Crescent Moon and Cinopt Studios recent Android game release, The Deer God is an endearing attempt at instilling a more meaningful notion to our gameplay experience within an inherently simplistic medium. In short, the game offers a unique experience; one that begs a more thoughtful introduction. The psychologist, Rollo May wrote: “Life comes from physical survival; but the good life comes from what we care about.” An idea that throws what I discovered while playing this anthropomorphic title into sharp relief, as The Deer God’s developers are not inclined to agree; the deer will suffer. Inadvertently though, so does The Deer God.
After wrongfully killing a fawn (that’s a baby deer, shame on you) the guilty hunter is reincarnated as a fawn by the deer gods and informed that he must redeem his soul in order to avoid damnation. This event serves as your character’s motivation throughout the game. Themes such as reincarnation, redemption, anthropomorphism, karma…even respect for your elders serve to uphold a unique, thoughtful premise for a sub-genre of games that is often labeled vapid. The story moves through sparsely placed interactions with characters, although once the premise is established the narrative becomes thin and largely reliant on the game’s opening cut scene. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re expecting cinematic moments of high tension…this isn’t the game for you.
A number of characters in the game can bestow you with abilities, present opportunities for redemptive acts, or simply attack you as you meander by. Other deer that you encounter will aid you which proves to be quite helpful when a pesky fox is nipping at your hooves. There are other predatory creatures that will antagonize you throughout the game, including humans who will shoot at you. Fire is also your enemy in The Deer God and in my experience proved to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome. There are literally flaming obstacle courses with fires of different heights and lengths that you must maneuver through. Oh, what is a deer to do? For a gamer very comfortable with WASD and space bar, I found myself wishing my fingers were more the size of lock picks. With that said, all the game’s controls are founded on finger movement and are generally quite simple. You swipe left and right on the left hand side of the screen to move left and right. You tap or double tap, on the right hand side of the screen to jump or double jump and you tap the characters that are necessary to interact with in order to engage said interaction. As you gain abilities (which, as the game progresses, becomes a vital aspect of traversing The Deer God’s world) more finger combinations are made available but remain simple in design and easy to get the hang of.
Truly though, The Deer God’s strengths lie in its aesthetic. The 3D pixel art builds enchanting portraits of various natural environments that draw you into this mystical world of reincarnation and anthropomorphic enlightenment. The contrast between the foreground and background enhance the expansive feel of the area that you traverse. The Deer God serenades you with atmospheric sounds and music that relay mysticism and the enigmatic nature of life, death and what falls in between from its opening screen and throughout. It is without a doubt one of the more immersive games of its genre. All of this is topped off by a day night cycle that serves to illustrate each passing day that you live as a deer, which is detrimental to the survivalist pursuit that the game establishes for you.
Unfortunately the thoughtful, unique premise of this game and its aesthetic appeal only go so far. After what could be hours of arduous and repetitive gameplay I believe that most players, like I, will begin to question whether they actually care about the soul of this hunter and whether the trials and tribulations that the fawn faces are worth the effort. Despite the game’s strengths, it is essentially directionless (or one-directional, just keep running to the right hand side of the screen and you’ll get there eventually) with sparse character interactions loosely establishing goals and an increasingly obscure narrative. Varying environments, cool music, Buddhist idealism, none can save The Deer God from its affliction, redundancy.
The Deer God does offer certain qualities that add color to its inevitable decay. You are granted a journal which documents your progression through the game from the perspective of the human reflecting on his experience as a fawn. There is also a Karma bar which displays “Light” and “Dark” on opposite ends of its spectrum. Your interactions with other characters determines which side you lean towards. For example, certain abilities give you the option of fighting back when you are antagonized (an ability that for most games is decisive but in The Deer God it feels like more of a perk unless you are fighting a boss) but also allow you to harm innocent creatures that otherwise you would simply pass by on your life-journey. Harming these innocent creations of nature will color the “Dark” end of your spectrum. This light and dark aspect can influence the eventual conclusion of the games narrative but in essence does not serve any other purpose.
The Deer God is a game that successfully sets itself apart from other games in its genre but is still bound (a bit tightly) to the parameters of what it is. In other words The Deer God fails to transcend the level of enjoyment one would receive from any of the handful of genuinely innovative Android indies, which is what I believe The Deer God aspires to but falls short of being. Don’t consider it an existential crisis but an existential exploration of 2D adventurism with enough entertainment and intrigue for me to endorse its…existence.
Yes, it is.
While it suffers a bit from redundant gameplay, The Deer God is overall an energetic exploration of 2D adventurism.