Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme Review

Oh boy.  This is going to be a long one.

Back in early 2013, an Indiegogo campaign for a visual novel by the name of Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme was launched.  An ambitious and curious little title that sought to bring the ultimate “gender swap” experience that would surpass those featured in many similar stories and games.  The game was alarmingly successful and over the course of three years, it’s two creators, Lachlan Snell and David Kerr, were able to complete the game in a more developed state than either of them thought possible.  However, as it’s popularity rose and the game eventually found itself on Steam Greenlight, and Steam itself, it fell under fire.  With a forums of toxic posts, negative discussions in the sort of communities the game was being made for.  The creators were threatened, hacked, and insulted aplenty when the game was in the public eye, but the game was completed in spite of this.

As for my side of the story, I was overly excited for this game upon first hearing about it, and followed its development accordingly.  Almost a year afterwards, I finally checke dout the game for myself via a publicly available demo, and was gravely disappointed with what I saw.  Despite my hopes in the project being slashed considerable, I still kept an eye on the game and promised myself that I would get to it eventually.  It’s been nearly four years since the game was announced, and I guess it’s finally time to review Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme.

Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme Review
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Transcendent Games 

Before beginning the review itself, I feel that it is necessary to address something that has been looming over me for quite a while.  TG, gender bending, gender swapping, whatever you want to call it (I like to call it TG) is a narrative element that centers around a character changing their sex through some impossible meansmeans, with the ensuing story narrative, assuming there is one beyond the initial transformation, centering on how they adapt to this new situation.  It has its own various tropes and trends, and has garnered a sizable niche fan base, with a wide variety of people composing stories, art, comics, and games that deal with this concept.  Some of them take a more mature and serious route in order to tell interesting stories, some of them exist for the sake of satiating fetishes, some of them serve as a sense of wish fulfillment for the creators, and most of them being some combination of the three.

Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme, or GBDNATE as I will be calling it for the sake of convenience, is no different.  It exists to fulfill those three primary goals by telling a story about a gaggle of men who are caught in a lab accident that transform them into women, how the ensuing transformation affects their lives, and also, how this scientific discovery, along with some others, affect the world at large.

It is a fairly simple concept with a lot of room for the story to evolve, alter, and grow over the span of 13 unique character specific storylines.  One enhanced by a variety of other transformations introduced later on in the story, most of them being anthropomorphic in nature, along with a sense of playfulness and enthusiasm that drives the story on through the surprisingly varied stories.  For as much as I would like to get behind that concept however, GBDNATE does a lot wrong.  As in, probably more wrong than any other game I’ve ever reviewed.  It is a game and a story that fumbles with how to conduct and present itself half the time, and in a manner that I can most generously describe as being amateur.

Falling in line with a lot of common parliament, the game fails to make a true distinction between the concepts of sex and gender.  For those unaware, gender is a mental and societal concept that related to how male or female something is, while sex is physical and biological, determined by one’s appearance and bodily composition.  This kind of oversight can be seen in the terms Gender Bender, gender swap and TG themselves, as whoever coined them likely was not aware of the distinction either.  But in my experience, a lot of creators of TG stories tend to understand this pretty well, making this oversight from the writer all the more glaring.  

In addition to getting something as simple as that wrong, GBDNATE also fumbles at being a TG story, and indulges in numerous dull torpes that become associated with these sorts of stories.  For one, the actual transition for the characters, and description of how their new bodies compared to their old ones, are very lacking, often focusing exclusively on things like breasts and hair, while rarely paying much attention to more of the less obvious differences between men and women, such as the softer skin, slightly different proportions, different vocal cadence, and even different genitalia anatomy.  With the latter being especially surprising, and being so extreme that I don’t think a character ever really describes the differences in going to the bathroom as a man and as woman.

Character’s reactions to their new bodies feel remarkably simple, and only seem to propagate along a spectrum of adoration and disdain, with cautious curiosity floating nebulously in the middle.  However, there is a habit to have every character end up preferring their new sex more than their old one, and adopting the opposite gender with it.  The only exception being a character who ends up being genderfluid… and I guess “sexfluid” as well.  This is further emphasized in the appearance of these characters, as most of them look far better as their opposite sex, though that’s at least partially because a lot of the male sprites look like trash.

