♫My body is across an ocean! My body is beyond the sea! I’m no good at astral projection! So bring back my body to me! Bring back! Bring back! Bring back my body to me!♫
After a surprise 3.5 year hiatus (not counting Illia’s Mansion), an update to Press-Switch has finally been released. However, instead of just including oodles of new content, this release also sees the restoration of content from v0.3b and v0.4a thanks to the help of programmer and resident Press-Switch maid, Mariana. A name you might be familiar with, as she previously restored this content in v0.5c with her Press-Stitch project.
Now, it has been a good 5 years since I properly played through v0.3b or v0.4a content, and almost 3.5 years after my last review of the main game. As such, I am not going to rely on my prior reviews and will instead review everything. Meaning all routes and over 700,000 words of content! So let’s end the preamble and get started!
Press-Switch is an open-ended visual novel centered around Calvin Hintre. An unassuming high school boy whose life changes dramatically when he comes into possession of a device known as the DSM. An enigmatic doohickey capable of body transference, mental manipulation, cloning, and possession among other things. It is a standard premise among TSF/TG fiction, and one that, over the span of more than a decade, has been pruned and tended into something grand. So grand that it is only rivaled by the titles it went on to inspire.
Now, I have a lot to say about Press-Switch, so for the sake of keeping my thoughts somewhat organized, I’m going to start with some more general qualities before talking about the specifics of each route.
When it comes to praising the writers of TSF subject matter, I often compliment the writer on their understanding of the genre. On their desire to explore more complex or nuanced stories involving familiar TSF concepts and themes, and, effectively, pushing the genre forward. With Press-Switch… you can really tell this is written by someone who both thinks about body swapping and transformation every day. Someone who wants to tell stories that go several levels, beyond the way these elements are typically incorporated in fiction.
To me, Press-Switch will always be the first work I encountered that did this. Something that went beyond. Something that mingled the more erotic elements commonly associated with TSF with a quality story filled with compelling characters. And while a handful of titles released over the past few years have achieved the same thing, Press-Switch still has something that has never quite been replicated. A personality and approach that is distinctly itself. The title shines from the fact that it is developed by a single person. One who uses it as a platform to explore what he wants to do, rather than what other people want to see happen.
Press-Switch left me vastly impressed when I first played it and now, 8 years later, after basically all content has been gutted and development restarted… every boon the game once had is still there, and it’s better than ever. Skiegh’s grasp on the subject matter has only gotten stronger, his storytelling and writing abilities have improved, and in revisiting every route, pretty much every one of them managed to impress me.
Over the years, I have covered quite a few TSF visual novels. But if there is a single element that I would use to differentiate Press-Switch from its peers, it is its cast of characters. A cast of flawed people who are miserable or otherwise dissatisfied with their lives. What exactly do I mean by that? Let’s go through some examples.
From the onset, it is easy to assume Calvin is an unremarkable visual novel protagonist meant as a self-insert for the reader. Yet through his constant narration, observations, and use of the device, the reader gradually comes to terms with who he actually is, and the flaws he harbors. They learn about the veritable treasure trove of childhood trauma he underwent on behalf of his family. His lifelong history of bodily insecurities, formed by being in a household of attractive women. And his general ignorance of much of the world, formed by his wealthy upbringing.
Given his status and age, he should be in a favorable position in his life and have ‘no real problems.’ Yet he captures a sense of dissatisfaction and aimlessness that makes him a great protagonist for a transformation-driven narrative such as this.
Calvin is a deeply flawed person, far more than he is an everyman, and this same mentality, to a lesser degree, is carried over to the bulk of the cast.
Mika, Calvin’s school chum, is a bubbly and cheery girl who is eager to dive into anything surreal or fantastical. But she is also deeply dissatisfied with her body and expresses a form of self-loathing that makes her pretty much tailor-made for a body swap story.
Ashley, Calvin’s crush, is a school idol and beloved beauty who excels academically. Yet she is also rigid to a fault, believing in reality and status quo so strongly that its defiance makes her physically ill. All of which is before getting into how she leads a taxing home life where she must care for her family as their health degrades, at the sacrifice of her own adolescence.
Heather, Calvin’s mother, is a proud, wealthy, successful, and sharp woman who commands respect from family and colleagues alike. Beneath this veneer however, she bears discontent with her life, viewing herself as a failure given the sorry state of her family, while lacking the modesty or strength to admit her faults or even try to improve things. For to do that would mean defying the elements she has used to define herself.
