The Deer God May Not Be the Deity You’re Looking For
Getting to review games is pretty awesome. The moment this opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance to snag the review for myself and Dera. Our Nintendo Switch would finally be getting some exercise, and we could test out something we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to try! When we were told the game was The Deer God, I was surprised. I remembered playing the game for Xbox (it was offered for free for Xbox Live Gold members), but I hadn’t played it for more than a few minutes. When we received the preview copy for the Nintendo Switch, I sat down to give it a whirl.
The Deer God Gameplay
Unfortunately, I was not terribly impressed by The Deer God. The game is simple enough; it’s a side-scrolling platformer with basic controls. You play as a hunter cursed to live as a deer, completing tasks to redeem yourself for your murderous past. The story has a decent premise, but the game doesn’t deliver anything profound.
The controls are easy to understand and you can pick up the game quickly enough, but there really isn’t much to it. The monsters are creatures and hunters. There are also friendly creatures along the way, and it’s not always clear what is going to attack you or not. It can also be difficult to spot some of the bad creatures even as they are attacking you on the Switch screen. You can attack and defeat most things without too much difficulty, unless you get swarmed or it’s something hard to spot.
Meanwhile, you need to eat to stay alive, but the berries and other edible items range from over-abundant to nowhere to be found. Also, if you don’t eat, you start to starve, making your health go down relatively quickly.
As you progress in The Deer God, you grow into a bigger deer and grow antlers. But if you die, you go back to being a fawn. During the game, I spent more time as a fawn than anything else because I was constantly being killed by hunters and creatures. That is, when I wasn’t falling into pits of spikes. That was frustrating, but I wasn’t even sure what being an adult deer was giving me. The game never bothered to explain the pros and cons. It seemed I may have been faster and stronger, but I never stayed big long enough to get a real measure of it.
Also, I wasn’t ever sure if I was supposed to kill the creatures that attacked me. There is a gauge that tells you if you are doing good things or bad things, and I had progress under both dark and light. There are innocent creatures you can injure, but if you don’t attack the vicious creatures, the innocent ones can be killed by them. The game makes it seem as though you should kill everything to defend the innocent. There is very little explanation as to what will “redeem” you for you past wicked deeds, making the game feel a futile mission.
I also stumbled upon a boss in a cave that I could not escape early enough. Frustratingly, I had to fight the boss only to find I could not figure out how to leave the cave without dying and re-spawning outside the cave, which to be a flaw in game design.
There are puzzles along the way that do… something. But again, there is no explanation as to what their purpose is. It seemed like the deer statue was giving me powers, but when the game said to assign them, there was nothing to assign. The second shrine puzzle seemed odd and clunky and I didn’t manage to figure out what the solution was as I played (and I’m a fan of puzzle games), so I just gave up on it and moved forward.
Finally, I think The Deer God is simple to grasp at first, but grows old quickly. I grew bored of the seemingly futile task of running right toward a vague and intangible goal. Though overall the look of the game is pleasing, the muted colors can make it difficult to spot the food you need to eat or creatures you need to kill. Not to mention, the game doesn’t really explain the purpose of half of what you are doing beyond “be a better deer than you were a human.” It’s a decent idea but I think the execution is lacking.
You tell me there’s a game called The Deer God and I want to know what the deal is immediately. So of course, when we were given the chance to review a Blowfish Studios and Crescent Moon Games title on Nintendo Switch, I was pretty stoked. (It was also nice to have more than one game for the Switch. I’m so behind, but ya know… Christmas.)
The Deer God Gameplay
From the opener, I was pretty intrigued. You’re a hunter turned deer (or “trans human” as one of the characters calls you) and you’re there to repent for your sins against deerkind. The pixelated look definitely brought me back to a few of my gaming roots and it was interesting that I was actually able to handle it given how I usually am with games that are too retro-looking. (By that I mean I don’t play them.) My brain can no longer handle “old graphics,” which is sad considering. However, The Deer God was artistic enough and I was pleased!