Romance is also handled strangely, as most of the sex swapped cast ends up being bisexual, and is comfortable enough in their possibly newly christened sexuality and new bodies to pursue a full relationship within a week of their initial transformation.  While I understand this is not uncommon among TG materials, it makes almost every character seem sexually promiscuous and generally shallow.  As if they don’t really care about actual romance and simply want to feel what it’s like to shove stuff up their spiffy new vagina.  Which is supported by how bland these romances can be.  Though, the most bizarre aspect of this element is how the writer, Lachlan Snell, does not describe the act of sex or masturbation.  At all.  I would understand if this game wanted to be clean, but the amount of cleavage on display and multiple instances of female frontal nudity make that claim die on the vine it grew on.  

As for the writing itself… things are not that much better.  This is easily the worst written visual novel I have ever played, with the possible exception of the abysmal early English translation of Shan Gui.  Many conversations early on in the game are very plainly written, the language used grows repetitious due to its simplicity in places, and the number of lines that should have been altered, punched up, or proofread in order to correct grammatical or spelling errors are too numerous to be overlooked.  Exposition can often be a bit hard to follow or confusing with how some things are stated and or presented.  While the characterization for most of the cast seems rather lacking, with a lot of characters either inconsistent personalities or being hard to read and ascribe personality traits to.

Never have I been so baffled at the level of incompetence on display here for a work that is being sold for money, as I honestly don’t think that anybody fully edited their work before releasing this game.  Or if they did, they have such poor reading comprehension that they could not correct easy to notice and utterly blatant contradictions that seem to exist in nearly every route.  Characters express opinions that they later go against for no justifiable reason.  Timeframes are redefined on a whim, and amount to a far more confusing timeline than I thought possible.  Transformations are described inconsistently, with the effects being painful or weird depending on the route, when they are later said to have all been painful.  I must have encountered dozens of instances of these, and that was just through a regular playthrough.  

If I were to go through the 370,000+ word script and point out every single instance where I found something with, I doubt that a single page would be free from scrutiny.  Which is saying something considering my very limited writing skills and grammatical understanding.  Mind you, I would also comment on the minor things, such as many of the running gags employed throughout the game, which both outstay their welcome and aren’t all that funny to begin with.  

There is also a perplexing tendency to refer to all female characters or women in general as girls, to the point where girl is used about 70% of the time in comparison to any other word that could have been used.  Curse words are bizarrely prevalent in the second half of the game, which just feels inappropriate given the more lighthearted nature of the game up to and following that point.  While a general lack of foresight and consideration when it comes to the structure, purpose, and layout of the setting of the small college town of Siren’s Point, which even character in-game mock as making no sense.  You know, because acknowledging your faults is as good if not better than fixing them.  

This is all so frustrating for two reasons.  One is that I know Lachlan Snell could have done better.  The game he developed and wrote afterwards, Max’s Big Bust, featured far more consistent and overall superior writing in just about every conceivable facet.  Two, is that I actually really, really, really wanted to enjoy this game.  Despite all of the structural and foundational issues that exist within GBDNATE, and there are a lot of them, there are genuine flashes of a fun story fueled by transformation fantasies that has the potential to be something special, even beyond its core concept.  The game can be lovably insane and truly funny at moments, but it is all overburdened by the bad.

Now, the exact ratio of this depends heavily on the route, which vary in quality by quite a lot, despite the fact that they were written consecutively, and should have, theoretically, gotten better as time went on.  But before talking about each of them specifically,  I should probably clarify the structure of the game.  In most routes, the game offers the player several story shifting choices that alter scenes and determine the ending the player receives.  

However, only one of these often flaccidly executed endings is the canon one, which makes the alternate endings feel a smidgen bit pointless, and makes the proceedings in future routes all the more confusing, as it is not always clear which ending is the canon one.  I really would have prefered a series of bad ends, as seen in the Nadine’s route, or a series of alternate “what if” stories in place of this.  I mean, the last two routes are kinetic visual novels, so it’s not like the game has anything against not giving players choices.

The other gameplay format is more of an adventure game style guest that tasks a character to traverse around Siren’s Point.  A task prone to trial and error as the player is left to realize first hand how bizarrely laid out this setting is.  Only two characters use this form of gameplay, and the only real benefit is the optional dialog that can be found by interacting with things when the plot does not demand it, which can be far more enjoyable than it has any right to be.  While the downside is the adventure game logic it sometimes employs.

Moving on, Yael’s route follows the obnoxiously lackadaisical lab assistant as they go on a trite tale of a man being transformed into a woman, disliking it, and trying to hide the fact that they are a woman from the world before eventually embracing it.  Depending on the player’s decision, Yael will accept the change better by confining in a lesbian girlfriend who, even if the player goes out of their way to reject, will ultimately become Yael’s significant other.  The biggest difference between the conclusions being how ginormous their boobs are by the end.