I could go on… for at least another dozen characters, but I think I made my point. The cast is not populated by persons with a slight ennui or a passing longing for something to change. They are all written as people with issues. Issues that are realistic, potentially relatable, and are rife for exploration given the premise of this title.
This leads to a wonderful cycle where good characters give way to good stories, which add more to every character involved in the proceedings. A cycle where there are more things to appreciate the more routes you experience, and the more you get to know the cast.
…But that can be hard sometimes, as there are simply so many characters, and so many of them lack full routes to call their own. A lot of them are these enigmas gushing with potential for exploration, but without a full route to flesh them out as people, they exist as just that. Potential. And while potential ain’t worth bupkis on its own, everything that is done with them is pretty darn good.
While the characterization drifts a bit, and I’m sure if I tried to look for flaws, I could find them, the character writing generally remains quality throughout. Dialogue feels natural, characters express a lot of character with the way they speak, it is funny when it wants to be, passionate when it calls for, and engaging throughout all routes. …Almost all routes.
The first thing one notices about Press-Switch is probably the aspect ratio. The first public build came out in 2011, and as a visual novel using assets from other VNs, the developer opted for a 4:3 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 800 by 600. While ‘acceptable’ at the time, this makes the title look super dated nowadays, and hard to play at its native resolution if you are on anything above a 1080p display.
Fortunately, the game’s assets are high enough quality that it does not look unpleasant when presented at a higher resolution. At least based on how it looks at 1440 by 1080. In fact, considering the font size is smaller in v0.6a, I think players are supposed to play the game in full screen, or a bigger window.
Speaking of which, for those who are already familiar with P-S, the first thing they would probably notice is the new UI introduced in v0.6a. Previous incarnations of Press-Switch had a rather minimalistic UI, with a black dialog box, connected speaker box, and stock menus. Here, Skiegh decided to put his GUI skills to the test, and I can’t say I’m too fond of the game’s new look.
It… How to put this succinctly, um… the new GUI gives me strong ‘a 15-year-old’s custom GUI circa 2002’ vibes. The white text on a dark blue interlaced dialog box. A border that is trying to be stylish, but looks uneven and under-designed. While the save menu fails to hide the game screen itself, only covering about 80% of the screen with an opaque blue border. Which is not ideal for a game with as much sexual content as this. I hate to tell a creator that their GUI was better 8 years ago, but… it was.
However, beyond these two quibbles, I have to say that Press-Switch is one of the most visually impressive visual novels I have ever seen. Why do I say that? Well, it entirely comes down to how the game uses its assets. The way they flicker through expressions and poses in a manner both natural and stimulating, making it clear who the speaker is just by looking at how the characters move. The deluge of zoom-ins to emphasize character emotions and appearances, rather than keeping the cast at static length. And so, so many little things.
Characters flash red to demonstrate pain. Laughter is represented with text pouring out of their mouth. Having characters fervently bounce up and down as they run. characters quiver in fear and uncertainty at a deliberate jittery speed. The positioning and framing of its first-person scenes, narrowing the field of view, incorporating wide sweeping motions as they move their head, and making excellent use of blinking animations. The fact that the shimmering on the mirrors glows in and out as characters stare into them.
Despite using assets borrowed from other sources, mostly BISHOP games, Skiegh puts more time, effort, creativity, and energy into moving these sprites around than just about any other VN I can think of. Hell, for as much as I love praising Muv-Luv’s presentation, it has nothing on the level of ingenuity, personality, and flexibility of Press-Switch. Press-Switch has no reason to look this good, and no market it is trying to please. It merely looks this good because its creator wants it to look this good, and is willing to put in the work to make it look good.
Now, I say that in reference to the newer content, particularly the Family Swap route, but I should clarify that the presentation runs the gamut in quality. With older 2017 and 2018 content looking a bit plain by comparison, with fewer close-ups, edits, or complex animations. However, even at its worst, the visual presentation of Press-Switch is better than most commercial VNs I have covered over the years.
As for the audio presentation… Skiegh has repeatedly cited the audio end of things as being his least favorite part of the development process, and it kind of shows. The music, all repurposed from myriad sources, is used well enough to establish the mood, but never really speaks out to me. Possibly because I’ve heard so many tracks loop for hours while making my flowcharts.
That being said, I need to commend the use of sound effects to enhance certain scenes. The shattering of metaphysical glass, the ambient noise of conversations in crowded areas, the rustling of clothes. Like most sound design, it is all little stuff, but it is easy to appreciate if you go looking for it.
