The Deer God should have been the perfect game for me. A beautiful, esoteric platformer with a thoughtful message and an interesting gimmick. In reality, though, it’s a shallow and plodding mess of obtuse systems that somehow never manages to be fun.
The first real impression that The Deer God makes is that it’s a damn nice looking game. Combining pixel art with 3D environments full of gorgeous lighting and effects makes for a rich and magical display that did a great job of drawing me into the game in its burgeoning moments. The game opens on a hunter who, after taking aim at a nearby deer, meets his end by way of a vicious pack of wolves. The hunter is then reincarnated as a baby deer, and tasked to live their new life in repentance. It’s here that players first take control of the baby deer and set off on their adventure, it’s also here that the game stops being interesting.
A photo mode would’ve been nice but I guess that’s too much gameplay
Intriguing plot and sumptuous visuals aside, the Deer God is ultimately a game about running to the right. Occasionally there’s some horribly loose jumping, and sometimes the threat of a wild animal will call for some annoyingly unwieldy combat, but mostly it’s about running to the right. When the deer runs to the right for long enough, they will begin to age and grow, until they are a fully formed adult. If the deer is killed or falls from a platform, they will be reborn again as a baby and set back on their goal of running to the right. As the deer runs to the right, environments will slowly change and levels will be procedurally generated, albeit pulling from the same limited pool of layouts, meaning the deer will travers the same pitfalls and climb the same platforms over and over again as they run to the right.
Ghosts don’t have to be scary, just stand at a slight elevation and they can’t reach you
Sometimes as the deer runs to the right, they’ll come across NPCs that will give them quests. Sometimes the deer will gain new abilities that add small wrinkles to the otherwise basic combat. Neither of these things do much to make anything that happens in The Deer God interesting. Everything is repetitive, and unnecessarily obtuse, as if the developers got the memo that a sense of mystery and player-motivated discovery can be a powerful tool in video games but only read as far as the header. It stands to reason that a game that began life on mobile platforms would echo the sensibilities of its peers on that platform but there’s no excuse for how dull and misguided it is on any platform, let alone on the Nintendo Switch, where the asking price is significantly higher. It does at least look phenomenal at times in both TV and handheld play, and the same faux-retro stylings apply to the sound design which is as lush and inviting as the visuals.
Never judge a book by its cover, though. Clichéd as sayings go, but an apt forewarning for anyone interested in playing The Deer God, a game that seems great on paper and certainly looks the part, but falls apart as soon as it comes time to be anything more than eye candy.
Reviewed on Nintendo Swtich