One of the major reasons that 2020’s Chicken Police: Paint it Red lives on in my head is because of how obviously the setting and characters are loved by the writers. It’s easy to ignore any shortcomings when the passion for the project is so infectious.
The follow-up, Chicken Police: Into the Hive, currently has a vague release date of 2024. That means it’s anywhere from a long time to very soon that we’ll be seeing it. In the meantime, The Wild Gentlemen have been able to fit in the development of Zipp’s Cafe, a short-form prologue game to keep us satisfied until its arrival. Not only that, it’s an attempt by The Wild Gentlemen to create more media based around the “World of Wilderness” setting that they started with The Chicken Police.
It’s easy to wonder why such a game is necessary. However, after playing it, the answer seems to be, once again, that the developer just loves their world and characters so very much.
Perhaps surprisingly, you don’t need to have played Chicken Police: Paint it Red to get into Zipp’s Cafe. While it does make reference to the events of the first Chicken Police game, any major bits of backstory are provided as context, and the political landscape of both Clawville and the greater Wilderness settings are described both in dialogue and in a notebook.
The game centers around the eponymous Zipp’s Cafe run by the also eponymous Zipp. Previously, it was known as the Hop Dog, but Zipp decided to class up the joint. It’s located smack between the insect slums known as “The Hive” and the rest of Clawville. The insect population of Clawville has long been the victim of racism from the rest of the city’s animal population, and in recent years, they’ve all been driven into the singular district that has fallen into disrepair.
It’s referenced a few times in Chicken Police: Paint it Red, with the titular duo expressing their sympathy for the population. However, it’s also mentioned that the district is a roiling pot ready to burst at any moment, and Zipp’s Cafe takes place on the precipice of this, with a factory shutting down in the district and inciting riots.
The narrative involves Zipp getting caught in the midst of some spill-over. He’s being extorted by a ganglord, a police detective needs his help getting into The Hive, and a young couple wishes to escape the city. Meanwhile, Zipp is trying to leave his dark past behind while serving the best coffee in the city.
Despite being a narrative-first prologue game, there is more to the game than listening to people talk. In fact, despite what you might expect, there are very few choices you get to make as a player. Instead, you actually take on Zipp’s tasks of brewing coffee, fixing meals, and even washing the dishes at the end of the day.
These short gameplay vignettes are rather simple to complete; there’s no time limit, and failure won’t mean the brakes are pulled on the story. Weirdly, though, they’re also very satisfying to play. Maybe there isn’t any real gameplay incentive to maximize your efficiency, memorize recipes, or get orders to customers quickly, but I just found it fun to do. The tactility of these short asides is surprisingly well done, to the point where I kind of wish they were featured in a larger game.
The narrative of Zipp’s Cafe is expectedly narrow in scope. I mean, it’s supposed to be a prologue. It takes place over three days, in which a plan is conjured and executed. However, it’s mostly here to introduce us to some of the players in the upcoming Chicken Police: Into the Hive, which it does a good job of. It provides a lot of context to the first trailer of that game.
Yet, even while the story is kept small, the obvious love from the writer still shines through. It comes through as small details, vague allusions, and visible empathy. It may not nearly be the deepest, most original, or thought-provoking story, but it still manages to have a heart.
Zipp’s Cafe may be a game just for the fans. Or maybe it’s for those who want to play Into the Hive without going through all of Paint it Red. But for me, I enjoyed it because I love the creative process. Zipp’s Diner is created from the position of someone who is so excited about their work that they can’t help but try and show it off. It’s from someone who is excited to explore The World of Wilderness, a setting born from their imagination, and can’t wait to have others explore it as well. I relate to that, which is why I’ll keep returning to The Wilderness as long as the passion remains.