There are also nebulous UX quirks that I feel I should mention. Such as how it is impressive to see an intractable approximation of the DSM’s user-interface running in-engine. It both does a better job of demonstrating what the device looks like than a mere description and has the potential to be incorporated in a more… ‘immersive’ way as it is implemented in future routes. As it stands though, it is mostly used in the Family Swap, and its implementation was a bit finicky in my experience. Still, it is far from the worst example of a TSF VN trying to make things more interactive…
Something that I feel the need to highlight when reviewing a game like Press-Switch is the sexual content. Being made out of repurposed eroge assets, it is unsurprising that the game features a good number of sex scenes, though considerably less than what you would find in a typical eroge. However, the title also goes out of its way to clarify the ages of many of its characters, including the protagonist, who is only 17. This, combined with a high school setting, means that virtually every sex scene in this game involve a minor. If not physically, then mentally.
I personally have a high tolerance for this type of thing, but I know this is a sensitive subject for a lot of people. If so then, sadly, I would have to recommend you avoid Press-Switch, as the majority of routes feature some form of explicit content, and all feature nudity.
Goals and Navigation
Unlike most games, Press-Switch is one without any projected ‘end state’ and the odds of the game ever being 100% complete are nil. Instead, Press-Switch is more of a narrative playground for its creator, who updates the various branches and routes of this story as he pleases, going on wild and expansive tangents. All resulting in a VN boasting an impressive word count past 730,000.
To find most of these words, players likely need to rely on an external guide, as navigating the game with no idea which routes are developed is a gosh darn mess. Dead ends are everywhere, finding specific paths can require juggling invisible variables, and missing out on major content is extremely easy.
After realizing this myself, I decided to take on the duties as the ‘flowchart girl’ for this game back in 2014. 8 years later, I’m still making flowcharts for this game. I could criticize the game for its lack of navigational aids. But the community, and creator, both seem content with having me pump out WIP flowcharts a day or two after release. So… this is kind of a non-issue I guess.
Now that I’ve covered the more general aspects, and basically gave the game an overall review, let’s go through the game, route by route, starting with the new additions to v0.6a.
This is the main addition of v0.6a, and it is certainly… a lot. The route, as it is now, follows Calvin after he decides to use the DSM to bring his fractured family together via a body swap. One involving his mother Heather, little sister Eliza, older sister Jenna, and their maid Ciel. After waking up in Ciel’s body, Calvin returns home, sees the family enraptured in utter chaos, and through some additional tomfoolery, erases his memories of the device so he experiences the full ramifications of his actions.
Even after accumulating some distance from this route, I still think it is the most impressive route to ever grace Press-Switch, and a prime example of how to write a good group body swap story.
It is a lengthy story that, even in its incomplete state, feels richly detailed and fulfilling to play through. It is filled with a deluge of excellent character moments and instances of fiery interpersonal drama as the cast deal with their predicament. And despite being from one character’s perspective, the story focuses enough on the entire cast that the player is able to piece together their side of the story and understand what it is like for them. Which is something seldom seen in TSF body swaps, where the focus is typically centered around a single person.
I could probably do a play-by-play explaining why each segment is great, but I can narrow down my praises for this route around three things. The first is Calvin himself.
Prior to this route, Calvin’s persona was always shrouded in a bit of mystery, but here, it feels like his complex family life was finally opened up and put on display. The player gets to learn more about his dysfunctional and estranged relationship with his family. The reason behind his dismissive attitude toward Ciel. And truly sees the privilege he experiences, as he is forced to deal with debt, hunger, job security, and other real life problems.
It is a great example of the cyclical enjoyment that I mentioned in the character section earlier. What the player learns not only makes Calvin a more interesting character in this route, but also offers the player a different lens to view him with across every other route.
Second is the Hintre family itself. While characters like Heather and Eliza were previously expanded upon in their own routes, here the player is steadily fed more information to form a mental relationship chart of these five characters. How they perceive and react to the flaws of others. How they view themselves. And how they behave when thrust into an unfamiliar situation.
Seeing Eliza utterly fail to grasp the responsibility thrust upon her, falling back to her spoiled and childish behavior even when people dearly need her. Watching Jenna struggle to maintain her dominant role, ultimately relying on Calvin to maintain her life, while the two unpack their less than loving relationship. Observing Heather as she ditches her cold and domineering demeanor and pursues a lifestyle she would have never allowed herself to have without this body swap. And witnessing Ciel as she eagerly embraces this new dichotomy, freed from the shackles of bad decisions made in her early 20s.
It is all among the best character writing I have ever seen in a body swap story, and while all of these people are deeply and fundamentally messed up, that’s exactly what makes them so much fun to watch.
