The Deer God is a curious game. It’s beautiful, for sure, with a 2D playing field represented in a 3D engine with some gorgeous lighting and pixel art. It’s also winnable, with quests and a goal. But focusing on those things seems not to be in the spirit of what the game really is. This is a game where you mate with a deer you just met to produce a foal that will foolishly dive headfirst into a lethal pit of spikes while you headbutt and throw fireballs at a polar bear until an eskimo kills you with a spear. That’s when you resurrect thanks to the deer head stone you were carrying around. Oh dear.
The story (as it is) begins with you, a hunter, accidentally shooting a young deer shortly before you’re mauled by wolves. The Deer God appears to intervene at your death and sentences you to a life as a deer. This is intended as a lesson more than a punishment, as you grow in strength with guidance from the elders until you’re not only sprinting from biome to biome, you’re using all kinds of unusual items and spells and taking on giant enemies much more powerful than yourself.
You can play the game in multiplayer but sadly that reduces the game to it’s most barebones features, you can progress in terms of growing in size and gaining new powers but as of yet there’s no quests or end goal, you simply keep on running and eating to stave off hunger.
In single player however you will regularly come across people who need your help. Maybe it’s a deer who needs to be rescued from a mountain, or a submariner whose machine has become wedged in some rocks underwater. Their stories are as unusual as their predicaments but generally solving a problem doesn’t take long. These are all randomised and might appear in any order. I saw a giant whale repeatedly in one playthrough while players on the forums are complaining about having never seen it once. Once you complete their tasks you’ll be rewarded with a relic. Get three relics and you have achieved your goal and are ready to make another choice (that we won’t spoil here).
Playing the game is somewhat cathartic. The platforming is as precise and unforgiving as Super Meat Boy, and while the combat is messy, it’s possible to take on much bigger opponents through skill rather than luck. Once you get past the early stages where you are weak and fragile, it’s quite liberating to skip across the terrain at breakneck speeds, gathering items, completing quests and hurtling towards your goal as the soundtrack carries on and day turns to night.
This is one of those titles that is more of an experience than a game. There’s some interesting little moments but they’re organic rather than scripted. It might not be that polished with sudden deaths and repeated enemies commonplace, but again that’s somewhat missing the point. The Deer God is simple and atmospheric, and achieves much of what it tries to. Just go in realising that this isn’t a particularly deep experience.