Review: The Deer God

Review: The Deer God

The idea of combining survival and platforming with teaching a hunter a lesson by transforming him into a deer is pretty frickin epic! Life as a deer isn’t easy – you’ve got lots of predators to worry about, you have to forage for food, and of course there are plenty of instant-death spikes lying around to jump over. But is The Deer God a brilliant indie classic, or will it fail to survive its own harsh journey?

 

Title: The Deer God
Developer: Crescent Moon Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by the Developer
Interface: Handheld Switch Console[?]
Available on Nintendo Switch, Wii U, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Android, iPhone/iPad, Steam (Windows, Mac, Linux)

The Deer God is a breathtaking 3D pixel art adventure that will challenge your religion and your platforming skills. It’s a game about survival, reincarnation, and karma; all set in a breathtaking and unique 3D pixelized world. Feast your eyes on the beautiful lighting, day and night system, and vast landscapes.

Become one of the most beautiful animals on planet earth.

LIVE AS A DEER.

SURVIVE AS A DEER.

On paper, The Deer God is one of the coolest games of all time. It’s procedurally generated, it blends survival with 2D platforming using gorgeous 3D pixel art, and it’s based around teaching a hunter a lesson by transforming them into a deer. In fact, not only do you play as a cute deer, you play as a MAGICAL cute deer that can double jump, ram into enemies with its antlers, hurl fireballs and use all sorts of items at will. It also has a full day/night cycle, several different biomes to run through (burning forests, volcanoes, caves, etc.) and there are bosses to fight!

Unfortunately, things that sound amazing on paper often don’t live up to expectations, and that’s my overall feeling about The Deer God. The game throws you in control quickly – after a bit of dialogue you take control of your new “trans human” form, and a few moments later you have your first power – the ability to double jump. Double jump is one of my favorite abilities in platformers, as nightmares from the original Super Mario Bros. on NES still live deep in my soul today, and it works great here both for exploring vertically and fixing my lack of precision. The goal of the game is to help others, prove yourself to deerkind and collect relics to power up the altars (see above)you’ll come across every so often.

 

With all of that said, the game really just boils down to a few things: avoid enemies (killing them will fill up your “light” morality bar side but it really doesn’t seem to do anything in the game anyway – the developer says that it alters which powers you earn first but there are loads of reports that this is, or was, untrue), eat food so that you don’t starve and deal with whatever challenge is currently in front of you. These challenges are the main part of the game, they’re how you earn the relics, and they also create the biggest flaw in the game: the infinite loop of insanity. See, until you complete one of these challenges you can run to the right as far as you want and you’ll never, ever actually progress. For example, I got stuck on one of the challenges and had to look up the solution, but before I did I just assumed I was missing something. As such, I would run further to the right to explore, thinking maybe I’d find something I didn’t realize I was missing. In doing so I’d come across a few areas, make lots of jumps, eat some food so I won’t starve to death… and then come across the challenge again. I ended up doing this a solid half-dozen times before deciding enough was enough and deciding to look up a solution, but it was just so infuriating not being able to make any progress otherwise. Sticking around trying to solve the problem was limited as well – because your hunger bar is constantly dropping, after a while you HAVE to give up and move on, find food, dodge enemies and jump over pits of insta-death until you wind up back where you started. I’ll also admit that once I discovered the solution to the challenge I went a little insane at just how simple it was.

This is really a shame because the game had so much more promise. The game is definitely procedurally generated, in fact there was a whole extra boss in the speedrun gameplay I watched that I didn’t face at all. If the light versus dark morality bar lives up to its original intent it would mean there’s a solid reason to play through a second time as an evil deer (you get “dark” energy for killing the deer and other docile animals you find and “light” energy for killing enemies, although often you’ll end up with some of both due to deer falling on spikes or battling enemies). It also seems like you can earn a max of 10 abilities (5 light, 5 dark, with spots shown on the antlers in the image above), and you earn one per special puzzle you need, but there weren’t anywhere near 10 special puzzles on my run or the speedrun video I watched (the game does say there are 10 such puzzles, though). As such, it seems you’ll potentially have different abilities combined with potentially random boss encounters and two different endings! Again, on paper this sounds like an incredibly replayable game, but without fun gameplay it’s just not worth playing again.

With abilities and items that mostly don’t matter, a painful gameplay loop when you get stuck, minimal survival elements, a bunch of things that failed to live up to expectations I never really had fun with the game. Yes, there are plenty of indie games that sacrifice a little in terms of gameplay to explore a fantastic story, and at first I at least hoped that would be the case here, but sadly it wasn’t. The story is barely touched on over the hour or two you’ll play, certainly not enough to make the flaws worthwhile. There’s so much promise here, so many things that could have been fantastic, that it hurts it doesn’t live up to the potential found throughout the game.

There were entire things in the game that could’ve been an awesome touch but were barely utilized, like making baby deer that work effectively as walking, breathing extra lives (unless you push them too far and they fall in a pit or get eaten by an enemy), and death without extra lives means returning to life as a young deer – you can’t access better abilities until you grow older and your antlers grow bigger, which is a cool touch! If there’s ever a sequel, I’ll definitely give The Deer God 2: 2 Deer 2 God a shot, but I just didn’t have a good time with The Deer God.

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