Though, I think the most impressive thing is that, through all of this, the story never loses sight of its original goal: For the Hintre family to grow closer and learn to accept one another a bit more. To me, body swapping is a fantastical physical change that should be followed with an organic mental change. A change in perspective, in understanding, and behavior. One that enriches and changes a person in some way. While it might not be as overt as it could be— because the ‘true ending’ is still a WIP— I definitely feel that everybody grew along this journey and… I like seeing that.
But the third, and potentially biggest, appeal is the fact that this route has a resounding… 38 endings. Now, some of these are ‘post-credit endings’ and others are minor variants of others, but that is a hog wild amount of endings. Endings that run across the entire spectrum. The lackluster and rushed that introduce a potentially interesting concept, before discarding it a few lines later, because life’s
short a bitch. Divergences to the main storyline that, despite their shift in focus, offer both a satisfying and creative end to the story. And extreme deviations that see the story take a completely new direction.
The disparate quality and flavor of these endings gives the ‘conclusion section’ of this route a special quality, as you truly do not know what you are going to get. Kind of like a grab bag or, if you prefer, a fukubukuro. But chances are that you will either walk away satisfied, or find that another conclusion is just a bit of variable juggling away. Plus, it is easy to ignore the underdeveloped endings, when some of them go so hard on such a good concept that the concept deserves to be imitated and iterated upon by others.
For example, I feel like an honest to goodness FOOL for never thinking about a TSF story that features two characters perform a suicide pact where they live on as ghosts. Possessing person after person, changing bodies like they are clothes in the world’s biggest wardrobe, while occasionally running into each other. All before suddenly getting trapped in a new body, where they are forced to deal with the consequences of their recklessness… and horniness. That seems so obvious in retrospect.
While I could criticize the consistency here, and how certain character traits feel a bit ‘smoothed over’ for the sake of efficient storytelling. But it really does not matter. Telling a good story is more important than any continuity, and that is what these endings deliver more often or not. Even when they are just a highlight reel, they are a highlight reel of something positively dope! And they should fill you with inspiration! Whether it be for your own creative outlets, fueling your daytime fantasies, or cranking that little D.
Trio Swap Revamp
Trio Swap was one of the routes featured in the early incarnations of Press-Switch, and after the continuity redux with v0.5a, Skiegh opted to rewrite the route entirely. As the name loosely implies, the route focuses on the main three students of Sierra Hills, Calvin, Mika, and Ashley, undergoing a body swap that is intended to last a full day of school. A simple premise where the quality lies solely in the execution, and it certainly does not disappoint.
The route is littered with tiny observations from Calvin as he comments and comes to terms with the finer details of Ashley’s body. All without ever feeling overbearing or distracting from the flow of the story. Every class period offers a handful of scenes that add to the experience, expanding upon the main characters, side characters, teachers, and the school itself. And it manages to offer a few parallel sets of genuinely amusing interactions between the main trio, including an excellent side excursion with a surprisingly adventurous Ashley.
In its current form, the route only covers about half of the intended first day. Yet it lays the groundwork for what is… probably one of the best portrayals of a ‘high school body swap for a day’ that I have seen. Something that, despite being so simple, managed to impress me with how well it utilized these familiar elements and fashioned them into something engaging. And as someone who wrote a ‘high school body swap for a day’ novel back in 2015, I have to say, it sure made my attempt look like a bowl of wet hot shit.
April the Witch
This is more of a stub, an introduction of a concept, more than a fully developed route. But I said I’d go through everything, so…
This route begins with Calvin deciding to have some fun with the DSM by impersonating April, posing as a witch, and using the swap and cloning functions to leave Mika positively dazzled. In its current form, it is more of an illustration of transformation hi-jinks than anything else, with the potential to veer into… basically any direction. It presents some humor and compelling ideas, but not much else.
However, I have to say that I am fond of how Calvin is presented here. In routes where Calvin is forced to present as himself, he tends to be a lot more anxious and reserved, shackled by the passive persona he built around others. When presenting as someone else however, he comes across as a lot more controlled and confident, freed from the burden of himself and able to redefine who he wants to be. He does not feel compelled to be the person other people think he is, nor does he need to worry about how others perceive him. Just like how he is able to be whoever he wants to be in appearance, he can be whoever he wants to be in personality and behavior.
This is not a full route, as much as a bridge to other routes, but things do happen, and there is plenty of stuff to talk about here.
