Mostly a platforming game, Deer God combines light RPG elements, puzzles, secrets, and a story about spirituality in its attempt to set itself apart. The graphics and the general atmosphere of the world go a long way to help in these endeavors, but Deer God ultimately fails to bring all the moving parts together in an engaging way.
The game starts out beautifully, illustrating a story about two hunters at a camp site, using wonderfully designed pixel art. The settings and backgrounds of Deer God are its greatest strengths. Each new area, when first encountered, feels unique and alive with tiny details. Progressing to the next area simply to see what it looks like is an initial draw. Along with the music and the sound design, the developers did a great job of bringing the environments to life.
The game keeps track of time with a day/night cycle and shows you the number of days you have survived each dawn. When the dawn breaks, and the gentle forest music fades in, it is easy to get lost in the serene world Crescent Moon Games has created. It has a very similar feel to when dawn breaks in Minecraft, and the sun peaks though the trees.
After the opening cinematic, the hunter is put into the body of a deer and tasked with earning redemption for the way he had lived his life. The player, as a baby deer, is dropped into the forest with only one way forward. From there, it becomes a familiar platformer with the player navigating over pits and different forest creatures. If the player is able to keep going forward and survive long enough, the baby deer will eventually become fully grown.
Very quickly, the player comes across a big deer statue that grants a new ability: the double jump. These statues are spread throughout the game and are one way that Crescent Moon Games adds some depth to a typical platform game. Each statue is a mini puzzle that the player needs to solve using the skills they have earned so far. There are many new skills that the player can learn that will unlock previously unreachable areas, so some statues will need to be skipped over until the appropriate skill is attained. Learning these new skills is rewarding, but the progress feels too random.
The problem is that Deer God’s platforming sections are divided up into randomly repeating environments. There is a forest section, a snowy mountain section, an old-west section, etc. but there is no way to tell what section will be coming up next. The player must keep running forward while the game randomly generates the next section, hoping to come across a new deer statue.
Initially, this isn’t a problem as the graphics and the wonderful aesthetic of the environments are enough to drive the player forward, but soon the platforming sections start to repeat themselves. Seeing the same sections over and over again, while waiting for the next deer statue to pop up, drains the fun out of the game. Sadly, the game then becomes monotonous and produces a strange malaise of déjà vu.
Eventually unlocking more skills allowed the game to expand, but it still boiled down to running and jumping over very similar terrain with an occasional new enemy. There are secrets to be discovered and bosses to be beaten hidden throughout the map, but they aren’t enough to spice up the endless repetition.
Unfortunately, Deer God also fails to do much with the spiritual aspects of its story. One potentially interesting idea that was employed was a concept of re-incarnation upon death, but that was also left wanting.
If the player dies in the game world without making it to a check point then the Hunter has failed in his redemption and must be re-incarnated as a lesser animal than the revered deer. The player is then put back into the game world as one of the forest creatures that was, up until that point, a simple enemy to jump over.
While this idea sounds interesting on the surface, in practice it was simply not enjoyable. Being made to sit on a single platform as a porcupine with no ability to run off the ledge or jump is not fun to play. The game forces the player to wait several minutes while the energy bar for the creature slowly ticks to zero and it dies. Only then can the player be re-incarnated as a deer and let loose upon the Groundhog Day-esque landscape once again.
Deer God makes an interesting attempt at dealing with spiritual questions in a videogame, but it ultimately detracts from the fun of the game. Crescent Moon Games did an admirable job to add the depth that is so often lacking in platforming games, but it was never enough to overcome their own ambitions. The RPG elements aren’t quite deep enough to become truly invested, and the repeating platforming sections make the game feel smaller than it really is. Deer God puts a lot of interesting ideas into play, but they never coalesce into the rewarding experience its potential hinted at. The fun is fast but fleeting like a deer in the woods.