The Deer God
The Deer God is flawed. There is no escaping that. Plain and simple. But there are some positives to gleam from this simple tribute to games of ages past.
It’s an homage to classic side scrolling gaming and an ode to nature, with a few RPG elements tossed in. Levelling up and a power weapon inventory are all in play. And while the scope of what seemed to be the goal with this game is admirable, the shortcomings are what most people will focus on.
On the other side of the ledger, here’s some of the things that The Deer God does well.
The basis of the story in Deer God isn’t of the Aesop’s Fable variety. In fact, it could be considered as Aesop 2.0. A hunter and his buddies are out in the woods during what appears to be a disappointing day of hunting. As his friends turn in for the night, he spots a single deer in the distance and seemingly targets his one and “only chance” to tally a kill.
With the mark in sight, the hunter finds himself victim of a pack of (magical?) wolves. A lightning strike and a flash later, the hunter finds himself in the presence of The Deer God and is tasked with re-deeming himself in his next life, as irony would have it, as a fawn.
Notwithstanding the lack of actual background on the premise (remind yourself, it’s an indie game) – the sidescrolling and platforming begins – and there will be plenty of it throughout the game. Luckily and thankfully, right off the bat you’re given a “double-jump” ability! Other powers are also earned as you progress, some with specific uses in specific circumstances and others that will simply make any confrontation a much smoother go.
As a young fawn, you’re responsible for your own growth and maturity in this side-scrolling world. Eat, survive, mate, and help out various characters throughout the game on your way through adulthood. Eating being key to much of your survival, you’ll have to keep specific track of the hunger gauge before the pain becomes unbearable and claims your dear life.
Helping characters along the way with specific tasks is how the story progresses – there are boss encounters (which incidentally respawn as time moves on in the game), which are seemingly thrown in as extra-curricular activities, save for the final boss.
There’s a “Rogue / Paragon” system at work – alternatively called Dark vs. Light scale. Each status is rewarded via actions taken such as killing peaceful vs hostile creatures. It’s not clear how this affects the game progress or its outcome, but it’s there.
And while the death of your deer will push you back to fawn stage unless properly stocked with deer heads (small collectible icons to be considered as “continue” glyphs) in and of themselves, there is little to be considered a true challenge in The Deer God.
Each task you fulfill grants your deer with a “relic” – which must all be collected to complete the game. There are several puzzled thrown into the game, which can be found by spotting deer statues along the way. A note of reference, these statues only appear in the world one at a time and must be solved in order for the next to show up.
The pixel-esque look of the game is not going to be in everybody’s wheelhouse. Don’t look for smooth cel-shading here or next-gen visuals to melt the eyeballs. The Deer God is more along the lines of a Minecraft pixel experience, in a 2D side-scrolling world. It’s not incredibly detailed and could use from some sharpening in those respects. Some of the beastiary is rough to distinguish, specifically in caves.
Visually The Deer God’s shining moments have to be handed to its lighting and color palette. There are day-night cycles throughout the game with the occassional light weather event. It’s during some of these cycle changes that the background environments beg to be admired between snake bites and hunger pangs.
Is the game repetitive? Yes. And this may be one of the biggest gripes you’ll have with this game. It seems to render maps dynamically. Meaning that you’re not going to find yourself walking from point A to point B without probably running through point A.1 and A.2 before being presented with point C and at some point returning back to point B. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it can get that way at times. The best bet is to simply keep moving right.
Simply stated, the map will scroll between several environments but thankfully will not require you to backtrack in order to complete your goals and reach locations with key locations and characters needed to progress the storyline.
Back on a positive note, the game soundtrack by Evan Gipson & Marumari is an ambient work worthy to stand alone. It runs from the spectrum of darker to lighter tones without much in the way of grate or dissonance. At times while playing the game and when it begins to wear out its welcome, you might find that the soundtrack is what keeps you treking through the planes, deserts and forests.
The Deer God is not a taste for all. It’s got plenty of pitfalls and even some buggy moments, but if you can manage to look past that, there are a few bits and pieces that prove to have some merit. Whether that translates to a good time is subjective and in the eye of the beholder.