The Mika route sees Calvin share the DSM with Mika while at school where, unsurprisingly, she decides to make ample use of the doohickey, becomes a spirit, and causes some mayhem. Only for her to be yanked back to reality by Calvin, who urges her to have fun without making a mess of the entire school, and use the DSM in more ‘boring’ ways. Switching bodies, trying food with another tongue, doing some light mental changes, and introducing Mika to the worst part of male anatomy, the usual.
It is definitely on the sillier end of the ‘transformation doohickey story’ spectrum, and seeing all the antics play out makes for a grand little time. However, what I appreciated the most during my re-read was analyzing Mika herself. On a surface level, Mika is an eccentric and mischievous girl with a level of ennui who wants something interesting to happen in her humdrum life. However, all of her actions have an underlying sense of self-loathing.
She relishes in the idea of being someone else, to the point where she seems satisfied with being anyone but herself. Despite being Korean, she is fascinated by the idea of being someone more ‘exotic,’ such as her Indian phys ed teacher. (Who, incidentally, is the only non-White and non-East-Asian character in this game. Grumble. Grumble.) And while she puts up a playful and boisterous front, she often crumbles into a timid mess when someone applies authority or resistance to her chipperness.
I find her to be a deeply entertaining character whenever she is on screen, offering a degree of levity and absurdity to most situations. Yet this deeper insecurity is also alluring in and of itself. It makes me pine for a route that delves into her background more, one where she lays out her baggage and is honest with herself. But for the time being, it is fun to theorize how and why she is this way.
Ashley’s Eyes Route
Branching off of the Mika Route, Ashley’s Eyes serves as arguably the most unique route in all of Press-Switch. After some sloppy overuse of the remote as Calvin and Mika involve more and more people, Calvin attempts to undo the fine mess he created. Yet in doing so, he winds up uncovering an oversight in the DSM’s functionality. An oversight that links his soul to that of his crush, Ashley, rendering him unable to move, talk, or communicate with the outside world. Instead, he has no choice but to perceive the world through her eyes. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say through her body.
Rather than just sharing her vision— something excellently conveyed through a first-person perspective and narrower field of view— Calvin feels everything Ashley feels. The panic that fills her body when she is exposed to something she does not understand. The loneliness she feels when divorced from the handful of people she is comfortable expressing herself around. The simple pleasures that she indulges in. And the immense love she feels for her ailing mother.
Calvin is exposed to the entire range of her emotions, things that define her, and as he does so, he begins to fall for her. He recognizes the finer qualities of her person. Accepts whatever few flaws she may have. And the line between the two starts to blur as Calvin lives through Ashley for a prolonged period of time. It all makes for a rather… unique transformation story. One that remains true to the tenant of exploring what it is like to become someone else, but in an unconventional and passive way.
The story also offers a plentiful amount of insights into one of the more interesting characters in this entire cast. Someone who, upon knowing that they are within the body of another person reacts with both abject horror and physical revulsion. Ashley is someone who is committed to normalcy, to order, that she reacts with horror about things getting worse. It initially seems irrational, but as the route progresses and more of her life is revealed, it becomes easy to piece together the pieces as to why she is like this. The trauma, responsibilities, and self-imposed restrictions she uses to live her life. Despite being considered such a beauty, Ashley is someone whose life is filled with a certain melancholy. One who gets by on simple pleasures and the bonds of a few others, but beyond that, is a victim of her own selflessness.
It all makes for an excellent example of a type of story that I wish was more common in transformation fiction, and easily one of the best routes in the game. In fact, the only major criticism that I could offer is, despite being as long as a novel (about 50,000 words) I felt that there was more that could have been done here.
Certain details about Ashley’s family life could have been expanded upon, as it relies on the reader to operate on too many assumptions for my liking. (Though, this could be addressed by more Ashley focused routes instead.) I would have liked to see more examples of how Calvin’s life was managed in the interim. The ending could have been expanded upon in an epilogue, rather than concluding around the emotional high point of the story.
However, it does everything it needs to, while delivering something distinct, melancholic, and genuinely heartwarming.
Mass Poss Route
The Mass Poss route follows an alternative branch where Calvin gives up the DSM prior to using it and, after a week or so, things take a turn for the bizarre. The entire population at Sierra Hills finds suddenly themselves divorced from their body, traversing around the school as spirits. From there, things quickly devolve into chaos as students realize they can possess the bodies of others, and use this as an opportunity for body-jacking. Depending on how quickly Calvin reacts to this, and where he travels during this pivotal period, the route can change significantly, but most permutations follow the same structure.
After some confusion, everybody finds themselves in a new body, the faculty calls everybody to the gym to issue a cover-up story, and then begins interviewing everyone to find out who is who. Then, after half a school day of confusion and unrest, everybody heads home, ordered to present themselves as the person they appear to be.
