Clicking my way through a series of pre-release trailers, I thought I had The Deer God all worked out – an eccentric 2D platformer tagged with the usual indie trappings that has made the jump from PC to mobile. What it turned out to be, however, was something very different, and not always in a good way.
It all kicks off with the most bizarre of set-ups. You’re hunting in the woods with a friend one night when, all of sudden, a deer strides into view. Without hesitation your pixelated predator levels his rifle, firing away at the innocent critter with pinpoint precision. After a momentary pang of sadness, my reaction soon turned to one of beguilement. Slowly fading to white, the screen coughs up the haunting visage of what can only be The Deer God itself.
Appalled at your actions, the antlered deity condemns you to walk the very same path of the creature you killed as you follow the road to redemption. Just like that, you find yourself back on terra firma, albeit with four spindly, hoofed legs.
With only a limited number of actions available to the player, The Deer God forgoes the usual tutorial stage, giving you free reign to explore its enchanting vistas. From scorching deserts and tundra-swept caverns to deep woodland and quiet towns, each of the game’s biospheres are connected seamlessly along one 2D plane.
They’re all brought to life using a fairly organic range of colours with parallax backdrops giving the visuals some added depth. It’s certainly an attractive game to watch yet shifting between environments does little in terms of mixing up the actual gameplay. No matter where you roam, you’ll still be tasked with hopping between platforms while keeping an eye on your vitals.
There are three gauges to monitor when playing The Deer God. With enemies and other obstacles standing in your way, keeping track of your health is essential, as is the blue bar which determines your energy reserves. Next to that there’s hunger a meter that, when partially full, will slowly restore hit points over time.
The survival genre isn’t the only one that serves as a source of inspiration for The Deer God. As touched on before, platforming is the game’s bread and butter as you bound from one area to the next, collecting a grimoire of strange and wonderful powers. Elsewhere, The Deer God attempts to mimic the adventure genre, sending players around the world to find or interact with certain objects.
Although it’s a varied combination of elements, when all of the individual pieces come together, it creates this confusing, slightly messy, conundrum of a game. For instance, there were plenty of times where I’d simply dash ahead, zipping across ledges and trouncing enemies, only to come across the exact same patch of land I’d explored minutes before. It wasn’t until I scanned my surroundings thoroughly that I’d find other characters hidden among the foliage and terrain, offering guidance as how to proceed.
Unfortunately, many of these nuggets of wisdom went completely over my head, revealing no real clues as to where I should go and what I should do. It wasn’t before long that I had to bring up a wiki or some form of walkthrough in order to advance. It was at this moment I realised that The Deer God simply wasn’t for me.
Having played the game like a speedy platformer, these unexpected gear changes would bring the game to a sudden halt, breaking any sense of immersion I had. In other words, matching speedy platforming mechanics with vague objectives scattered around the environment simply doesn’t work. Layer the survival elements on top of that and you end up with a confusing little bundle.
Confusing in the sense that, despite not being overly fond of its execution, I can completely understand why some would rave about this game. There’s an alluring sense of mystery behind its scruffy tangle of mechanics, touching on poignant themes like nature, religion, and karma. It’s just a shame that in order to soak in The Deer God’s quirkiness I have to actually play the damn thing.