You are a hunter. In the distance is a graceful deer - a protector of the forest. Just as you go to take aim at the deer you are attacked by wolves, as if the forest was defending one of its own. From here, you awake to find that you have been reincarnated as a baby deer and are spoken to by the Deer God; she explains that you must now live a new life to learn from your mistakes and repent your sins.
The opening to The Deer God prepares you for a wonderful adventure; the idea behind the story is full of potential and naturally contains a very positive message. The developer’s aim for the game is to have you questioning your beliefs, trying to find answers to questions you may have never pondered before. This is all well and good, and this opening sequence had us looking forward to what was about to come, but it was at this point where the fun abruptly ended.
From the moment you first take control of the deer, until the very final moment of the game, you are simply tasked with running. You’ll be running along various platforms, using your double jump to traverse large gaps, and then you’ll run some more. Along the way you’ll come across fruit that can be eaten to restore your energy bar (which will kill you and make you re-spawn at your last save point if it fully depletes) and you’ll notice that you slowly grow with each successful run to become larger and stronger. If you die, you return as the weaker baby deer and will have to work your way back to full strength.
The point to all of this is to complete occasional quests that are given to you by people throughout your journey. These usually consist of finding an item for them, which will be hidden somewhere up ahead within the environment – the procedurally generated landscape will just keep looping back to the start of the quest until you find the right item. Unfortunately, if you find the item on the first run then each quest will be over in seconds, but if you are really struggling to find it you’ll be stuck in this loop for what feels like forever.
You’ll also encounter enemies along the way that can deal damage to your health and, as before, if this fully depletes you will have to restart from your last save point. Again, though, the enemies feel like a rather pointless addition; 90% of the time you can just jump over and ignore them, rendering them useless, and when you do go to fight them the battles are basically a head-butting contest until someone drops to the ground.
You will uncover extra attacks as time goes on, and can also use various items to help you in either your platforming abilities or give you a boost in battle. The new attacks, which include throwing fireballs and sending lightning down from above, feel very satisfying to use and could well have been a saving grace for the game. Realistically, though, you’ll hardly ever need to use them and the process of equipping them and rotating back and forth between each one doesn’t feel worth the effort.
There are occasional boss fights that manage to change things up for the better at times; in these situations you’ll need to whittle down their health bar whilst making clever use of the scenery around you. If the game had focused on this level of combat throughout the experience and put less of an emphasis on the blind, constant running, it may have resulted in a much more rewarding gameplay experience. The bosses are tough, but a more standardised version of them throughout the main game would have been lovely.
Something that does stand out as an impressive feature is the art-style and the various environments that are created from it. Using an appealing pixelated approach with some lovely lighting effects as the sun rises each morning, coming across new landscapes is a treat to behold. You’ll see areas within woodland, icy areas with penguins, and at one point you’ll even have to jump onto a train that speeds through tunnels.
As seems to be the case with almost every aspect of the game, though, this is still let down by its repetitive nature; you’ll be seeing the exact same shapes and layouts in platforms over and over again in quick succession. The game ultimately left us feeling frustrated on far too many levels; rather than wanting to explore the world and its questions, we were desperate to see new, exciting things that unfortunately never really came.
Set in pretty landscapes with a storyline full of theoretical potential, The Deer God had us highly intrigued during the first few moments of the game. Unfortunately, though, this instantly faded away and never returned; the repetitive nature of the core gameplay, which mostly consists of just running to the right over the same platforms, meant that we lost all interest in discovering the answers to its philosophical questions.
Each aspect of the game, be it the platforming, combat, or occasional puzzles, feel like the early beginnings of decent ideas. Instead of being truly interesting and worth your time, however, each individual part falls flat, resulting in an disappointingly poor overall experience.