The Deer God is a 2D side-scrolling platformer/puzzle game that focuses on the journey of a deer exploring a randomly generated world. While the audio and visuals are nicely done, the game falls flat in terms of gameplay and design. The Deer God was originally released on PC in 2015 but now comes to consoles, failing to improve upon the same flaws it had two years ago.
The Deer God is available now on Steam and Xbox One and will be released on PS4 April 25 for $14.99.
In the opening of The Deer God, there are a couple hunters who are looking to get a couple good kills on their time out. However, one of them (the player) gets turned into a baby deer to get set on an adventure. From there on out, the story of up to the player’s exploration. There are themes of reincarnation (which is pretty much solely emphasized with respawning, which happens in almost every video game), and some side characters to give you side quests.
The Deer God combines a 2D platformer with simple combat and randomly generated worlds. The goal of the game is for you to create your own path and with every world being generated differently, your journey will likely be different from what other players experience.
As a platformer, The Deer God provides controls that lead to a fine line between landing a perfect jump and completely missing a platform and falling to your death. The LittleBigPlanet series has implemented notoriously floaty controls in their platforming, but the gameplay was paced well enough where the player could easily adjust their momentum during the jump. The Deer God’s platforming mechanics would benefit from the control of other pixelated platformers of recent history like Shovel Knight. While controlling Shovel Knight gave the character a sense of weight and rigidity for accurate, pixel-perfect platforming, The Deer God does not give the player enough control for every jump.
When it comes to combat, The Deer God plays it very simple. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but like the platforming, it does not give the player enough control over the actions. The primary attack is a dash, with your deer charging at the enemy. On occasion, one dash attack could hit exactly how you want it to, but if you attempt it the exact same way another time, it will have no effect.
Where The Deer God suffers the most is from its environments. Lots of games have succeeded from procedurally generated worlds, with Minecraft and Terraria being the best examples. There is a nice variety in terms of area design, but the generation leads to copious amounts of repetition. If you complete a short platforming section, there is a good chance that you will immediately repeat that section several times.
Some other problems included very small platforms that featured a snake. The snake nearly blends into the environment, so there is a good chance you completely miss it being there. If you attack the snake, you dash onto some spikes next to the platform and instantly die. If you don’t attack the snake, he knocks you onto spikes on the other side of the platform.
Another issue the game suffers from is the lack of explanation. There are some games that do a great job of just throwing you into the experience without any instructions (Super Mario Bros. and Limbo are two side-scrolling platforming games that are superb examples), but The Deer God fails to even explain the three bars on the top left of the screen. The red bar is, obviously, health, while the green bar represents hunger (which is occasionally impossible to replenish due to randomized environments), and the blue bar depletes when using a special ability.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO
While the gameplay was more on the negative side, let’s start here with a positive note. The audio is simple, but that is not a bad thing. It is reminiscent of Minecraft in the sense that it features ambient music that doesn’t distract the player from hearing the important sounds enemies and object in the world make. The sound quality for sound effects is a little on the lower side, but that is to be expected when playing a pixelated game, so that is excusable.
On the graphics side of things, it is hard to argue against the impressive quality of the pixel art. The deer is visually simple but well-designed, and the enemies are different enough in design where the player could immediately distinct one from the other. Environments are slightly more detailed than character models, which helps take a more simplistic art style and turn it into a lush and beautiful world.
The problem with the visual design stems from object placement, yet another issue from the game being randomly generated. With most 2D or 2.5D side-scrolling games, the player is in the foreground (with the exclusion of some portions in the LittleBigPlanet series). However, in The Deer God, players exclusively play with their character in between the foreground and the background. This could be great if the visual design was meticulously curated for improving vision, but that isn’t the case here. Sometimes the foreground and middle ground will line up so that the player can not differentiate a platform that can be jumped on from one that is just for show, leading to numerous frustrating deaths.
Important items are not highlighted in any way, which caused me to die of hunger numerous times just in the opening half hour of the game (along with the lack of availability mentioned earlier). Like with gameplay, The Deer God should look to recent pixelated games like Shovel Knight for how to highlight objects that the player needs to interact with, not just for progression, but for survival.
The ideas behind The Deer God are solid: Play as a deer, solve puzzles as you grow up, and complete your journey in multiple ways. This would provide a great sense of replayability if the basic mechanics of the game weren’t such a chore to play with. The controls and visual design, along with the pitfall of randomly generated worlds, prevent the player from wanting to play for more than five minutes, let alone the whole game.
This is a game that released two years ago for the PC crowd and is finally coming to consoles. It didn’t receive great reviews then, and after two more years of work the game has not improved upon its frustrating elements. Unfortunately, The Deer God fails to execute the full potential of its ideas, and because of that, is not an adventure worth taking.
|+ Gorgeous pixel art||– Randomized worlds lead to repetition|
|+ Simple, intriguing ideas||– Platforming is inconsistent|
|– Visual design gets in the way of survival|