By Marisa Alexander / April 27th, 2017
|Title||The Deer God|
|Developer||Crescent Moon Games, Cinopt Studios|
|Release Date||April 24th, 2017 (PS4)|
|Platform||PC, iOS, Android, Xbox One, Wii U, PS4, PS Vita*|
Normally I am not exactly the most interested in games with randomized levels since they typically have repetitive environments. However, the concept of The Deer God is a little more interesting. From the base, it features the idea of reincarnation: you were once a hunter, killed by wolves, and transformed into a deer by the “Deer God” to punish you for your hostility towards nature. From there, you visit the Elders, gain abilities, solve the challenges of the statues to gain even more abilities, help people, and fulfill this prophecy by collecting relics. The concept here sounds rather pristine. The game also uses 3D pixel art which, compared to other games, helps give it some sort of identity.
The game plays like any other platformer. You have a double-jump, your dash, and whatnot. However, you must worry about starving, represented by the green bar. When that runs out, you start taking damage. Attacks and abilities also consume stamina which is indicated by the blue bar. Spike pits are the only source of instant death, but that is par for the course. Predators wander across the wilderness, ranging from normal foxes and bears, to even monkeys and hedgehogs. At first, a simple bash is all you have to defend yourself, but you can gain the ability to shoot fireballs and even lightning from the heavens.
Yet you can’t just randomly find the power to summon lightning. Not only do you need to gain the abilities of the lesser tiers in order to find it, but to even use it you must grow up. As you progress in the game, you grow from a fawn to a full-fledged adult. Each stage of development allows you to start using a new tier of abilities. Other perks including running faster and jumping higher. However, if you die, you start back off as a fawn. Although you can collect skulls that allow you to keep your form, if you die as a fawn with none of these, you go back to the last checkpoint.
Unless, of course, you are a rather bad person. Another aspect of reincarnation is indeed karma. Normally it simply represents a cycle that can be simplified as “you do good things, expect good things. Do bad things, expect to be punished.” For the purposes of this game it is implemented as such. You have two meters in the middle of the power and item screen. One represents good, the other represents bad. Good is filled by defeating enemies and solving the statue puzzles. Bad is filled by killing critters and mating.
Your appearance changes based on what you align with, but the supposed important bit is when you align yourself with “evil.” If you die without lives in your first stage of development, you will become a random critter like a rabbit. This does not actually matter though since if you die again, you can just start off things normally regardless. This system made me sort of peeved, as I will get into later.
In the pursuit of representing nature, the game’s lighting and environments do a rather good job. Environments have the necessary details implemented. The pixel art does indeed look nice. All of the areas stand out, which is a very important aspect in any game. However, lighting has a small issue. One source of light, shown on pillars and trees, comes from the background, but shadows come from a light source from the foreground. It probably would have been better to just have the foreground light source. Also, there needs to be more transition between environments. Environments change without rhyme or reason.
Another issue is actually with animals and people. Personally, I think the characters and animals look like gen 2.5 spites. This is rather apparent as they can become somewhat difficult to see, especially due to how far back the camera is; it is even more noticeable with food, which suffers heavily from this issue. I mainly alleviated the problem by simply hitting down on the D-pad, which is how you eat food in the first place, but that is not good game design.
Control-wise, moving and jumping are rather refined. You move on point and you move fast. The Deer God is one of the finer platformers I’ve ever played in regards to controls. The same can not be said for, again, the camera. I may have said the camera is pulled back. Not so much when you have to go down. Your deer is suddenly at the bottom of the screen when you are falling down, and since a lot of the cliffs are so high that the camera doesn’t show the next platform, there are many of leaps of faith. Most will not kill you if you simply drop down but there is still the occasional spike pit.
Plus, if you simply just drop down, you might not be able to double jump. Every other platformer I’ve played with a double-jump always allowed the player to jump just to correct themselves. Why not here? Also, the item menu can be a hassle as, playing this on the PS4, it felt clumsy to navigate such a simple menu.
Now, items and abilities are there to help you—except most of them are useless. You do things so well passively that it makes a lot of abilities and items pointless. The only offensive ability that is useful is the hail, as it covers an area, does not kill your stamina meter, and does damage over time. Lightning may be cool but it does as much as your simple bash, and kills your stamina meter. In fact, I recommend avoiding enemies for the most part as “combat” in this game is extraordinarily clumsy. Enemies can have touch damage, and you do not have much in terms of invincibility frames.
Since you also regenerate health, there is indeed no point in killing enemies outside of getting bad karma. All of this is epitomized when fighting bosses, which take forever, and just show how clumsy the game is. The puzzles also mainly revolve around blocks, and I sort of only accidentally solve them instead of actually thinking. Also, since the game randomly generates the level, look forward to seeing a lot of repetitive formations. For a one hour game, in a ten minute time span, I can say I saw the same formation about five times. Due to lack of other things to see and do, the game gets rather boring.
Technically, the game is fine for the most part. The AI is super simplistic, however. When you mate, a fawn is born that acts as a walking respawn point. Do not worry, it will not die. In fact, it is best not to worry about this mechanic in general as the fawn has trouble following you.
AI can also be troublesome when you want a task done. There is a part where you have to get a deer out of a avalanche. There are two blocks. You may think you can just knock one block down, which will allow the deer to get up. Wrong: it will not even jump in the first place. The only time I really had to use the growth ability was help this bloody deer get up so I could proceed. This led to a particular nasty moment where I actually got stuck between the vine and the block. Since you respawn where you died, I was still stuck even after starving. I had to exit the game in order to fix this issue, at the cost of despawning any objects around me. Overall, blocks just interact with the game rather strangely.
In any case, that is it for the mechanics and technical issues of the game. How was everything else surrounding it? Well, the overall story, or lack of one, is not only forgettable, but completely misses the point of reincarnation. Remember those morality meters? Let me talk about them now. For the most part, the meters mean absolutely nothing and grossly oversimplify the concept in the process. The ending does not even change if you are on one side. For a concept that wants to represent nature, the game treats predators as the ultimate destructive force when they are just part of the cycle. Even in Hinduism, Shiva is not depicted as truly evil, despite representing destruction. Your appearance may change to blood red when you are evil or have an arc of light around you when you are good, but that is it.
The game’s story is also just a series of moments. Rarely do events connect to each other. You first meet an old man and you help find his monocle. You leave, go on, and never hear of him again. You meet a priest and get people to go to his church. Once again, you leave and go on, forgetting the priest’s existence. The only times the game connects anything is when you meet a woman who says her husband died in a steamboat accident. You meet his ghost who asks how she is, and then the woman gives you a portrait for her ghostly husband to collect the relic. Then there are the two witches. This is not due to the randomization either. These sequences of events are guaranteed to be in the same order. During the ending you are given the exact prophecy that details all of this, and just proves how inconsequential they are.
Perhaps for 5 dollars the game might be worth it just to sate your curiosity, as it is about an hour long and overall very easy. However, on Steam, Xbox One, and potentially PS4 and PS Vita, the game jumps to an astounding 15 dollars. On Wii U it is $8. All far above a good price for this game. Overall, I recommend skipping The Deer God. I may not be disappointed, but I also did not have high hopes for this game to begin with.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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