Have you ever played a cross between a deer simulator and an endless runner?
Well, that’s just part of what The Deer God is, but it’s understandable if that’s your initial impression with the game. It’s possible to spend hours just admiring its beautiful, pixelated environment while casually jumping across mountainous gaps. Armed with its beautiful presentation and atmospheric music, the game sets itself to be a unique experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. After all, its opening sequence shows a hunter who got mauled by wolves and turned into a deer. How can you go wrong with that?
Once you gain control of the game, you immediately meet an elder deer who will give you not only a skill but also a hint of what you need to do. From here on out you start your right-ward journey, hopping across spiky pits, mountainous gaps, and alligator-infested swamps. The tranquil music helps you set in with the environment, allowing you to soak in the wonders of nature. Eventually, your deer will mature enough to produce an offspring with a doe, so that someday your child can enjoy the world too.
The Deer God’s world is also just as hostile as it is beautiful. Just about anything that’s not closely related to a deer is out to kill you – skunks, spiders, bears, humans – you name it. Thankfully you have several ways to hurt them back, or you can just run past them. Health and mana points can be regained eventually, either by using healing items or only with patience.
When nature itself is not trying to kill you, your own body happily takes over the job. There’s a hunger bar that you need to mind, which thankfully can be refilled easily by eating berries. These berries are ubiquitous except in desert areas, where naturally nothing grows. If the hunger bar depletes down to zero, your health takes a hit every few seconds until you die of hunger. If you feel particularly brave, you can use your health bar as a way to buy time until you can find the next berry.
Dying and respawning in The Deer God is also not as painful as other games. It may be slightly annoying to have to repeat a quest, but the penalty is never any worse than that. Save points are relatively consistent as you continue running, so you never lose a lot of progress. Collecting “lives” in the shape of deer heads also make sure that you respawn as an adult instead of a feeble fawn.
Platforming is another focus in this game, and it’s never as demanding as traditional ones. As a deer, you will do a lot of jumping between various gaps. The detection is also fairly generous, allowing your deer to hang on the edge even with just one pixel. It’s a bit strange to see a floating deer, but it’s helpful when trying to make your way across several tall but narrow peaks.
So far so good, right? Well, here’s where it becomes tricky. Whether by design or not, your tasks as a deer are hidden so well that you can spend literal days running to the right wondering what to do. The end goal is to become human again, but aside from the first few quests, the rest are not as obvious. Entering and checking every nook and cranny because you must is not fun – it’s tedious.
What’s worse is that as you check into tucked away corners, there’s a possibility that your deer will get stuck. Some crevices are too small for an adult deer to squeeze out, while some gaps are just too tall for a fawn to scale. Starving to death resurrects you at your most recent save point, and unfortunately, this is the only way out. Unless, of course, you get stuck inside the wall like this:
Doing a quick search reveals that previous versions of The Deer God suffer from various bugs, including a game-breaking one near the end. While it’s unclear whether the Switch version carries the fixes for those problems or not, what’s clear is that there are still some problems lurking around that can prematurely end a run. In our case, the deer became a permanent fixture in the wall – unable to get out even after multiple restarts and deaths by starving. It was an unfortunate circumstance, especially with one task left to finish the game.
After all of these, are previous criticisms for The Deer God still warranted? Honestly, the answer is complicated. Ignoring the technical problems for a second, the game does well in convincing you to go with life and enjoy your surroundings. Why worry about turning back into a human when, like a deer, you have full freedom in exploring and enjoying nature at its finest? Sure, almost everything wants to kill you, but you have the strength and stamina to break through or run away. You have the power in your hands to turn the game into a relaxing runner with beautiful pixelated visuals and soothing music.
At the same time, the technical problems that plague the game can make even the most casual player a bit leery. Even if we give the benefit of the doubt and assume that the bugs from previous versions are fixed, the problems that do exist in the Switch version are enough to make someone think twice about spending time and money in the game. And that’s unfortunate because this debilitating blemish prevents The Deer God from realizing its true potential.
Note: Blowfish Studios provided a copy for review purposes.