The Deer God (Switch) Review – Stunning Boredom
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Android, iOS
Developer: Crescent Moon Games, Blowfish Studios
Publisher: Level 77
Release: 21st December 2017 (Switch)
Price: 7.99 (Switch)
The Deer God may sound like a joke game, at least for me at first glance, but is actually one of the very few indie games trying to bundle a big vision of “simulating” the life of a human in deer form, while delivering a good jump´n run at the same time. For just 7.99 on the Switch, it´s one of the cheapest and most recent ports, sadly the asking price is the only thing able to truly show what this game is actually capable of.
In every forest are hunters, be it humans or animals, killing others for their own survival, joy and many other reasons. Yet, when one particular human shoots a young deer, before being killed by “accident”, the mighty Deer God resurrects him as a fawn, in order to amend for his sins.
So his life as deer and the ongoing struggle for survival starts in a giant world full of dangers. While the game doesn´t follow any storyline, only offering some very superficial quests, the idea of becoming a deer is still unique and could have been the foundation to tell an interesting struggle of a man between two worlds.
Instead The Deer God completely focuses on its procedurally generated, beautiful world. Naturally the quests are scattered throughout the environment, mainly revolving around finding a certain item or even beating an enemy. Unfortunately the world design becomes one of its biggest problem, since the starting points and items are almost never in the same biome or generated piece, particularly later on. As a result, the main point of completing quests isn´t following a quest marker but rather running through the biomes until the system decides to spawn the one you need. From mere seconds to minutes, the fun, longevity and pretty much entire design relies on luck. Especially if you´ve already seen all the biomes or obstacles because there aren´t that many, these endless runs become even more redundant.
Despite the lacking story and mission design, The Deer God can´t make up for it in terms of gameplay. On the one hand during the early hours it´s nothing more than a really simple jump´n run. Double jumping and running through the world feels pretty good and there aren´t any frustratingly hard obstacles. In fact, it can be way too easy at most times, just adding up to the already repetitive quests. Unfortunately, the weak point is clearly its “combat” system, consisting of the same horrible dash attack Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back used with the difference, that enemies use it as well! Now every fight inevitable leads to a button mashing race, dumb jumping and the loss any control whatsoever. Given, it´s not as bad as in Bubsy, since the dash is way more controlled, still, every single fight is nothing more than a sprint to the fastest button press.
Unfortunately, my complaints don´t end here because almost nothing plays out as intended. Besides the jumping The Deer God offers so much more, like a Karma system, survival aspects and the ability to raise a family, find followers and an interesting permadeath mechanic. In theory the game practically simulates the life of a deer, with its struggle for survival or reproduction. Sadly, none of these mechanics are explained, which might be realistic but also leads a giant learning curve, a lot surprises when the deer dies of hunger for example and even more confusion. For example, it took me more than an hour or so to understand the three bars alone in their entirety.
Honestly, I really love the concept of the little fawn growing over time, having the ability to romance other deers and have kids or the fact how bad Karma influences the kind of animal we´re reborn once we die, playing as a rabbit because of bad Karma is pretty neat. Just nothing completely works be it due to the lack of understanding, resulting in frustration over the game, or the tiny scale of the game compared to its system. All those things just can´t work in a little procedurally generated 2D platformer without feeling somewhat random or uncontrollable.
Although a few other things just work fine. A fine example would be the side quests, divided into rather standard fetch quests and the far more interesting big side stories concluded by one of The Deer God´s great bosses. Said pinnacles of fun are probably the only enemies not solely relying on dashing them to death, focusing on smart use of environmental objects, openings and patience. While not the most innovative, in a game full of simple button mashing , these unique bosses can successfully breathe new life into the formula. Sadly there aren´t many and are only scarcely scattered through the journey.
Last but not least, in case you somehow missed it until now, The Deer God is a breathtakingly beautiful game, bursting with amazing pixel art to create an unseen 2.5D world. Mixed with great lighting effects, competent art design and the different biomes, the presentation is truly marvelous. The soundtrack may not live up to the expectations with its chilling cliché-y style but when the game begins to flex its art muscles, I regularly had to stop and enjoy the sight unfolding before me.
At the end The Deer God stumbles upon its own boundaries and ambition, failing to deliver a compelling long-time experience. Repetition is a constant accompanice, be it due to the limited environments or boring quests. While there are certainly highlights like the bosses, it ultimately falls short at being a good jump´n run nor deer simulator. Maybe it´s a great fit for a few hours of beautiful fun and 7.99 is just the right price for it, but that´s up to you.
[A Review Code was provided by Blowfish Studios]