Immediately what I like about this storyline is its scale. Mass Poss is a rare mid-scale body swap event. One affecting hundreds of people, but small enough that there is a chance for authority figures to cover it up. This allows the story to capture the chaos and confusion of a large-scale body swap. Gives the victims a level of autonomy, as people were consciously able to snag some ‘choice bods’ if they acted fast enough. And only affects about 60% of the school population, giving more ‘practical’ unaffected people the leeway to deny this event and say everybody’s just high on natural gas. Because that makes sense.
Here is where I would go into describing the greater ramifications of this route and how those in power, and the students themselves, deal with it. Sadly, this route is only updated through the end of the first day, meaning it leaves a lot of potential by the wayside, and who knows if it will ever continue. Fortunately, even if its length is brief, it casts a wide net, and has several distinct ‘paths’ developed, all of which have their own distinct flavors.
The Mika path is mostly concerned with impersonation, where Calvin assumes the role of Mika next to an imposter in his body, while trying to determine who is the real Ashley. It treads the familiar ground laid out by more mainstream body swaps, but executes the proceedings with the expertise I have come to expect from Skiegh.
The Megumi path is an interesting one to me, as when Megumi was introduced, she was presented as a new beauty, and a personal favorite of Skiegh. Yet in this route, Calvin is routinely at odds with this body, clearly attracted to it, but also overwhelmed and discomforted by it. The billowing hair, the breasts, the general structure of the body, and even the heat distribution. It presents beauty as a burden in a way that other routes touch upon, but never really delve into, and raises a lot of questions about Megumi as a person if she chooses to present herself in this way.
The Silease path sees Calvin nestle away in the body of his small and girlish art teacher. A fact that initially fills Calvin with dread and disappointment, having lost his height and becoming a woman without gaining more ‘womanly’ features. Yet as he is forced to deal with his new disposition, he begins to find several perks. His access to a car, his own home, and body that, while not the most attractive on the surface, ‘comes with big surprises.’ It is a pleasant subversion of expectations that, in an odd way, leaves Calvin empowered.
The Jaina path is one of the most interesting in the game, as Calvin finds refuge in a quiet neurodivergent girl with potent analytical abilities. Something manifested by numbers that unconsciously fill Calvin’s vision as he tries to maintain some semblance of order. It is a rare example of a transformation story where someone not only ends up in a different physical form, but gains a brain that processes the world differently than how they are accustomed to.
It is a bold concept that demonstrates just how many different factors one can change when undergoing a transformation. However, this is also a subject that needs to be handled gently, and I am not sure how much research Skiegh has done into this subject. This is largely because Jaina’s condition is only ever described as ‘autism.’ Which, while possible, strikes me as an overly general term for something this extreme and specific. What Jaina has strikes me as more of a super rare ability that only affects a few dozen people. Like Hyperthymesia or something..
The Timothy path… goes hard. With death looming over him, Calvin decides to take Timothy’s body, and immediately regrets his actions. Throughout the game, Timothy is someone who Calvin views with envy due to his close relationship with Mika, but also a level of disdain. To Calvin, Timothy is an exaggerated version of everything he loathes about himself. He is weak, anxious, bereft of masculinity, and despite seeming so passive, is a huge secret pervert.
As such, he cannot help but view his new status as Timmy as a decline in the social hierarchy, becoming someone worse in every quantifiable way. It leaves Calvin fuming throughout much of the route, before the story finally opens up to reveal more details about Timmy as a person.
They come from a hard home life where they are fed toxic masculine ideas. They are a fervent fan of body swapping media, namely anime and the ilk. And as their choice to snag Mika’s body implies, bear a deep desire to become a girl. This makes Tim a rather… sensitive character to explore. Someone who in many ways reflects a common variant of TSF enthusiast, and one who very well might hit too close to home for several fans, thus giving them a mixed reputation in the community. Some recognized what Skiegh was trying to do and recognized his efforts to get introspective with the TSF genre. Others did not like the fantasy breaching with reality.
Personally, I cannot help but feel a sense of kinship with this little dork. I mean, I was not as meek as Tim was back in high school, but I used to jerk off to TG and body swap stuff before going to bed every night, while desperately wanting to be a girl… Then I became a girl, and that’s my story.
Background aside, the path in question deals with Calvin as he tries to navigate through the first day in his life as Timothy. A day is punctuated by a decision to either conform to the meekness he now embodies, or to fight against it and try to become a ‘better,’ more masculine, Timothy. It is an interesting concept, and, bizarrely, the only significant male-to-male swap in this game. Sadly, as a stub, there is only so much that can be explored.
