Fifteen minutes after I finished the Chicory demo, the postie knocked at my door with my pre-order of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’m not just mentioning this to find an excuse to mention the game I played all weekend, but to let you all know the headspace I was in.
Chicory’s demo dropped during the Steam spring festival, and is brought to you by the creators of Wandersong. It’s a game where you control a cute beagle named after your favourite food—mine was pizza, because I am nothing if not basic—on a quest to find Chicory the rabbit, wielder of the paintbrush. Once she disappears, your character sets out to find her, taking her magic paintbrush along for the ride. This brush shrinks and grows platforms to help with traversal, while the Wielder is met with instant respect by everyone they meet.
Chicory involves a bit of platforming and a lot of chatting to animals, so after waiting almost a decade for a new edition of Animal Crossing, I found myself constantly making little notes comparing the two.
There are similarities, certainly. I’ll get to them later. But I was concerned that whatever I wrote about Chicory this weekend would really be a love letter to Animal Crossing disguised as my first impressions of Chicory. Then a Godsend happened: I reached the end of demo boss. And what a boss it is.
This boss battle flew in the face of the subtle relaxing tones of Chicory. It's the strangest boss encounter I've played since Undertale. The screen suddenly went black, and I was faced with a giant eye, five times the size of my character. No instructions were given. Nothing seemed to be happening. I decided to poke it in the eye with my paintbrush, and that’s when Chicory got really weird.
The eye split off into six smaller eyeballs, all moving around the screen, blinking and winking at odd rhythms. They shot laser beams at me, they fired their eyelashes like missiles, they surrounded me like sharks. The rest of Chicory plays out like a lovely garden picnic, but the boss battle was like chugging a 9% pint of beer to wash it down. It demanded quicker reactions, greater tactical thought and much more awareness of your character—it almost felt like playing a different game entirely, though in the best possible way.
It wasn't what I expected at all when I started Chicory. The game begins with a vibrant splash of colour and an art style that looks like a child’s drawing on the fridge, if you child was actually talented. Soon, though, all of the colour is wiped away from the world, leaving it in black and white. Taking Chicory’s brush, it’s your job to bring that colour back.
The painting feels intuitive and smooth, and the game is careful to inject personality into this part. Macaroon, a squirrel with the temperament of Gordon Ramsay, demands his house be painted a tough colour, and rewards you with a hat if you smother it purple. Pumpernickel the beaver, meanwhile, wants four colours to be used in painstakingly equal amounts, and once you’re finished the reward is… a smile. ‘That’s all you should need’, he tells you. I assume the full game is going to be a masterclass in trolling.
It would be unfair to label Chicory as simply Animal Crossing with a boss battle. While the tone hits the same whimsical notes, the comparison doesn’t do justice to Chicory’s inventive paintbrush or the platforming, which is clearly where the action’s going to be come the full release. There's not time for much of it in the demo, but what's there is creative. Your magic paintbrush lets you shrink some trees that are blocking your path, but later on you might need to scamper over their tops, so you’ll need to unpaint them. There are also elastic trees that can fling you forward if you paint them, suggesting the full Chicory is going to wring more ideas out of simply painting trees, especially given that the first boss rewards you with glow in the dark paint.
With a promising range of platforming gimmicks in the demo alone, inventive boss battles and NPCs bursting with personality, Chicory clearly has a lot of depth to it already, and is only going to become more interesting once it’s finished. I loved a lot of what I played, but the most exciting part of the demo is wondering what might come next.