Max’s Big Bust – A Captain Nekorai Tale Review

Okay, I’m going to need to do a brief history lesson for this one.  

Back in 2013, I heard about a game by the ludicrous name of Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme, an ambitious visual novel that sought to bring forth the ultimate “gender switch” experience in a surprisingly large package.  I was honestly quite excited for the game, but then I played the first demo in 2013, and it was one of the most irritating things I have ever played.  

With a shallow understanding of its subject material, characters who did not behave like humans in many instances, a generally underwhelming story, and artwork from an artist who was clearly not experienced enough to undergo a project like this.  From there, I began to keep an eye on the writer of this title, Lachlan Snell, and eventually the project he was doing afterwards.  A visual novel by the name of Max’s Big Bust – A Captain Nekorai Tale.  

Max’s Big Bust – A Captain Nekorai Tale Review
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Lached Up Games

As the title implies, for lack of a better word, Max is a detective in the Australia based Axon city who is investigating the newly discovered narcotic known as MinX.  Upon completing a drug bust along side his partner hower, Max stumbles onto a strange magical sphere, or marble as they are referred to in-story, that transforms Max into an attractive blonde woman.  A change he unsurprisingly reacts to harshly, and serves as a core source of conflict in the story as Max comes to terms with his new sex in a story that manages to avoid many of the worse tropes in a sex change story, such as an overuse of the term “girl”, and feels like it is crafted by somebody who legitimately did their homework on the subject.

Max initially offers resistance to this change, and actively seeks a way to change it, while not excessively indulging in their newfound attractive female body or bickering about it.  They still resist the numerous changes their body underwent, but learn to adapt to it while undergoing a bit of an arc that comes with this transformation.  An arc that is pretty easy to spot from anybody who is genre savvy with this sort of thing, but is played out rather well for something that is not the sole focus of the story.

One of the biggest reasons why this works, however, has to do with the world of MBB.  It is a world where transformations between sexes are commonplace, gender and sexuality are seen as something fairly fluid, and bodily modifications are fairly common, though they mostly exist in the form of people with animal ears and tails.  This move ties the story back to Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme, allows for the story to implement transformations or body alterations without dealing with the darker elements of those themes, and paints a genuinely interesting world that I honestly would have liked to see explored in greater detail.  I mean, the social ramifications of a world like this are just fascinating to me.

Beyond the transformation, the story settles into a tale about crime stopping and hi-jinks that manages to feels singular, despite the concept of story about police officers trying to stop the distribution of a dangerous drug seeming at odds with a story involving overzealous anime-inspired characters.  It takes a back seat for the most part as the game chooses to spend more time developing the core cast of detectives and police staff along with a notable amount of secondary characters.  While none of them are groundbreaking, they are all competently executed and bounce off each other in conversations well, in addition to offering a greater quantity of more comedic moments.

The comedy mostly comes from the absurdity or silliness of the situations or how characters react to them, and while there were only a few lines or scenes that made me audibly laugh, the story proved to be a regular source of snickers and generally good time.  By the end of it, I genuinely enjoyed the cast of characters the game introduced, and was a little upset that the story ended when it did, as I wanted to see more of them.

However, as the story nears that conclusion, things start crumbling a bit.  Not really due to a poorly thought out plot or anything like that, but a lack of foresight from the writer.  The story feels as if it was written in a rush, and there are many oversights, characters who do not get proper conclusions to their stories or subplots, and plot beats that just feel off or underdeveloped.  

To list some examples, Max’s sister, a character introduced halfway through the game, basically walks away from the plot after causing Max nothing but grief over the span of a few hours or playtime.  Only to return for a single scene after doing something that makes me further question how this world functions.  The alternate forms of the characters Max, Amber, and Holly are vastly underutilized in the story, and feel like an afterthought that had not been considered until late into development.  Max’s initially simple and playful persona changes during the final fourth and they become a full blown ditz.  While, the whole reveal of the true villain of the story and the origins of MinX is unsatisfying after they have been predominant mysteries of the past 20 hours.

There’s also a substantial subplot in the game that centers around Max and their partner Brad being forced into working at a shrine maiden fox girl themed coffee shop.  Despite being a pretty substantial part of the storyline, it ends abruptly, needlessly vilifies what was an otherwise likable character, contradicts earlier remarks from characters, and basically abandons a subplot for Brad, who really does not have much of an arc in this story unless romanced, unresolved, despite a resolution having been hinted at earlier.

