Chickens know things. It’s obvious. They have that look in their eye, the slightly disdainful squint of someone who knows what you did and why you did it. They’d be perfect detectives, if not for the small obstacle of their inability to communicate in any meaningful way. Thankfully, developers The Wild Gentlemen saw the potential of a poultry P.I. and have brought us the tremendously-named Chicken Police – Paint it RED!, a visual novel with adventure game elements that puts the noble gallus gallus at the very top of the pecking order.
Taking place in a noir-infused world of human-sized animals (not entirely unlike the hit “depressed horse” Netflix series Bojack Horseman), this is a brilliantly-written and joyously rich piece of narrative gaming, trafficking in hard-edged detective noir tropes but with a marvellous sense of humour, strong characters and a grand sense of place. It’s a very impressive feat to realise a world like Clawville with only mostly-static and largely monochromatic imagery, voices and music, but the dirt, grime and scuzz has such verisimilitude that you’ll want to put your Switch through the dishwasher after a Chicken Police session. (Important: Nintendo Life does not advocate putting your Switch through the dishwasher)
Taking nominal control of Santino “Sonny” Featherland, it’d be spoiler territory to describe the kind of case you’ll be solving, but rest assured you’ll be encountering stubborn dames, a shaky relationship with a former partner, an obstructive chief of police and numerous sleazy dirtbag informants. It’s all very familiar but delivered so well that you get caught up in the tapestry of it all, thanks to the aforementioned strong writing.
And it is strong, compelling fiction from the very start, enhanced by some genuinely superb voice acting. We wanted to listen to every word, and thankfully there’s an autoplay option that lets you listen to the dialogue play out at its intended pace, but this leads to a pretty apparent gripe; in most visual novel or text-heavy games with this kind of “talking head” delivery, hitting the A (or equivalent “advance text”) button will skip to the end of the current dialogue and leave it on the screen for the player to read at their own speed.
Here, though, pressing A skips the currently displayed dialogue entirely, moving on to the next portion of the conversation or description. This is a little frustrating, especially if you are a fast reader, but we suspect this is to encourage the player to listen to the dialogue as we have described. There’s a replay feature if you miss a line or two, but it skips you to the beginning of the conversation rather than just the previous step. Surely a Danganronpa-style text log would have been a more sensible option, here?
While we’re moaning, we found that some of the in-game text (on posters and the like, as well as in the UI) was basically unreadable in handheld mode, being that it was ludicrously small. This is really picking nits, though, because you can highlight and select the text with your cursor to read it; we feel like it’s a little less immersive this way, but the functionality is there and it’s hard to argue it’s any kind of meaningful problem.
But enough complaining – Chicken Police is an excellent game, one that is tailored wonderfully for the Switch’s handheld mode, running at the locked-down 60fps you’d expect while still retaining impressively atmospheric visuals. You’re basically just a cursor, but the interface is very impressive – selecting a character brings up something of a radial menu, but just requires you to hold the left analogue stick in your chosen direction in order to initiate your next move (examining the perp, speaking to the perp, or questioning the perp). It’s all very intuitive, easy to grasp and melts away into the background as you get wrapped up in the mystery.
As for the challenge, there isn’t a lot, but it’s all about the story here. Most of your time is spent hopping around the map, making connections and gathering information, all of which are a joy akin to the investigation sections of Ace Attorney. There’s a shooting gallery mini-game that’s a momentary distraction, but mostly it’s all about that interpersonal interaction. You will interrogate suspects and be graded on your performance, but this could theoretically be frustrating as it’s very rarely clear what the best approach is. The story will proceed at any rate, but those who need “100% completion”, as nebulous as that concept can be, may be annoyed by the perceived randomness of these segments. The rest of us will go with the flow and play as intended – taking things slowly and carefully, and digging into the situation with raw instinct.
The worldbuilding and lore are brilliantly realised, and darker than we expected in places, with overt takes on racism, slavery and outright cannibalism rearing their heads. This is no morality play, however – these heavy themes fit into the Basin City-esque environment so naturally that they’ll just draw you in further. Despite the animal theme, this is very much not a game for kids. Foul (or should that be fowl?) language, nudity and a splash of the claret abound, creating an immersive sense of unease as the case takes shape.
An extremely impressive first game from The Wild Gentlemen, Chicken Police – Paint it RED! is one of the best adventure games we’ve played in a long, long time and one hell of an absorbing tale. It looks and runs great on the Switch, with only a couple of really minuscule interface issues which are easily ignored. At roughly eight or nine hours, the story is surprisingly lengthy for its genre, but we were never bored and wanted to investigate every little thing just to wring out more precious droplets of banter and fascination. Chicken Police is a polished, captivating experience and we’re very excited for whatever’s coming next from this team. It’s just a shame it’s so good, or we could have said it “laid an egg”, and that would have tied in nicely with the whole chicken thing. Instead, this review is just going to, well, end. Now. That’s it. It’s finished. No closing chicken joke.