Game Review: The Deer God (PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox, Steam, WiiU)

I remember buying a copy of The Deer God for the PS Vita several years ago. But the limited edition physical release of this quirky indie title produced by Red Art Games has sat on the bookshelf unopened since the day I got it. So after getting a PS5 last year I finally took the plunge and picked up a more affordable digital copy for the PS4 to see what all the fuss was about…

What is The Deer God?

The Deer God is a game all about redemption. It starts off with a short cut scene featuring a couple of hunters out in the woods, they are separated and one is killed. His story doesn’t end there though, and his spirit encounters the titular Deer God. The hunter is given a chance to redeem himself and he is returned to Earth, reincarnated as a foal.

Herein lies his brave new adventure, exploring his strange new surroundings, facing new dangers, interacting and helping fellow animals and humans alike and trying to atone for all his wrongdoings.

The Game

What follows is essentially a 2.5D platformer puzzler. Gameplay flows at a generally relaxed pace, aided in part by the incredibly atmospheric and soothing soundtrack composed by Evan Gipson. Your abilities develop as you progress through the game from basic jumps and attacks, to double jumps, stronger attacks and using items you find along your travels.

Some creatures you encounter along the way will ask for your help, other fellow forest dwellers will just ignore you as you go along your way, while others will need to be dealt with or avoided completely. You have a limited amount of health, but this can be restored by eating fruit and plants growing abundantly around the landscape.

Not Your Typical Indie Visuals

Most indie platformers rely on 2D pixel art for their visuals, and from the screenshots you’d think that The Deer God is no exception to this. However, the game itself plays – as I said – in 2.5D and all the graphics have been created using a 3D voxel engine. Essentially this gives the game a pixel visual look but it is in fact a full 3D game. If you need to look at another game for comparison, just think about the arcade shooter Resogun from Housemarque for one of the best examples of the genre.

While this may seem a strange way to create the game’s graphics, in practice it works remarkably well for the most part. It’s well animated, offers some superb lighting effects and is incredibly smooth and allows for features that couldn’t be done with traditional pixel art such as the ever changing night-and-day effects.

However, it’s not without its issues…

Simple Problems

I really struggled with The Deer God with a few aspects, primarily down to how the game was put together. While I loved the overall visual look to the game, there were times when the layers of scrolling obscured what was actually going on so you couldn’t see any of the forest critters approaching or jumps you had to make, leading to an unnecessary loss of life. Probably the worst case I experienced was one instance where I died and was reincarnated into what seemed to be some form of giant hedgehog.

I walked along the landscape, landed in a ditch I couldn’t get out of (not being able to jump) and then the foreground obscured where I was so I couldn’t see anything. I was soon attacked and couldn’t do anything until my timely demise and subsequent reincarnation elsewhere on the game map.

Additionally, controls seemed to be somewhat sluggish, especially when it comes to attacking anything nearby. Rather than a straight attack, you seem to do a semi jump and lunge towards anything near you and again it’s easy to lose a life while trying to simply stay alive. Am I being picky? I don’t think so when you’re fighting more with the game’s controls than whatever it is that’s trying to kill you.

Gameplay

I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but playing The Deer God felt more like an act of attrition than a fun platformer. The game is split over a series of days, but just when you feel like you’re making progress the slightest thing kills you and sends you back most of the way through the stage you’re currently on. One of the most ridiculous parts I found early on was a group of columns with what appeared to be jumping frogs on them. To get across you had to jump on each of these, losing health in the process.

Now, I’m sure that a deer wouldn’t get hurt landing on a frog or two but not here… after doing this a couple of times once again you lose another life and there’s barely enough space to land, let alone attack the helpless amphibians. It does make me question some of the decisions made surrounding the level design, but elements like this add frustration where there doesn’t need to be any.

Overall

I really wanted to like The Deer God. The concept of it was really unique, but what ultimately lets it down is the execution and the basic gameplay. The music and visuals were certainly impressive, but there was just nothing engaging with the gameplay whatsoever. It flipped constantly from frustration to boredom just wandering around when the game didn’t offer any challenges beyond jumping and eating.

It almost felt at times as if the developers knew what type of game they wanted to create, but that got lost along the way. The game promises hours of gameplay before you can complete it, but I doubt many will have the patience to last that long with it.

About Simon Plumbe 218 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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