There’s a catch, though.
As you side-scroll and platform jump from the start to some undetermined endpoint (if there is one), you run into enemies as well as friendlies. This is where those charming little pixels came to bite me. Literally, in some cases. After dodging a few would-be predators, I would land on what seemed like a safe spot and be immediately pounced on by a snake, or smothered by a spider I had no freaking idea was even there. Many of the other animals, particularly the ones that want a piece of my deer hide, blend into the environment and are difficult to see, which made surviving tougher than I felt it needed to be. Perhaps that was the point, though. To feel like a deer that has to be on their toes all the time because Deer God forbid there’s something hiding in that funny-looking bush over there, or spying on me between two toadstools.
Hunger and health are both tracked in The Deer God, which does make sense. However, food seemed to come and go for me. Sometimes I would end up in an area that offered a cornucopia of berries and fruits, while the next scene was a barren wasteland that threatened my very existence. Again, could be going for a touch of realism here, but honestly, it was frustrating to have to back track at times just to make sure I got to nom something. Because nothing was worse than legit starving to death in this game. Well, maybe except a random pitfall of bloody spikes impaling you.
Or a puma chasing you across the screen.
Or maybe a group of hunters trying to plant a bullet in your eye.
Okay, let’s just agree that dying in any way in this game is pretty gnarly. But starving is one of the most frustrating ways to go since it’s just a timer and pixel fruit placement against you and not your actual skill.
When it came to the friendly critters, I actually stumbled across a pretty large number of other deer. With health bars! And they liked to follow me! Great, that’s cute! However, did you know that this game has friendly fire with tackling and dashing? Found that out the hard way when I accidentally killed another buck. My heart clenched. I was trying to kill the hunter that was attacking them and I actually murdered them myself! Now, if this mechanic is in the game where you can literally attack anything in game, including companions, then surely the AI that’s following you is intelligent.
Imagine my surprise when my herd of four became two (including myself) when a pair of my fuzzy companions literally hurled themselves into a pit of spikes. The only survivor couldn’t figure out how to jump to where I was, which was depressing. As I turned my back to carry on my journey, I swear I could see a single pixelated tear fall from my deer-self’s eye.
Speaking of my journey, I couldn’t quite tell what it was. Yes, I was there to atone, but how exactly? I tried to help my (occasionally stupid) deer friends and took down baddies only when I absolutely had to. But what’s the endgame here? How do I know I’ve done enough? Or the right thing? Yeah, there’s a gauge for “light” and “dark” that serves as a morality compass of sorts, but how do I know what fills which end? Is killing a hunter trying to shoot my fellow deerkind good? Or is that bad? Honestly, I couldn’t quite figure it out.
Generally, I enjoyed leaping and prancing about as a deer, and the idea of the game seemed to be a solid base for something really special. But with no real instructions, explanations or real incentive besides not dying, it was a little difficult to enjoy for more than half an hour or so. There’s a chance I’m missing something and that if I went maybe a bit further, I would’ve gotten something that gave me a sense of accomplishment. But as a goal-oriented gamer, I found it a bit difficult to be left to my own devices in my new quadrupedal bod without so much as a list of crayon doodles of creatures categorized in neat columns of “Help” and “Avoid.” Maybe by exploring the forest further (and desert… and arctic), I would’ve come across something really amazing aside from just one of the puzzles I was told about that appease the Deer Gods. (Riley ran into two, which I thought was interesting, and I got further than she did.)
With nothing obvious and clear to keep me pushing forward (other than bolstering my meters traveled and days survived numbers), I must say I was left somewhat confused by The Deer God. With such a whimsical plot and creature to play with, I’m hoping that the creators can improve upon it, clean up the issues, and turn this classic-looking platformer into something truly magical and fun.
How was your experience with The Deer God on Nintendo Switch? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to check out other video game reviews on Word of the Nerd!