Max’s Big Bust – A Captain Nekorai Tale Review

I’m going to need to provide a brief history lesson for this one…

Notice: This review was re-edited on January 23, 2022 for quality purposes. This revision did not substantially change any content or opinions aside from changing a comment regarding future updates and omitting a gauche comment regarding game pricing. If you wish to read the original version of this review, you can view an archive here.

Back in 2013, I began following a game by the name of Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme, an ambitious visual novel that sought to be the ultimate “gender switch” experience. As an avid TG/TSF/gender bender/whatever-you-want-to-call-it fan, I was quite excited for this project. But then I played the first demo, which came out in 2013, and… it did not leave a good first impression. 

In the demo, I was met with a pedestrian understanding of its subject matter, 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. Even though I wrote off the title as something of a lost cause after that, I kept an eye on the development of the project, leading me to learn about the next project from Lachlan Snell, writer of GBDNATE. 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(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Lached Up Games

The title follows Max Newling, a police officer for the Australia-based Axon City, who is sent out to investigate a newly discovered narcotic known as MinX. Upon completing this drug bust alongside his partner, Max stumbles onto a magical marble that transforms him into an attractive blonde woman. His reaction to the change is unsurprisingly harsh, and kicks off a story that, thankfully, manages to avoid the worst tropes of a TSF story, and is clearly written by someone who’s done their homework on the subject.

Max initially offers resistance to this change, and actively seeks a way to undo it, but they are never too indulgent or disdainful of their new body. They want to go back to normal, but their character arc has them learn to accept this transformation, enjoy it while it ‘lasts’, and expand their horizons a little bit. It is a familiar arc to anybody even remotely genre savvy with this sort of thing, but it works well in this setting. 

Though, one of the biggest reasons why it works has to do with the world of Max’s Big Bust. It is a contemporary modern world where transformations between sexes are commonplace, gender and sexuality are fluid, and bodily modifications are fashionable— though they mostly exist in the form of people with animal ears and tails. This has to do with the events that transpired during MBB’s indirect prequel, Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme. While this connection could be better stated or explained, it allows MBB to explore concepts like recreational bodily transformation, back alley parlors that make people into cat girls, and coffee shops where every worker takes a potion to transform into a fox girl for a few hours. It presents a deluge of interesting concepts, and the idea of a world adapting to this technology not only existing but being cheap and mass producible, did wonders to keep me invested in the game.

Now, the core of the story is about Max and their co-workers stopping the distribution of MinX and keeping Axon City safe (which is a bit iffy conceptually, but the drug is unregulated and harmful, so I guess the cops are the good guys here). However, it spends less time indulging in the nitty gritty detectiving and more time indulging in anime-style hi-jinks with a gaggle of overzealous characters. The supporting cast here is rather large, between the officers and other people Max and co. run into during their investigation, and while none of them are too remarkable, they are all competently executed, bounce off each other in conversations well, and lead nicely into more comedic moments. 

The comedy mostly comes from the absurdity or silliness of the situations Max finds themself in, 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, and wished the game went on for a few more hours just so I could see more of them.

That, and a few extra hours would have helped the ending, as it’s pretty messy. It’s not poorly thought out, things are conceptually sound, but there are a lot of little oversights, there are various subplots and side stories still left open, and it all feels as if the developers were rushing up to a strict deadline.

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 of 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. And the big reveal regarding the true villain and the origins of MinX is unsatisfying for something that the game built up for 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. Actually, come to think of it, Brad really does not have much of an arc in this story unless romanced, despite a resolution having been hinted at earlier. Things were looking good— potentially even great— during the first 70% or so, but the story simply does not nail the landing.

As for gameplay, Max’s Big Bust features Ace Attorney-esque investigation scenes where Max needs to examine crime scenes and interrogate 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 find 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 points out how difficult it is later on, which begs the question of why Snell didn’t just patch or update this obtuse puzzle to be less obtuse. Sure, that might have wrecked people’s save files, but it’s worth it if it makes the game better.

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.” It is hinted at as being this prominent piece of extra content, but all it amounts to is a CG of various female characters and some mildly sexual onomatopoeia. I was not expecting, or anticipating, a sex scene, but it really does add to my theory that something went wrong during the end of development.

Moving onto the presentation, my thoughts on it are complicated, and I’ll begin with the character sprites. Drawn by the Japanese hentai artist Doku Denpa, the characters are well-designed and competently drawn, but the poses and proportions never look quite right. The exaggerated standing positions of some characters, lack of alternate stances, and the extreme shading on the sprites, it all looks a bit strange. Their art gets the job done, and they do have a distinct style, but I get the impression that Doku Denpa was still working on their anatomy and general artistic skills while working on this project.

Backgrounds are mostly photographs lathered in assorted filters, which never look brilliant next to anime characters, but it works well enough and keeps the budget down, so I approve their use here. There are about 30 CGs present and while I do enjoy their shading and color usage, most of them look slightly off. The soundtrack consists of a series of catchy and enjoyable tracks that do not fit together cohesively or necessarily match the tone of this game— because they were purchased from royalty free music sites like Platinum Beats. And there are also a handful of low budget anime cutscenes (which destroyed the game’s budget) and while they look decent, they are all noticeably compressed, and I have no idea why.

Then there’s the UI, which… isn’t great. 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 an awkward set up that’s needlessly contrariant compared to the standards of basically every other visual novel ever. Meanwhile, the rest of the UI either looks basic or rough, with the rudimentary looking options boxes or the utterly pointless Tomodachi-esque minigame that can be played when Max is checking their phone at set points in the story.

I also feel the need to comment on how Max’s Big Bust makes use of the Ren’py engine and chooses to forego any semi-complicated visual effects. Based on games like Press-Switch and Student Transfer, two games that I would assume Snell to be familiar with, there is a lot you can do with the engine to enhance the presentation of a visual novel. The engine comes with the tools needed to make characters teeter about, slide across the stage, hop, tilt, and so forth. All of which go to make the game more visually engaging, and make it feel like you are watching a performance, instead of looking at static images that flutter between a handful of expressions while remaining locked to set positions. It is just yet another shortcoming that prevents the 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 unfinished with the way its story concludes and the more lacking elements of its presentation. It is a title I actively wanted to love more than I ultimately did, and while I initially hoped that some of my issues would be addressed with updates after the 1.0 release in February 2017. But that has not happened as of January 2022, so… I guess that update will never come. However, I still like this game overall, and would recommend it as a goofy and fun TSF visual novel.

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 reviewed GBDNATE in April 2017.

Also, I backed this game on Kickstarter, because I thought it would be cheaper to back the game than to buy it. And I was correct.

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