Today’s indie roundup is kind of a special one, because we’re looking at what is one of this year’s best indie productions in Chicory – A Colorful Tale. We’re also looking at Eastasiasoft’s tactics RPG Empire of Angels IV and the console port of BeeFense BeeMastered.
Chicory – A Colorful Tale review (PS5)
Quite possibly our favorite indie game of the year thus far, Chicory: A Colorful Tale from Finji took us a while to get through – it features a massive 15+ hour campaign, which is rare for a game at this price point and a pleasant surprise because it maintains a high level of quality throughout all of it. And to think that I went into this game thinking it was “just another quirky indie game with a novel aesthetic”….
This is a far more engaging experience than I would ever have imagined though, with great gameplay/puzzle mechanics as well as a lovely narrative full of endearing characters. Sure, the art is still unique and the soundtrack is top notch as well, but it’s the way everything comes together that seals the deal.
When you start the name, you’re asked to name your protagonist after a food item you enjoy – which feels a bit strange since your protagonist is a dog. But, as a fan of ribs, I thought Ribsy would be a great name, and I never looked back. The titular Chicory is the game world’s wielder of a magical paintbrush that adds color to everything, but as you’re at his house helping out all of the color suddenly gets sucked out of the world. With Chicory not responding to you anymore and the brush being unattended, you decide to leave to try and restore color to the world. Uncovering the story and its characters is a highlight in and of itself so we won’t go into too much detail here, but the writing is consistently strong throughout a lengthy campaign – evoking and appealing to the player’s emotions while also telling its story.
The core gameplay mechanic in Chicory is the aforementioned paintbrush, which lets you color the world around you – a world that looks like a fresh new page from a coloring book before you apply your magic to it. When you do, you often do more than just color – you also change how things in the environment behave, or you can color/interact with items in a sequence that helps you solve a puzzle. How items affect the world around you differs greatly, and this makes sure that the game keeps throwing new mechanics at you. And while that happens, Ribsy also learns new abilities, further opening up the world.
While Chicory contains puzzles, this is more of a narrative-driven action adventure than a straight up puzzle game. Most of the puzzles shouldn’t stump puzzle purists for too long, and don’t detract from the narrative due to frustration – the pacing of the game is extremely well handled. You’ll even encounter boss battles at somewhat regular intervals, and those too fit with that approach to pacing. They make creative use of the brush mechanic, and often have multiple stages to the fight – with generous checkpoints in between.
The game also embraces creativity, letting you scribble artwork that then becomes part of the game. Unfortunately a thumbstick is far from ideal for this so I’m going to blame that for my terrible looking portraits, but it’s a joy to do nonetheless. Part of that, I assume is how you get tactile response from the DualSense’s adaptive triggers while you’re drawing.
Very rarely have I played an indie game where everything, from gameplay mechanics to narrative designs and from art style to music, all feels like it’s top quality – and it all meshes together extremely well too. Not just one of this year’s best indie games so far – Chicory is one of this year’s best games, period.
Empire of Angels IV review (PS4)
Published by Eastasiasoft, Empire of Angels IV is one of the larger indie releases for the publisher in recent months. Originally developed by Softstar in Taiwan, it’s also the first time that we’re getting an Empire of Angels title on western consoles – with a release for the Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Described as an all-female tactics RPG and not having played any of the previous games, I was curious as to what to expect here, but quickly found that Empire of Angels IV features solid turn-based combat mechanics. Depending of the character classes you’re playing with, you can select different types of attacks, each with its own attack radius. Combat revolves around “move first, then attack” mechanics though, so if you’re used to getting a strike in and heading for cover this will be an adjustment.
Character progression is handled through leveling up your skill tree, letting you select different paths that can help your characters diverge towards more offensive or defensive capabilities, or towards more range or mobility. It works well and makes the battles fun, especially against the backdrop of a decent story.
The all-female part of the story holds the game back a little though, and mostly because they’re portrayed as sexy characters rather than fierce warriors. When upgrading outfits, I always got the sense that my ladies were getting ready for a game of beach volleyball rather than a battle for the future of the empire. I get the appeal of the anime look, but it makes the game feel more niche than it needs to be, as the turn-based combat mechanics are solid enough without it.
The anime look carries over to well done cutscenes as well, which help tell the story. For some odd reason, however, the in-game combat always ends with the losing characters briefly being shown in their underwear – making it hard to completely take things seriously as it’s a major distraction. I wish that the game would make these animations optional, so that they could be fan service for those who want it while letting others enjoy what is a very solid tactics RPG with an entertaining storyline.
BeeFense BeeMastered review (PS4)
If you haven’t heard of BeeFense until now, then that’s probably because – like myself – you’re not that invested in mobile gaming. This remastered/beemastered version by Byterockers retains much of the tower defense gameplay of the original, but brings it to PCs as well as all major consoles with visual updates as well as minor content upgrades.
A relatively straightforward tower defense game starring bees that protect their hive against invasions by hornets, Beefense BeeMastered doesn’t try to hide its humble mobile origins. Progression is handled by giving you three objectives for each level, and reaching all three gives you the most resources to progress with – the currency of choice here being honeydew rather than the usual stars.
Permanent upgrades will make your life easier over time as well, so expect some mild grind as you replay levels in order to reach the required levels. This remastered version also features six brand new levels that were never in the mobile version, so there’s something new for longtime fans as well.
Audiovisually, it’s clear to see this was originally a mobile title, despite the updates visuals and animations. It’s a very colorful game though, and with its cartoon-like graphics it’s a family-friendly one that should appeal to younger players as well. Add some cheerful music to that and you’ve got something that’s pleasant enough to watch and play without ever being impressive.
If you’re looking for an affordable and easy to play tower defense game with a cute bee theme that also carries over into an endearing narrative, then BeeFense Beemastered is a solid choice. It doesn’t bring anything new to the tower defense table, but if you’re looking for a casual experience then that’s easy to forgive.