The Deer God is a great example of a 2-D platformer game that will probably will be great, but dear God it has a few flaws right now. See what I did there. “Dear God.” I spoil you with these puns, you know. Heh. Anyway, it’s on Early Access.

You play as a hunter who is turned into a deer by the Deer God as punishment for killing a foal. In his defence, the foal did jump in the way of the bullet. There will be more on the self-destructive tendencies of the wildlife later. In any case, as a young buck you must leap and canter through the world, right wrongs and one day fulfill an ancient deer prophecy.

The land you traverse is beautiful – the art design is easily the Deer God’s strongest selling point. The first time the screen pulls back as you gallop across a field at sunrise is genuinely captivating. It really lets you feel the tranquility and beauty of nature.

You can ram the cows to death, but I'm not sure wild deer indulge in cow tipping

You can ram the cows to death, but I’m not sure wild deer indulge in cow tipping

My first draft of this review contained a looong spiel about unintuitive controls and the lack of a tutorial, but since I wrote it an update came out that fixed all that. I’m genuinely impressed. Initially even the process of sorting out an extra life and respawning was convoluted and annoying, but now it is all done automatically. The developers are obviously paying attention to audience feedback and making real improvements while in Early Access.

Speaking of respawning, there is apparently another way to do it. If you find a doe, the two of you can form a foal. He will adorably follow you around, full of wonder at his new world, until he inevitably becomes stuck on the scenery, runs merrily into a fire or leaps joyously into a pit of spikes. According to the game if you die while a foal is following you, you then take control of the little guy. I could never keep the damn thing around long enough to find out.

In fact, all the wildlife in this world seem to have a complete disregard of their own safety. Theoretically, the enemies are the deadly and cunning predators that a herbivore like yourself must flee or fight. In practice, surviving is mostly just a case of ignoring them and jumping a lot until your nemeses fling themselves to their death. I saw ghosts impale themselves on spikes. Twice. I don’t even know how that works.

Also, the moose HATE you

There are ghosts, and witches, and submarines*. Generally the plot runs like this: you find an NPC, the NPC asks you to do a simple fetch quest, they give you an item in return. If The Deer God is trying to make a serious point about religion, or animal rights, or something, the message is kinda lost when you’re a magic deer trying to deliver a picture to a ghost on a steamboat. But, on the other hand, it’s whimsical and mostly kept me interested.

I would say that it can be a little dull at times though. The order of the environments is procedurally generated, but since the story has a set progression you may have to wait a while until the right biome or item spawns. At one point I needed a piece of witch hazel in order to give to the ghost’s widow, but I spent a pretty long time running about and collecting items before the game decided to bless me with the right one.

Another problem is that the vast majority of the powers and items are not useful. As I said above, enemies are trivially easy to avoid. Being able to do extra damage or become invulnerable is not necessary when your opponents are much better at defeating themselves. There are some interesting puzzles, but they tend to only require a few abilities and you won’t even use most of the rewards. There is little here to really challenge you. The game is not so long that it becomes a complete drag, but I would be a lot happier if the difficulty was ramped up towards the end.

Only you can prevent pixelated forest fires

Only you can prevent pixelated forest fires

However, this is what Early Access is for. Even in the short time that I have been playing it the Deer God has improved drastically, and I expect it will be one of the first great releases of 2015. At the moment it’s a little frustrating, but I think there’s a good game here that is worth your attention.

*My editor asks “how did a submarine find it’s way into the forest?” A man built it out of lead to explore a lake but it became stuck. You have to dive in to smash a rock with your magic hooves to let it float to the surface. Also, you can breathe underwater. Because of course.

  • Dear god!

    One thing I don’t understand about all of the 2D indie games so far, is none of them actually look like any of the pre-8 bit, 8-bit, or 16-bit, or arguably 32-bit (SOTN) 2D games, whether they be games that are prized for their greatness, or just your average game of yore.

    Is that just a level of quality that can’t be met today by people who don’t have big companies behind their sails? Or is there something different about the technology or culture now. Because I feel like the original “retro” games all looked/played much better than their emulators, while at the same time not looking all that difficult to reproduce in a technical sense.

    What could be the X factor?

    • Blatta

      …Obviously you need to follow more closely the indie scene ; )

      • Please I’d like to know of more games that actually look like any actual “8/16-bit” games. My comment is a little off topic, but my point is this game doesn’t look “retro” at all, it just has a different kind of presentation (edited: actually the article doesn’t say retro or refer to the graphics so I was just speaking off the cuff on a whim/because I felt like it)

        I just found this website. I don’t know if I have time to follow the “indie scene” but this is the only way I know how too, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting a lot of traction (just by the looks of the site) so I’m trying to spark conversations so that it at least appears to have a readership / appears less like a ghost town.

        I want to foster a healthy indie (or DIY scene in my case) and be a part of it, but you can’t do that underground. You need a mouthpiece that actually covers these kinds of games as separate from the establishment PR cycle.

        • Blatta

          Sure : )
          Here’s a few games already released:

          Shovel Knight
          Hotline Miami
          Super Cyborg
          Freedom Planet
          Devil’s Dare
          Soulcaster I & II
          Tiny Barbarian DX
          Kero Blaster
          Rock Boshers DX
          L’Abbaye des Morts

          The only thing not really “retro looking” about most indie 2D low res titles is some kind of tv/scanlines filter to properly emulate older displays.

          • I grew up playing emulators of 2D games along with the games themselves, and it’s true that the emulator experience doesn’t match the magic that a television-like filter could bring to the table. Linear filters look awful (for 3D too.) A dither filter is much more attractive although rarely used because it takes bad screenshots, but a television does much more than just dither.

            That said I’d have to look up your suggestions there, but I do recognize the first two on your list and they don’t look anything like any 8-bit or 16-bit games. There might be some obscure PC shareware (Western) games that look like those, but there are no 2D console classics.

            Like a commenter said on Destructoid’s review of Oniken: it was something like, “now this is interesting. A retro indie 8-bit game that ACTUALLY looks like an 8-bit game.” There is probably no more than a handful of recent indie games that would be mistaken for actually having been made in the 80s/90s when big commercial companies were producing those kinds of games. If you or your team can pull that off I think it’s a demonstration of both quality and a willingness to learn from the past.