Nicole’s path sees Calvin seek refuge in the androphobic Japanese idol of Sierra Hills, Nicole. The path starts similarly to the others, but right as Calvin adjusts to her body, he is approached by its former occupant. By massaging the truth, Calvin learns that ‘Nicole’ has intimate familiarity with body swapping, and underwent certain traumatic events that are related to this mass possession event.
On its own, that is merely a stub for what could be a broader narrative, but with the addition of the non-canon, but sorta canon, Karyn route from v0.4a, it becomes a lot easier to connect the dots. To determine where ‘Nicole’ was prior to this, understand the origin of her trauma, and theorize how she ended up being in this situation. A situation that I recall being far-fetched when I first encountered it. But the more I learn about the world and the desires of the wealthy and powerful, the more it makes sense.
One of the biggest problems with launching any large-scale project like Press-Switch is that it takes a monumental amount of work to finish something. If you don’t, you often wind up with tendrils that sit around, un-updated, for bloody years, that may never be concluded. It is something so common in the modern era that it pretty much is a primary way that people enjoy media. Enjoying it for what is there, while knowing the story will never truly be brought to an end. Which is kind of the approach I have to take with this route. To admire what is there, appreciate it, while also sorta knowing that its mysteries will probably not get told.
…Oh, right. I should also mention the gag endings. In addition to offering the start of six distinct paths, the Mass Poss route also contains its own nexus of bad ends triggered by entering “Skiegh” as Calvin’s pseudonym during a name input screen in the Nicole path. This, more than any other aspect of this entire game, is a prime example of Skiegh’s love for the unnecessary, as there are 10 tiny gag endings, including ones that cross over Press-Switch with Student Transfer.
…Also, here are some observations I noticed in reviewing the code for the gag ends. Observations that really do not fit with this review.
As the name implies, the mother route sees Calvin bust out the DSM to use it on his mother, Heather. In his eagerness to play with this new toy however, Calvin proceeds to make pretty much the worst series of decisions he could. Thinking of a complicated mental command before processing it in detail. Not backing away after he unintentionally turns his mother into an incest-loving nymphomaniac. Undoing the mental command while running away. And leaving the DSM on his nightstand, allowing Heather to snatch it as he sleeps.
This leaves Heather fuming and ready to punish Calvin for his transgressions, and she decides the best way to do so is to rob him of everything. Like a genre savvy pro, she steals his body, trapping him in hers, and issues a series of succinctly worded commands, robbing him of most autonomy and forcing him to act as Heather Hintre.
Locked within this prison, Calvin confirms just about everything he suspected about his distant mother. That she is cold, uncaring, aggressive, and demeaning to those she interacts with. That she prioritizes work over all other aspects of life. And that she is something of a sadist who gets pleasure from hurting others.
This malicious nature is seen in how she punishes Calvin for his transgressions. She starts with small durations for their swap, only to slowly extend them. Uses Calvin’s obedience as a justification for her to enjoy the life of a teenage boy. And when he resists by seeking aid in others, she uses this as an excuse to enact misery upon more people, while presenting it as a twisted little game or gift to her victims.
Heather as a character runs a fine line between an actual person and an exaggerated antagonist. Someone who views others with such contempt and lack of empathy or care, that it begs the question if she has even a flake of humanity or humility in her body. However, the more I think about it… she actually just behaves like a ruthless female advertising executive. Someone who will stop at nothing to get what they desire, and who will use every resource available to her to get what she wants. They exist IRL, you’ll probably them at some point, and they make for great villains.
Sadly though, Heather neither snags a decisive victory or is met with her downfall, as the story stops after making a single deviation. One branch sees Calvin and friends make the most of their situations, mostly by abusing the power of liquid assets. While the other sees Heather doubles down on her spiteful personality, abusing Calvin and friends for showing signs of resistance, and using the DSM to adjust them to her liking. Both of which are excellent angles for the story to expand upon but seeing them unfold gave me this bitter feeling. Mostly because this was my first and favorite route back in 2014, and I have been waiting eight bloody years for it to be finished.
Goopy (Elena) Route
Okay, so this route is pretty strange. While Skiegh is adamant about keeping Press-Switch his own creation, back in 2013 or so, he allowed another writer by the name of Goopy to create an Eliza twinning route. Which, for whatever reason, was the only route from v0.3b to carry over to v0.6a. I say ‘for some reason’ because it really does not mesh with the modern incarnation of Press-Switch.
