Why Chicory Was One of the Most Heartwarming, Thoughtful and FUN Games of 2021

Wandersong was without a doubt one of my very favorite titles of 2018, so when I found out that creator Greg Lobanov was working on his next game, Chicory: A Colorful Tale, I had high expectations for yet another empathetic, compelling and feel-good title that was also loads of fun. Chicory does not disappoint.

The game was officially released last June, but didn't come to the Nintendo Switch until December, which was when I reached out to the team and was generously provided with a key to review the game. As soon as I booted the game up, I was completely sucked into the lovely, and complex, world of Chicory. Keep reading to find out why I think it was one of the very best games of 2021.

The Tale of Chicory

Chicory takes place in a land called Picnic, which is all black and white, save for the vibrant colors brought to it by a chosen one called the Wielder. The Wielder isn't just an artist, but a hero of the land, spreading creativity and joy to the world with the help of a Magic Paintbrush with many hidden abilities.

Chicory she's so cool

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

In the game, you play as a doggy named after a favorite food you set at its start (I picked "Rice") who's essentially a janitor to the current Wielder, a rabbit named Chicory. You've always looked up to her and aspired to be just like her, even if you've never had many talents of your own—so when you go overboard with cleaning and find that you accidentally wipe all of the color from her art room, and then find her Paintbrush abandoned in her tower, you take it upon yourself to fix things.

But when you leave the tower, you find that it's not just the room, but the entire world that seems devoid of color. You decide to try to set things right, eventually stumbling upon a mysterious darkness that's begun spreading across the world. After confronting it, you black out and are rescued by a previous Wielder called Blackberry. She's upset with you, both for using the Paintbrush and for trying to play the hero, and urges you to return it to Chicory—but when you do, you discover she's not just very upset, but also has no desire to wield it again.

Chicory sorry for taking your brush

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

With Chicory abandoning her post, you gather up your courage and decide to act in her stead and do everything you can to send that darkness back to wherever it came from. However, as the story progresses, you'll find that banishing that darkness is a lot more complicated than it sounds—and it all starts with confronting your own fears and doubts, and overcoming the nagging voice in your head that says you're not enough.

 

Becoming a Hero

From the very beginning of Chicory, it's clear that it's not a completely traditional game in terms of controls. While the general movement is pretty typical for a top-down adventure game, you'll also be using the right joystick to move a paintbrush around the screen, and pressing R to paint.

Early on, you might wonder what the painting is all for. You'll mostly just be putting lines of rudimentary color on the landscape in a way that makes you feel totally underprepared for filling Chicory's shoes—and that's exactly the point. However, the more you adventure, and the stronger your brush becomes, the more you'll see exactly what you can accomplish with your Magic Paintbrush—and the more confident you'll feel about being the new Wielder.

Chicory painting world

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

Throughout the game, your paint can do everything from making platform trees grow or shrink to activating flinging plants and mushrooms to lighting up dark caves, uncovering hidden messages, pressing switches, creating swimmable passages and so much more. The result is something akin to a Zelda-like puzzle action-platformer (minus almost all of the combat) with a healthy dose of Splatoon-style ink-swimming, and the two combine ingeniously into something brand new. Plus, each new ability you unlock acts as a key to grant you access to areas you couldn't quite reach before, so the world is ever-expanding and never getting old. Both the puzzles and platforming are innovative and so much fun, combining your abilities to create scenarios that will test your reflexes as well as your mind, and these alone make the game worth playing.

Chicory first wielder butt

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

But all of it is in service of so much more than just stopping the forces of evil. At its heart, Chicory is really about people and the connections we forge with others when we open our hearts and show kindness. Throughout the game, you'll do all kinds of quests for people by coloring things and creating your own works of art, but it's even more about bringing them together and causing as much joy as possible, with empathy and compassion. Most of the time, going out of your way will only result in cosmetic prizes, such as accessories, clothing or new paintbrush styles, but it never feels needless or redundant, because you feel good about what you can do for others.

Chicory won't let everyone down

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

This is especially true when it comes to the previous Wielder Chicory, who's dealing with all kinds of issues of her own, including depression, a serious case of imposter syndrome and the impossible expectations that have been placed upon her by her society. From the perspective of your character, who idolizes Chicory, it can be hard to see how this incredibly talented, creative and strong person could ever not believe in herself—especially when your own abilities pale in comparison.

Chicory you believe in me

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

It's an important message, reminding us that no matter how good we are, or how good we seem on the outside, we can all be facing our own private battles that are invisible to the naked eye, which is why kindness and open-mindedness are so critical, always. It's about trying your hardest to do what's right, even in the face of adversity and self-doubt, while also accepting those darker parts of yourself. It's about taking life's good with the bad, but remaining hopeful nonetheless.

