What can you say about a game in which you play as a man turned into a deer?
That’s precisely what The Deer God is about. In his final moments as he is mauled to death by wolves, a deer hunter accidentally kills a baby deer. He is brought before the deer god and sent back to earth as a baby deer himself, in order to make up for his crime.
Waking up in The Deer God’s world, a mixture of 2D and 3D pixel art, you’ll begin your journey. At first, it feels just like an endless runner as you run for ever to the right, avoiding obstacles in order to stay alive as long as possible, the day/night cycle announcing each new day’s arrival. It’s actually a platform adventure with a hint of survival, though you will find yourself only needing to move right at all times.
The pixellated visual style is incredibly striking, with the sunrise sending out rays of bright light, storms arriving with sheets of pixel rain and wind whipping loose foliage around. The various areas loop throughout your travels and each looks distinctive, especially when you reach the rainforest or the snowy mountains, and sometimes you’ll encounter caves filled with snakes and spiders.
Every area carries its own dangers, from simple spike pits (that result in instant death, I should add) to the predatory species that reside there. The game does a good job of slowly introducing more dangerous animals as time goes on, keeping the difficulty curve sloping upward steadily and fairly throughout. As time progresses and you keep your strength up by eating – keeping hunger at bay is required – your deer will begin to grow, eventually to a full adult, as long as you stay alive. Lives aren’t measured in the traditional way here, at least not straight away, as you can mate with a doe at certain times once you’ve grown enough, and your offspring becomes your next ‘life’. Later on you’ll discover deer skulls that act as true lives, respawning you instantly upon death and without reseting your deer’s ageing.
The Deer God is a simple platformer at heart, with simple controls allowing you to run and jump smoothly through each environment, and a quick tap of the X button initiates a charging attack to defend yourself against the various predators that attempt to block your progress. The combat feels clunky and unnecessary really, even once you’ve unlocked more powerful attacks and, for some random reason, magic spells. These range from shooting fireballs and healing animals, to unleashing a storm of ice that deals damage over time, and are best left unquestioned in a game in which you play as a man reincarnated as a deer. And does chores for people.
Yep, some humans inexplicably ask this deer to perform tasks for them. They’re all easy enough, usually fetch quests, but some require slightly more though. But not much. It adds an extra layer to the gameplay and they’re required in order to progress the story, and one of them even introduces the ill-advised bosses of the game. There are five bosses in The Deer God, all giant versions of dangerous animals, but only two of them are mandatory. Some have specific and quite creative ways to defeat them, but it doesn’t make them any less out-of-place.
If you can’t find the solution to a certain story puzzle, the environment will loop until you complete the current quest. This can prove frustrating as you’re not given any hints, so if you find yourself struggling, all you’ll see is the same area again and again until you find the solution for yourself. It isn’t a big problem, but some players may find themselves growing tired very quickly.
The Deer God will run on for around two or three hours, and is strangely addictive too. Solving non-essential block-pushing puzzles, plus a few more intricate ones, will unlock new spells and push the gameplay time to its upper limits, though not by much. There is a hardcore mode as well, acting as a hard difficulty that removes checkpointing and generally makes enemies tougher and forces you to think about how you play a bit more, but the extra difficulty doesn’t provide enough of a challenge to really encourage you to play the game again. What may encourage a second playthrough is the choice of two endings, but it doesn’t exactly add much replay value to an already short experience. At most, you’ll likely get around five hours out of the game, though most will probably be done in three.
It does seem like The Deer God could have been a fun platformer or perhaps an artful look at reincarnation and humanity’s crimes against nature, but instead it clumsily mixes the two and ends up having a bit of an identity crisis. It is still a fun platformer, but its message is diluted as a result of the attempted mixture of styles and it’s ultimately a fairly unrewarding experience as a whole.
Crescent Moon Games and Cinopt Studios have done a good job in making a decent platform adventure, but one that struggles with its identity.
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