As for gameplay, Max’s Big Bust features Ace Attorney-esque investigation scenes where Max needs to examine crime scenes and talk to various people.  It works well in the fiction of the game, is a nice change of pace, and every investigation scene features a unique mechanic of some sort.  However, the third of these four sections really goes to pinpoint the worst aspects of adventure games by disproportionately increasing the amount of faffing about that must be done to pursue a solution.  I will just say that it involves modifying a recipe, paying a man to drown, and some items I believe are genuinely useless.  The game even point sout how difficult it is later on, which begs the question of why the creator didn’t just make their obtuse puzzle less obtuse.

There are also three fairly straightforward trivia sections sprinkled throughout the game that seem to only exist for the sake of variety and a “harem scene” that just involves a still images and some mildly sexual onomatopoeia.  It is just another examples of how it feels like things were rushed through near the end of development.

Moving onto the presentation of Max’s Big Bust, my thoughts on it are complicated, and I’ll begin with the character sprites.  Drawn by a Japanese artist by the name of Doku Denpa, whose other work I could not find anywhere, they depict fairly well designed characters and are competently drawn, but they are often bizarrely posed and feature some questionable shading choices.  Even though in most visual novels, you want characters to have a neutral stance as their main, or only, pose, and shirts do not work that way.

In addition to this, with how this game was developed, many of its sprites were drawn at different times, and it really shows near the end, as newer character sprites are both better colored and have different proportions than other characters, which just looks awkward.  If that was not an odd enough oversight, certain character sprites abide by different dimensions, and others have been cropped.  I’m not sure how this would go unnoticed, but I guess it did.  Somehow.

Beyond that, the backgrounds are slightly ajar to the sprites, if only because they look to be based off of photos.  The soundtrack consists of a series of surprisingly catchy and enjoyable tracks that don’t fit the game super well, as they were purchased from a royalty free music site.  There are only 30 CG art pieces in the game, and most of them look slightly off.  The game features a handful of decent low budget anime cutscenes sprinkled through the story, which are weirdly compressed for some reason.  While the general UI and way these assets are presented are surprisingly lacking.  

In lieu of a proper text box, the game uses a sepia toned text gradient that occupies the bottom fourth of the screen, where character names are highlighted in orange, and the name positioning is placed on either the right or left side of the gradient.  It is a really awkward set up that took a while to get used to, and genuinely feels inferior to basically every other visual novel ever.   While many other UI elements look either basic or rough, with the worst offender being an utterly pointless Tomodachi-esque minigame that can be played when Max is checking their phone at set points in the story.  That was literally drawn in MS Paint and looks like a placeholder.

There’s also a minor gripe I have about how this game makes use of the many visual effects that can be done with its game engine, Ren’py, as seen in games like Press-Switch and Student Transfer, two games that I would assume the developers to be familiar with.  Character sprites could be animated, could have small effects applied to them, and could better affect what is going on in the scene that is playing out, but for whatever reason, the decision was made to keep the presentation pretty static.  Yet another oversight that prevents this game from being as good as it could be.

While I certainly liked Max’s Big Bust – A Captain Nekorai Tale, which is far, far more than I expected, it honestly feels a unfinished with the way its story concludes and the more lacking elements of its presentation.  While I could excuse this sort of thing from an Early Access title, which this was a few months ago, it has since saw a full release, and I just hope that it has not seen its final update, and that the game will be left in its current state.  What’s there is certainly good, but it could, and should, be great.

As a side note, the reason why I am reviewing this game before GBDNATE is a rather simple one.  Based on the quality on display in the demo, I thought the game was not worth spending $25 on.  My stance on that has changed after playing Max’s Big Bust, however, and I will be reviewing that game in the relative future.  

Also, I backed this game on kickstarter, as I knew I would be curious about it and assumed that the game would be cheaper that way.  Which it was.  It cost me about $15 to back this game, and it costs an, honestly exorbitant $30… for a 20 hour visual novel with a lacking presentation, and numerous typos in its script.  I don’t like bringing price points up in my review, but that’s just ridiculous, especially compared to the level of quality offered by similarly priced visual novels.

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