That idea of self-acceptance, and knowing that you're enough no matter what level you're at, is beautiful, and I'm not too proud to admit that I teared up on multiple occasions throughout the course of playing the game. One storyline in particular, about getting to know an art student who vocally casts doubts on your ability as both an artist and a Wielder, is especially human at its core, and definitely got me choked up for all the right reasons.

 

A Game for Everyone

Chicory is a game that just works, both on a basis of level design and through its creative and affecting storytelling, so I can't get enough of the fact that the game has some of the best accessibility options I've seen. It truly seems to be made for everyone, and it never makes you feel bad about needing to tone down the difficulty or needing help.

For example, there's no combat or health system in the game at all, save for the game's boss encounters, but you can increase your health at any time during the game from the options menu, or even during the fights themselves, if you're finding them too difficult. Or, if they're too scary or stressful for you, you can skip the boss fight entirely.

Chicory boss confrontation

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

And that's not the only skippable content in the game. There's also an option to turn on content warnings in the game, which will alert players about content that might be potentially upsetting, from frightening imagery to different depictions of mental health struggles and more, so that players can either continue, take a break and return when they're more mentally ready, or skip that section entirely.

Chicory content warning

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

You can also turn off different aspects of the game, such as flashing effects or screen shake, or even wet, squishy sounds (which some people just really dislike). Other options include left-handed controls, which swap the functions of the control sticks, or toggle controls so you don't have to hold down any buttons—which I really wish I could have checked out before cramping my hand up during an early boss fight.

There are also some optional cosmetic goodies in the game that require fast reflexes (such as bouncing between mushrooms in sync with raising platforms with your brush), but you can turn down the reaction speed if needed to nab them. The fact that you can use touchscreen controls on the Nintendo Switch is also huge. I haven't played the game on its other platforms, and without touch controls, why would I want to?

Plus, the map is littered with phonebooths, which you can use to call home for hints if you get stuck or aren't quite sure what to do next. A chat with your mom will give you a push in the right direction—or, on some occasions, if you want to talk to your dad, he'll get really specific about what needs to be done next. I didn't make much use of this feature during the main game, but I love that when you're being a completionist about things, these hints will steer you toward quests and collectibles you missed. Combined, all of these features make this a game for pretty much anyone who wants to pick it up and play.

Chicory calling home to mom

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

 

Coloring Your World

All in all, the creativity and charm of Chicory made it really stand out in 2021, and one I know I'll return to again and again—and much of that was to do not with the adventure itself, or even Chicory's beautiful personal journey, but that I loved living in this little world and adding some brightness and color to it. The anthropomorphic characters with their food names are all memorable and unique, while the entire game's aesthetic is beautiful, becoming even more alive as you color it in, and each region has its own distinctive and catchy music that will keep you coming back for more.

The game isn't just creative in itself but also makes players feel like artists. Throughout the game, you'll design donut-shaped "Holeys," T-shirts, pizza logos, desserts and more, but one of my very favorite parts of the game was the optional art academy, where you can create both original paintings based on various emotions as well as recreations of "classic" paintings with your own splash of color and originality. Your canvases are showcased not just around the land of Picnic, but also in the Master Gallery.

Chicory master gallery

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

The game also references Wandersong with a singing bird named Kiwi, who belts out a tune you compose, using similar mechanics to those used in the previous game. I happened to name by bard "Bird" in that game, so finding the character was extra special to me.

Chicory singing bird bard

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

There also happens to be another dog named Rice in the game, in one of the last areas I stumbled upon. That also felt like it was meant to be!

Chicory finding rice

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

And I haven't even mentioned the customization available in the game. The game is absolutely filled with collectible accessories and outfits that can be found in little gift boxes throughout Luncheon, and anytime I saw one, I'd drop everything to get my hands on it. This is a great feature, not just because you can dress up your character, but also because you can choose to color yourself in, too.

Chicory playing dress up

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

It's also a relatively meaty game with lots to explore. I thought I was being pretty thorough when I "beat" the game after eight hours and 55 minutes, but had found just about 78% of everything within the game. I've since played more than six additional hours on the same game file exploring every last nook and cranny, and leaving no stone unturned. There is just so much optional content here to engage with and enjoy, and none of it feels like busywork if, like me, you find it rewarding to locate every last paintbrush style, outfit and accessory.

Chicory is funny, sweet, complicated and always adorable. Despite its sometimes tough topics, there's a sense of coziness to the game that'll keep you coming back for more. It's that honesty and vulnerability that makes it so powerful, and I think it's a must-play for anyone struggling with feelings of imposter syndrome—or just anyone who's ready for a big adventure.

Chicory you don't have to be perfect

(Chicory: A Colorful Tale via Finji)

 

Wandersong is available now on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch for $19.99 (and is currently on sale on Steam for $4.99!).

 

If you think Chicory sounds like a blast, also be sure to read our old review of Wandersong HERE.