Bri’s route focuses on an underutilized employee of the lab as they quickly become enraptured by their new female body, and whether or not she wants to make it with a boring guy with no discernable traits, a boring punkish blue haired girl, or the “moeblob” Dan, another playable character.  The route fumbles due to an overreliance on everything resorting to sexual intercourse and rapidly assembled romances that comes across as underwhelming and lazy.  Character rarely ever do anything meaningful together or actually have a meaningful conversation between each other, making Bri’s story one of unrequited lust.  A fact worsened by how Bri is black, and fits the stereotype of black women being more sexually promiscuous.  

Lynn’s route shows how the talented second-in-command scientist handles the grief that comes with accidentally transforming a group of people into women because she didn’t check the bloody centrifuge, but primarily focuses on her instant and growing adoration for her new form.  A form she can later alter by becoming a fox-human hybrid or a mermaid.  It offers a more playful and optimistic route while also indulging in a forced lesbian romance along with endings that manage to feel distinct and unique.  Which is probably why they are all kind of rolled up into one in the canon timeline.  Yeah, like I said, it’s confusing.

Dina’s route is where the game starts to get genuinely weird, as Dina is both the scientist responsible for all of this, and a genuine sociopath.  She disregards the feelings of others if they contrast with her own, forces them to transform their bodies against their will, and alter her own body in ways that seem especially selfish and fetisitic, rather than the comparatively tame fascination driven transformations in Lynn’s route.  She turns herself into a glob of slime, an octopus mermaid, a lamia, and a super powered cat girl with such ease and a seeming lack of effort that she truly does seem like an overly capable mad scientist.  But despite making some very brash or rude moves, Dina’s route, and her character, managed to be genuinely enjoyable because of her absurd characterization.

Steph’s route is set several months after the initial lab incident depicted in the prior routes, and chooses to focus on the uncommonly depicted female to male transformation as Steph, a security guard, is transformed into a man for three days and needs to chosen if they will live as a man or woman, this being one of the only instances where a character can choose to revert back to their old gender.  While applaudable for being some form of female to male representation, including a gay male romance, allowing for a character to not adopt with their newly assigned sex, the story itself is largely underwhelming due to its low stakes, and is only really spiced up by returning characters.

Dan’s route tells the story of the thirty-year-old software engineer of the lab as they end up joining a girl band/idol group, a premise that holds next to no water when stopping to think about the logistics.  Dan is apparently excellent at singing and dancing despite being in a “top heavy” female body for only a few days when their story begins or how the band performs about every other day, and always does so in the small college town of Siren’s Point.  Combined with a lack of characterization to go around the eight characters introduced in this arc, and the route just feels underdeveloped.  Which is unfortunate because the concept is so lovably ludicrous.

Zara’s route centers around a struggling independent video game store that, along with its owner, is revitalized by Lynn, Dina, and Steph into being a wildly successful general gaming store with a cosplay-loving owner.  While not a particularly detailed story regarding the logistics of the business, it is easily among the most fun and enjoyable routes in the game because it’s more lighthearted zaniness and general enjoyability.  With well paced romances and a level of absurdity that includes giant pink bunny rabbits and a cameo from KittyHawk of Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki fame, it’s a genuinely good storyline, barring a few issues common throughout nearly all routes.

Nadine’s route follows one of the investors of the laboratory, who also happens to be the most unlikable protagonist in the game.  She is presented as a presumptuous self-centered jerk who derates those who work beneath her, intentionally misgenders people, and is downright unpleasant.  While her personality gets better as the route goes on in successive routes, and her different life from other characters allows for a different story to be told, the supporting cast fares little better, being a group of deplorable business people, or just victims for Nadine’s resentful nature, with the exception of Nadine’s fiance Rose, or rather, Russell.  It’s worth noting that Nadine does admittedly improve as a person in her later appearances, but not for any explicit reason.

Russell’s route picks up six months later, and follows the newly selected CEO of Abaddon Industries, the company who owned the laboratory and by extension Dina and Lynns findings, as he investigates his company’s primary rival via some tactical espionage that results in him gaining the ability to shapeshift into other people.  With this ability in hand, his investigation results in one of the most humor rich routes in the entire game due to the vast number of interactions made available thanks to the shapeshifting abilities.  The route is really only bogged down by a frankly confusing introduction that and a vastly unsatisfying and downright stupid conclusion.  Also, it contains the main characters from the webcomic Mercynaries.  Because why not.

