Today’s article was commissioned by a regular reader. If you’d like to have me write about something of your choosing, consider commissioning me! Details here, willing to discuss subjects not covered on that page. Use the e-mail listed there.
Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme is an absolutely baffling project made by amateur developers and artists that started to grow more into their chosen fields as development continued on, and thanks to the episodic release schedule, we can actually see how things went from horrifying to somewhat competent very clearly. But we also see a game that …okay, I don’t want to say it shouldn’t exist, but I can say that it’s surprising to see it exist at this large a scale. This thing can easily suck up thirty hours if you play every episode, and I played through every single episode. This article took some time to get to.
But instead of ragging on the clearly visible problems that plague the title or give a regular review, I decided to go in a more interesting direction. See, no matter how ridiculous this game is, it does eventually try to tackle some heavy subject matter that comes from its fetish laden set-up, and the strange part is that it doesn’t absolutely fail at it.
For those new to this madness that I used to tweet about constantly, Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme is a visual novel split into thirteen parts, all with a different lead character to follow with their own stories. The first four shoddy episodes focus on four stories occurring at the same time (and with a lot of scene repetition to remind everyone of this continuity, which they thankfully cut back on later) where in a lab accident gives the male staff a sex change because science or whatever. Episodes after expand upon these initial events and show people getting caught into further wackiness, including getting shapeshifting powers for the sake of corporate espionage, or getting so wasted one night that you make a deal to become a succubus.
I forgot to mention that magic is real in this game. Long story.
The interesting thing is that with the fetish subject matter, there’s clearly room to explore issues of sexuality and gender identity, and those issues actually *do* get explored. Of course, depending on what episode you’re on depends on how well it’s handled. The first four episodes bring up the subjects, but poorly. The first arguably trans character we get is Dina (since Lynn seems to be interested in a sex change more for perverted reasons, weirdly), but not really. Dina’s ridiculous obsessions with modifying her body don’t come close to how transwomen I’ve met speak of their own experiences, mainly because this stage of development was still fully focused on fetishization above all else. It does bring up body dysmorphia with Dan and her inability to get used to her new body until her episode, though though considering the ridiculous form she gets, the impact is lost because it’s less about an improper body because of gender identity and more about being stuck as a strange moeblob with horrifically mismatched anime boobs. Other routes also tend to end with people who identified as male accepting new gender identity pretty quickly, ignoring the issue.
But even in these early stages, there’s still interesting ideas trying to get explored, just poorly. Bri’s story allows you to pursue a lesbian love interest that eventually hits a road block because Bri has to admit to her sex change out of respect for her girlfriend. It’s the first time the game shows self-awareness, as Bri becomes aware she started this relationship initially because she fetishized lesbianism and didn’t respect her partner as a person. She does learn something significant about queer sexuality and how she once viewed it as a cis het guy. Unfortunately, the route is hampered by not really giving enough time to see a real connection form between them, and the girlfriend’s reaction doesn’t really work because it doesn’t establish past trust issues that would explain her anger. Still, points for effort.
Dan’s episode, made after the initial four, is both about her coming to terms with her body, but also in coming to terms with her sexuality. Dan is worried when she finds herself attracted to a man in one of her story routes, which is understandable in how attached she used to be to her supposed manly identity before the lab accident. But the story fails to really engage with these ideas meaningfully, so the majority of Dan’s story is just wacky idol shenanigans that lead nowhere particularly interesting besides Dan actually being happy for a change.
The Nadine and Russel routes are way more interesting, though. These two follow the investors in the initial sex change research, one changed in the blast and one changed by choice. Their stories are both about their business dealings and how they make their relationship work with their bodies changed and how they adapt to them. It’s the only time we see a relationship explored with characters switching expected dynamics, and it works out for them because of the respect and trust the two have for each other. Even if you expect the two to adapt to expected gender roles, they tend to surprise, like Nadine proving herself capable on her own, or Russel not really changing much when he was a woman investor on the board. He always had more weight in the relationship and pretended otherwise for the sake of his partner’s ego, continuing to do so after their sex changes until Nadine stepped up and showed she could still stand on equal ground with him. Like any good relationship, the two work best together as a duo. Their stories also mark the team’s first major growth mechanically, with the introduction of an Ace Attorney like board room meeting scene and Russel’s shapeshifting powers creating puzzles to solve.
From this point, the game mainly gets increasingly ridiculous (the last two episodes are about a catastrophic event known as the “boobpocalypse”), but it does have one standout episode where the staff genuinely tried to explore themes they only batted around before. The Aleanne story is about a genuine trans character originally named Matt that gets caught in that initial explosion on a coffee delivery, and the rest of their story follows her pretty ecstatic to finally have the body they wanted and trying to adjust from there.
The story pokes a lot of fun at how idiotic the rest of the game is, not to mention Dina’s insanity not really matching with the actual trans experience Aleanne has lived through. A lot of those jokes work, helped by how surprisingly strong moments of this story are. Aleanne feels like a real person, and her story touches on some previously ignored elements of what it means to be trans. Worrying about how family or employers will react to you, dealing with bigoted people who hate you for who you are, and simply living with a body that doesn’t real right to you. It rings surprisingly sincere, so much that it shouldn’t be in this ridiculous game, but added stuff like dealing with college life add a lot to. Aleanne is one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever seen, I swear. She gets excited for free food and complains about absurd ethics lectures. I understand this far too well.
The story isn’t perfect, mind you. Strange elements still get mixed in, like her best friend turned girlfriend adapting to womanhood way too easily because of fashion, or one part where said girlfriend decides to turn into an animal hybrid to make a splash at a party. That’s a tad weird. Some of the wacky elements make for good comedy, like a fake game of killer, but others distract from the story’s stronger points. A lot of these points also come and go quickly, though hearing so many of Aleanne’s thoughts on what’s happening to her is a nice touch that makes her feel more human. The fact the game tried to engage with these topics and managed to actually find some success is surprising, and has me interested in what these writers try next.
So, Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme is certainly not a good game on the whole, but it’s better than it should have any right to be. It grows an infectious sense of humor and amusing cast of characters, and even manages to explore queerness a little. It doesn’t do it particularly well, especially because it takes half the game to properly shape into something genuinely enjoyable, but it does have some merit in there. It’s a good example of what not to do initially, which is useful if you want to explore how to write queer characters and want to avoid common mistakes, but once you hit the Nadine story, the game improves significantly and shows attempts to understand and emphasize in way you’d never expect. I’m not the right person to fully explore how well the Aleanne story works, being a cis male and all, but I can tell there was genuine effort in there, and they did some homework. For games, that is incredibly rare. This may not be a particular good game, but it deserves more credit than it gets.
Well, parts of it.