After debuting on PC in late 2014, Crescent Moon Games has brought their stylish platformer The Deer God to Xbox One. But was it worth the wait?
Without a doubt, The Deer God is probably the most interesting game to come out of the Games With Gold program on Xbox One. In many ways, the game feels like an experiment in game design. It takes the beautiful 3D pixel design from FEZ, borrows the concept of death as a punishment from the Souls series and then throws in a morality karma scale many would expect from a Bioware RPG. And the experiment is mostly a success.
The gameplay in The Deer God is quite simple. Like many platformers, you will spend most of your time running to the right in this procedurally generated world. Along the way, you’ll run into several different creatures and people that will either help or hunt you. Unless that animal is a deer, though, you can never be certain how you’ll be greeted. If you’re attacked, there are basically two attacks at your disposal, the dash attack which swipes the enemies or the ground pound many have come to expect from platformers. Additionally, Deer God uniquely uses an inventory system system that is essential to survival, especially in late-game battles. You can summon bees or eagles to aid you in fighting, or you can simply replenish health when it gets low.
Survival in Deer God is often your biggest challenge. When the game begins, you are born a fawn who gradually goes through the aging process. If you die without a specific collectible in your inventory, you’ll respawn as a fawn once again. While this isn’t an especially brutal punishment, it did make some sections very difficult as some bosses require you to be a deer of a certain age in order to even damage them. One of the biggest threats to your survival isn’t other animals, though – it’s hunger. As you play, your green hunger bar on the HUD will decrease. Once it reaches empty, your health will drain until you collapse in die. Throughout the various landscapes you’ll find food to sustain you, but if you find yourself out of food in the desert, you’ll almost certainly die. Hunger adds even more challenge to combat scenarios. Killing hostile animals gains you good karma, but it also means that you’re wasting your time and energy when you could be scrounging for food to keep yourself alive. Late in the game, you’ll be expected to keep a well-stocked inventory to sustain you in battle. In fact, I died several times during one boss encounter not because I was getting hit but because I starved to death before I could kill it and find food.
Graphics, Audio & Performance
Gameplay certainly wasn’t weak by any stretch, but what really hooked me to the roughly 3 hours it took me to 100% the game was the gorgeous 3D environments and the ambient electronic soundtrack. There was something soothing about watching day turn to night as I crossed vast landscapes all while the game hummed along perfectly. Deer God may not be the deepest platformer you’ve played, but it certainly has enough style to keep you interested in the one sitting it takes to beat it. While the game never had any obvious framerate issues in my playthrough, I ran into some really irritating game-breaking glitches that required me to repeatedly reload the section I was on. There is a portion of the game where you are asked by a witch to kill skunks outside her home. In my first two attempts the last skunk clipped into the hillside and couldn’t be killed. Upon my third attempt, I intentionally corralled the AI away from the glitched wall in order to kill them and progress. This didn’t ruin the experience, but it certainly was frustrating. When a bad game has glitches, it’s just the cherry on top. When a great game has glitches, it feels like a serious mar on what would otherwise be a very special game.
There are a ton of unique things that make Deer God worth your time. Every landscape feels like a homage to nature, the story is somewhat secretive and requires detective work to understand and the procedurally generated worlds are stunning. Your time with the game will undoubtedly be quite brief as Deer God doesn’t aim to tell a long story, but the end-state does allow the player to go back and keep achievement hunting even after the credits role. While it does have glitches that blemish parts of the experience, I can still say the game belongs amongst the likes of FEZ, Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami in the pantheon of stunning, creative worlds.
Deer God is a fantastic game to dedicate a lazy day to just before the packed game release season begins.
Deer God was reviewed on a pre-release Xbox One code courtesy of Crescent Moon Games