I see a blank door and I want to paint it pink
When I played Wandersong in 2018, I was not expecting it to hit me as hard as it did. Emotionally it was a beautiful and meaningful tale, but it was one of those games that refused to limit its ambitions. Despite its emotional core, it was filled to the brim with silliness and joy, gameplay mechanics that created a wholesome and fun experience, and a stellar soundtrack. Chicory can be easily described as “Wandersong but for painting” and that would be accurate in many ways; despite its strong emotional core, Chicory is relentless with how silly, cute, and joyful it is. Where Wandersong had you singing along the way, Chicory has you painting the way, any way you see fit for any reason. Not since Wandersong have I played a game that nails that ambition so well and improve so much over its predecessor in so many ways. It is as thoughtful and impactful (if not more) as its predecessor and as engaging and fun.
Chicory is about becoming the wielder of the brush – the only object able to give color to the world that looks like a coloring book without the color – after the previous wielder (Chicory) gives up the role; as her janitor and superfan, you explore the world of Picnic and try to get to the bottom of why Chicory gave up the role and handed it to you. There’s also the matter of the scary black corruption that is consuming the land that, as the new wielder, you’ll have to deal with. In order to do that, your character will defeat bosses, befriend and help locals, paint the world, and level up your bond with the brush to unlock new abilities; there’s a Splatoon-like ability to swim in paint, a jump, and other helpful abilities that allow you to paint the world and traverse it. While there are a ton of collectibles and secrets that require some backtracking, Chicory is not a Metroidvania; it’s an adventure game. It cares more about making you laugh or feel the emotions it is going for rather than testing your painting skills or puzzle-solving prowess.
Mechanically then, it isn’t that complicated to figure out or an intense challenge; just like its predecessor, the main interaction with the world sounds simple and silly, but it absolutely makes the game worth playing. You paint. You paint the locals, their homes, the streets; you paint to solve puzzles, but also to have a giggle. You can be as creative as you want to be; I never felt the need to paint everything, but I did unlock a style that was shaped as a star and used that to mark locations of collectibles I couldn’t get. This mechanic is what makes the game unique and allows it to be as effective in other departments, but talking about it is as interesting (or helpful) as explaining a joke; spoiling all the little surprises and various ways the game hooks its claws in you would be ruining the best moments of the game.
Like with Wandersong, the story of Chicory may seem to be goofy and simple at first, but it is not; Chicory is a story of great highs and lows for its characters. It is a game where you will help people get their businesses in order by painting their logo; it is a game where you will ponder the value of achieving your dreams of being the best at something if that process will make you into someone you don’t want to be. It is just as much about characters who are goofy and have funny fonts as it is about dealing with your own shortcomings and indecisions. It made me laugh and giggle, but only hours later I was having difficulty getting through some of it because of how close to home the themes and execution hit. It is a wonderful experience that is hard to describe in some ways. Like its predecessor, Chicory doesn’t have a strong driving force behind it; puzzles are fun to solve, the mechanic is silly and a joy, the story is deep and funny, and exploring the world with a stellar soundtrack is always a treat, but none of those pushed me to the end. In fact, nothing pushed me anywhere, which is why I love Wandersong as well; I did everything there was to do without even realizing it; I connected, remembered, and sympathized with all characters; I hummed the soundtrack as I picked a brush style to give my house a bit of style; I decorated places for side quests that only needed me to place some furniture, but I spent an hour finding the perfect stuff and the color that suits them.
That is exactly why Chicory works; its Zen unlike anything else. My only nitpick with it are that I wished it gave me the ability to control the finer details of my paintings (even though that is clearly not the point, I would like to have that choice). It even has a few neat ideas I would love to see replicated in other games (that haven’t already done them), like saving GIFs of your creations (Zachtronics games are great at this as well), the credits being a fun experience with a small prologue, time-lapse of how the areas looked by the end, even the sound effects for the painting sounds like my memories of what water paints sounded like when I was a kid goofing around, and other small details I won’t go into for fear of spoilers. It’s a wonderful experience and certainly one of the best ones I’ve had so far this year; I still prefer Wandersong, because music is one of my passions and it obviously made me more excited to play, but Chicory is one of those rare games that is specifically about something and if you’re not into that…it’s fine! I hate drawing stuff, I suck at it and don’t care to get better at it, but Chicory was still a blast. Regardless of your tastes, you should check this out; a charming world with fun characters, poignant stories, a sick soundtrack, and a unique experience awaits.