The phrase “paint the town red” means to go out and have a good time. 2021’s indie delight Chicory: A Colorful Tale takes that same approach by encouraging the player to paint the world whatever color pleases them. It’s a freeing exercise in the joys of artistic expression that invites the player to leave their mark on the world in the same way the developers of the game do.
In a world so full of stress, expectations, and burnout, Chicory confronts all of these themes through a coloring book aesthetic and a hopeful perspective on life. It is a relaxing adventure that is worth exploring now that it is on Xbox Game Pass.
What is your favorite food? That is the question that first confronts players when starting a new game of Chicory. It’s a novel question that seems silly. I answered pancakes. After a short cutscene that familiarizes you with the game’s setting, you take on the role of a janitor dog. Their name is Pancakes. At least for me. Chicory’s opening question names your protagonist.
The world itself is called Picnic (I sense a theme) and all those who reside within it also have food names. It seems silly but its disarming approach to character naming helps bring the player into the carefree attitude that permeates throughout Chicory. This is not a game that wants to be dramatic Prestige television or brooding family drama, this is a place to let your worries go and relax.
This relaxation is encouraged through the core gameplay loop of Chicory, coloring. The world is black and white throughout. As the new holder of a magic paintbrush that brings color into the world, it is your job to paint the world however you see fit. Much like a traditional Zelda game, the world is broken into different screens. These all act as a page in a coloring book that you as the player set out to fill as much or as little as you want.
Venturing through the world I left some screens rather bare as I struggled with a puzzle while other screens are a veritable rainbow filled with swirly designs. As you play more you unlock new powers for the brush that let you add new designs or patterns. Each time you come upon a new screen it has the potential of a blank canvas in MS Paint, and the game has no judgment on what you do. This is just for your own enjoyment. This is art as therapy. A playable coloring book to calm the soul.
But underneath its cute exterior, Chicory is always working towards a meaningful point about our relationship to art. For those who are artists, the character of Chicory shows a story of artistic burnout and the journey to always achieve some nebulous praise that the world often does not bestow on artists. For those who never pursued art past coloring books or doodling in the margins, Pancakes is a depiction of how we all can incorporate art into our lives for the purpose of healing. But either way, art is essential for its ability to heal the world, and for its ability to help individuals express their unique views on the world.
By the end of Chicory, the player will have explored all of the game’s map and left their literal mark on it in the form of unique brushstrokes and designs. No game of Chicory will resemble another because the player imprints their own artistic expression on Picnic. With its inclusion on Xbox Game Pass, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a singular experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is also available to purchase on PC, PlayStation, Switch, and Xbox.