Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a fun and charming top-down adventure game from indie developer Greg Lobanov. It’s a classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” scenario in that the visual styling may be simple, but the story features a multilayered depth. It tackles very important topics of mental health that I’m sure we can all resonate with. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to learn about how others might be feeling beneath the surface. This is all wrapped up in a therapeutic and fun colouring game with a powerful soundtrack. 

The initial premise this fairly simple you take on the mantle of the Wielder and, with the power of the Brush, bring colour back to the world. As you traverse the province of Picnic, you’ll meet friends, family, and neighbours. Taking on challenging puzzles as you explore the mysteries behind the corruption. Oh, and there’s a bunch of Earthbound references for good measure. Don’t be fooled by the charming art style as Chicory: A Colorful Tale contains a depth and challenge that might come as a surprise.

The dominant theme running throughout the story and interactions with its characters centre around mental health. As the Wielder, you bring back colour to the world and there’s a lot of worried residents to reassure. The world suddenly becoming void of all colour would be a shock to anyone. With the rightful Wielder’s whereabouts currently unknown, you take a lot of flak from residents. A lot of the interactions you have with people are tough. Their ability to cope with the sudden loss of colour has shaken them mentally. You listen, learn and help in whatever way they ask. Most of the time, that means progressing with the game. Not everyone is so dour, however, some are just happy to get back on with life colour or not. 

While there’s a wide spectrum of characters to interact with and most of the interactions can be very impactful. There’s an unfortunate downside in that there can be too much dialogue. It’s praiseworthy to have every interaction be unique throughout the game, but the meaningful moments of dialogue happen only a few times per character. The rest is made up of endless waffling. What makes it unfortunate is you need to exhaust all dialogue scenarios to either progress or obtain items needed for perfect completion. Thankfully, the impactful moments between characters really stay with you. One of the best examples of this, and without giving away too much, is a beautiful lesbian relationship that blossoms between two characters. 

One character that’s more important to the story than any other is the titular Chicory. Every interaction with Chicory is a learning moment. Her grappling with mental health is sometimes hard to watch. She is an anxious, self-deprecating mess with imposter syndrome that can’t believe in the esteem of which the people hold her. The player character is no stranger to thoughts of self-doubt and together the two travel a gamut of emotional highs and lows. It is through these difficulties do they learn of each other, the good and the bad, and become more than the strangers they started as.

The premise of Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a simple one. The world has lost its colour everything is now black and white, an empty canvas if you will. With brush in hand colouring, every inch of the world is completely up to the player. The early stages of the game won’t require much painting to proceed. But progression soon becomes dependent on abilities you unlock and will necessitate painting more aspects of each screen to activate. To make it easier and less time-consuming in the late game, it’s worth painting as much as possible as you progress. 

Luckily, you don’t need to possess the skills of a master painter to complete the game. As you can quickly and easily fill an entire screen with little effort. But those that are not artistically challenged will find a lot to like here. There’s a variety of different brush packs to unlock, even creating your own alongside custom colour palettes. The world truly is your canvas and there’s no limit to your imagination. You can even bring in a second player and by working together, bring a little joy to Picnic.

The gameplay is reminiscent of Concrete Genie but without the motion controls. The implementation is very different, however, and never truly felt streamlined throughout the game. It’s clearly geared toward mouse and keyboard use where you can easily paint with the mouse swiftly and with precision. However, the movement of the character is better on a controller. There’s a trade-off no matter which control scheme you decide to use. There’s another stark difference, and that’s in the overly white colour palette of Chicory: A Colorful Tale. It’s like a charming colouring book, but when applied to screens there’s a very serious risk of eyestrain. Thankfully, the developer has considered this with an Eyestrain Helper option located in the menu. Do your eyes and head a favour and turn this on if you’re planning to play for an extended period. It works the same as phones and tablets by adding a warmer tint to the screen. 

Lena Raine’s composition is a perfect accompaniment to the gameplay. The music in every area of Picnic is unique. It’s worth taking a few moments when entering a new area to let the music take you on a journey. There’s so much depth to be found within the music choices and when they appear within the game. The music accompanying the challenging yet not impossible boss battles is intense and a major departure from the soothing upbeat and sombre tones of the towns. Without this soundtrack, I don’t know if the game would have had the same level of impact.

Verdict

Chicory: A Colorful Tale perfectly embraces the “don’t judge a book by its cover” metaphorical phrase. It lulls you into a false sense of security with its charmingly simple visuals and cute anthropomorphic characters. The depth found within its story is unexpected, surprising, and frankly wonderful storytelling. The focus on mental health is eye-opening, self-affirming and a great opportunity to learn. This is all wrapped up in a therapeutic and fun colouring game with a powerful soundtrack.

Review copy provided by ICO Partners