very real mental health issues that seem to plague Millennials and Generation Z. A game makes an ironic joke or amusing innuendo in a way that feels appropriate for a quick screencap on social media with subtitles like “Vibes” or “Ouch” or “Too Real” before getting back to business. This moment of reflection is completely forgotten. Or, conversely, a game will shower misery after misery to “grasp the truth of real life”.
chicory creates a well-kept balance between these extremes. It recognizes that the world sucks, and so do we, even though we aren’t so depressing that you want to hide under your blankets forever. Every time my tanuki pizza interacted with the cute animal citizens, we had open and meaningful, but never depressing, conversations about depression, anxiety, and this relentless slut cheater syndrome.
chicory is a kind of Metroidvania, but there is no combat other than boss fights. You use your brush powers to solve environmental puzzles to move the story forward. The puzzles are simple but challenging enough to be worthwhile. The real challenge is to collect all of the collectibles. There are hidden areas to explore, find missing children, collect clothes, and purchase brushes so all of your brushing powers and platforming skills will be required. Finding all of the collectibles will unlock a number of perks that you can use to decorate your home, dress up, or paint increasingly complex masterpieces.
Boss fights are fun, but sometimes they last longer than necessary. In every fight your character had to dodge color attacks. But every time you fight a new boss, the game switches and introduces a new variant of the painting mechanic, which left me breathlessly whispering: “No damn way”, impressed by the sheer creativity of the encounter.
chicory is unique with its settings and systems that support your game. You can tell that the developers paid attention to accessibility. There’s a setting to turn off the noises the paint makes when you splash it everywhere to help the folks with misophonia or anyone who just doesn’t like the wet, squeaky noises. There is also a robust hint system that gives you easy hints or tells you directly what to do if you get stuck. I appreciated this in-game hint system because I’m honest, I’m getting old. Sometimes I just don’t have the patience to figure out how to move forward and looking up walkthroughs is a hassle, or in this case almost impossible, since the game is so new.
Although coloring is the main game component of chicory, I never felt compelled to fill in the empty and empty world, and I’m glad the game doesn’t seem to punish you for not doing so. I’m also glad that the game doesn’t care if you are an artist, while it gives artists a chance to show off their talents with its blank canvases of possibility. With a skilled hand and all the different brush styles, there are no limits to your creativity chicory.
Throughout the game, I’ve been wondering why you didn’t play as the title character. Chicory is not you, but your idol. Before you used the brush, it was hers, and it was her job to paint the world. But as I went through the game, the conversations I had with Chicory started to feel too awkward around home. Chicory has fulfilled her dream by reaching the position of Wielder. She’s perfect for your character so why isn’t she happy? Why does she belittle herself, hate herself, and finally hit people who just want to help her? The decision to play as someone else feels deliberate by the developers.
Playing as chicory would have been too easy to ignore their feelings, just as I reject my own feelings when I feel sad or worthless. We will often enthusiastically support our friends struggling with mental health problems, but just as often we cannot save that kindness or patience for ourselves. By playing as someone other than Chicory, as a character who unreservedly supports their idol, the game reminds me to be gentle with myself, just as pizza is gentle with Chicory.
The game doesn’t let anyone off the hook either. Too often characters who have wronged themselves for understandable reasons are forgiven without having done anything to truly deserve forgiveness. chicory recognizes the dual reality that people struggling with mental health problems hurt the people they love without using that mental illness as an excuse for the pain inflicted.
Chicory hurts pizza even though it doesn’t want it and Pizza understands that. But instead of simply forgiving pizza chicory and letting everyone move on, Chicory apologizes and promises to do better and takes action on this promise. If you ever had to know how to fix a relationship after a seemingly unforgivable rift, a few hours with Chicory will show you how to do it.
Watching these difficult conversations between chicory and pizza felt authentic. They are two messy people (well, two messy talking animals) who are messy together.
I don’t want the game to end. Even after chicory and pizza patched things up and saved the world, I want to keep exploring the world and solving colorful, challenging puzzles.
chicory is a devastating game, and I mean that in the most loving ways I can. His playful art style and infinitely repeatable music hide a heartbreaking story that will cut you 1,000 times before you even know you’re bleeding. But at the same time chicory will uplift you and remind you that even when things are bad and you feel hopeless, that help is never as far away as it seems.