Aleanne’s route attempts to tell the most down to earth story in the game with a transgender protagonist whose lifelong desires were immediately granted thanks to the lab accident.  From there, the story mostly revolves around her relationship with her newly feminized friend Natara, the milktoast love interest Hunter, and the lovable body altering nutjob Dina, while also touching on the student life elements that were almost untouched in Yael’s route.  Unfortunately, the route is bizarrely conceived, contradicts itself, and flows together in an immensely frustrating way.  With characters’ views changing in such a sporadic way that I genuinely have no idea how this was released in its current form.  I could literally devote two pages to problems for this route alone, but would rather not think about it for that long, as it just upsets me after a while.

Scarlett’s route follows the novel premise of a man who gets drunk, wakes up as a woman, and needs to figure out what happened the night before.  A premise that quickly flies off its fairly grounded rails with the introduction of magic, demon hunters, and succubi while also dabbling into the more long-term effects of the lab incident and subsequent introduction of sex changing serums into the world.  It offers its share of entertaining moments, yet the story quickly resolves itself into a  simple misunderstanding, there were a lot introduced that made me even more confused about the timeline and world of this game, and it revisits the downright stupid concept put forward at the end of Russell’s ending.

Ava and Jessica’s routes are framed as the finale of the game, centering around two meteorologists who are investigating a strange storm looming over the town of Siren’s Point.  A storm that ends up containing the properties to alter a person’s DNA through an event called the “Boobpocalypse”.  The story mostly centers around the efforts the two newly sex swapped characters along with Dina and Lynn as they try to stop the transformation storm from hitting the town, and subsequently save the town after all its residences have been transformed into busty women with animal features.  The absurdity of it is truly grand, but the personality of the two protagonists felt underdeveloped, as they mostly exist to serve the plot.  A plot that feels like it is artificially elongated in spots, with the characters needing to go on fetch quests to make the deus ex machina needed to save the town, and with it, the world.

Without getting into even greater detail, I believe that is all I have to say about the story, but the visual component of GBDNATE unfortunately does not fare much better.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the art style here is not very consistent.  That is because the assets for the game, whether they be CGs, backgrounds, or character sprites, were not made at the same time, and were made by a growing artist, David Kerr, who was still developing their style while working on their game.  Resulting in some things that look better than others, along with a general increase in quality, barring a few CG artworks that just look rushed.  

This inconsistent presentation further makes the game look like the amateur project that it is, and a lot of the artwork here simply is not good.  With a lot of the earlier sprites possessing loose proportions that alter with each and every pose, and many of which that just look kind of off, as if the artist, David Kerr, was not experienced with drawing humans, or with drawing in an anime-esque art style.  Which, as far as I could tell, he was not.

Things fare better during the middle chapters, as the new character sprites retain an appealing art style, and show substantial improvements over the older ones, but the way they mix together with the old ones, along backdrops that are consistently inconsistent in their level of detail and quality, makes for a very slapdash look.  I would question why no effort was apparently made to alter and redraw some of these assets, especially after characters began openly mocking background art, but I figure there just was not enough money in it for the creators, or they could not be bothered to edit their older work.

That being said, much like Lachlan Snell, David Kerr’s work has substantially improved since this game’s completion, and he has posted a few genuinely impressive illustrations on his DeviantArt account.  This account was used to also host a series of weekly updates for GBDNATE, but they have since been removed.  If you are curious about them however, I created an archive of the posts.

At the end of the 40 hour excursion that is Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme, I ultimately felt drained by everything it put forward.  It was an exhausting ride that truly did give me a lot to enjoy with some of its characters, spurts of humor, and more absurd sensibilities, but it is hard not to feel as if everything good that it does is suppressed by the excess of mediocrity and badness that the good is left to stew in.  If I were to compress the nearly 4,000 words I wrote about this game into a single word, it would be amateur.  As the game had a lot of interesting and enjoyable ideas, but it was bogged down due to a lack of consideration and experience from the creative team, resulting in a game that I cannot truly recommend for any reason other than the reason I chose to play it, to satiate my own boundless curiosity.  

Yet, in spite of all the flaws, part of me still can’t help but feel some affection towards this game.  Something about its gung-ho attitude towards transformations, the very concept of making them publicly available things, and the core conceit of the game all manage to speak to me on a level that very few things do.  I really wanted to enjoy this game, and be able to see the higher points of it where the humor and personality behind the story prevail, but I can’t.  I just can’t.

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