The story sees Calvin use the permanent clone function on himself, turning him into Eliza’s clone. She is ecstatic by this, Calvin’s disgust is downplayed, and Eliza then uses the DSM to change the memories of everyone to think that Calvin has always been Eliza’s twin sister, Elena. From there, the two then go to Eliza’s all girls school, meet up with some major characters, see Calvin either go on a ‘date’ with one of them, or see the twins returning home.
It is a… nice idea, but the story does basically nothing with it. Characters feel flat and surface-level, nothing very much happens beyond set up, and the story does little to stress or explore what it is like to be someone else. It comes across as dull when compared to everything else in this package, and I cannot even determine what it is trying to be.
Or in other words… This is like a bad Student Transfer Scenario and I don’t know why it’s here.
Karyn Route (Non-Canon v0.4a Content)
Oh cripes, this is the big one. The route that almost killed Press-Switch and led to an 8 month development hiatus. It also has not been reviewed in detail by Skiegh, contains numerous things that are no longer in continuity, probably has more typos than the rest of the game combined, and is also kind of broken. With several timers that don’t work, and a couple visual glitches. However, the vast majority of the route is fully playable, so let’s go!
The route follows Calvin indulging his little sister Eliza by using the DSM to switch bodies between her and her friend Michelle. Not wanting to miss out on the day’s worth of hi-jinks the two would inevitably get into, Calvin decides to join them by switching bodies with, or becoming a clone of, their classmate Karyn. From this initial buildup, the route shapes itself into an introduction of sorts for a new cast of characters, all based in the Olivian’s School for Girls.
As the player is introduced to them, they are given various opportunities to mess with them. Swapping around their bodies, potentially losing the DSM, and choosing what level of chaos you want Calvin to make as he goes through a normal day of school. What’s there is, generally speaking, good. The characters are endearing, if a bit bratty. Calvin’s observations, while a bit different than the style seen in most other routes, can be insightful. And player decisions lead to some novel situations as characters are trapped in bodies they dislike or are infatuated with. Which is always fun.
Navigation however… is not fun. For the bulk of the route, the player is just going through the motions, choosing to go with impulses or not, as the day goes on and they are given the opportunity to shuffle bodies about. Conflicts are tiny and personal, and most routes end at the exact same place, with some minor variation of who is who and who is joining Calvin to fix this fine mess. To me, this is an instance where the volume of decisions hampers the experience, and when/if this route were to be revisited, I would not mind seeing some of these variants get cut.
However, I am just talking about the ‘core’ route. The other routes are where Skiegh went absolutely insane and completely lost sight of the project, delving deeper and deeper into a bad end, probably added on a whim. All of which results in a total of 21 endings. 11 of which are, admittedly, standard bad endings. Wild detailed bad endings containing some custom assets but just regular one-in-done minutes-long bad endings. He could have just stopped there… But then he decided that was not enough.
I need to stress just how out of his gourd Skiegh was— and still is— The majority of meaningful content in this route is locked behind a 30 second timer, then a 5 second timer, and does down an hours-long story that concludes in ten possible ways. Six of which are based on which variable the player triggered at the very start of this route! Still, to this day, after 5 years, I am still baffled by his dedication… and amazed by the results.
I don’t even know where to begin with this route… The sense of dread that comes with suddenly becoming another person with no resources. The burden felt by a child as they are forced to not only fend for themself, but care for others as well. The triumph and horror that comes with encountering the person responsible for a device as destructive as the DSM. The bonds the characters forge over the course of adversity. The decision to add physical flaws to most characters, or turn boons into flaws. And the buck wild shit that happens in the bad endings.
I think the highest praise that I could offer this route is that, if this was how Press-Switch ended, then I would consider it a triumphant conclusion. Because it provides a ‘loosely conclusive’ ending to the prevailing mysteries that lingered throughout this game circa 2017. Delivers upon pretty much every variant of conclusion I would have wanted to see. And goes above and beyond in a way that no project of this variety and notoriety should.
The Gushing Conclusion
If I have not made my thoughts on Press-Switch clear by now… I must be way worse than this reviewing thing than I used to be.
I utterly adore Press-Switch. It is a glowing testament to the TSF genre. An inspiration to myself and dozens upon dozens of other TSF creators. A genuinely impressive visual novel in regards to its scope, detail, and presentation. In addition to being a title that, over a decade into its development, is still finding ways to impress me. It will never be ‘finished.’ It will never be ‘whole.’ But what’s there is so spectacular that I still consider it one of my favorite games of all time.