After shooting a baby deer, a hunter is reincarnated as a fawn and embarks on a perilous journey in The Deer God, an Early Access side-scrolling platformer with a charming art style and RPG elements. As you play, your deer grows older and bigger and learns new powers to help you survive through a number of procedurally generated biomes like deserts, forests, caverns, and swamps.
The world of The Deer God is incredibly hostile, featuring so many dangerous animals it makes Far Cry 4 look like a petting zoo. There are minor beasts like porcupines, foxes, and snakes, larger predators like pumas, bears, alligators, and giant scorpions, airborne threats like dive-bombing hawks and owls, creepy-crawlies like spiders and bats, and even ghosts and wraiths that haunt graveyards and bayous. Naturally, there are shotgun-wielding deer hunters as well, unaware that you were once among their number and eager to turn you into another trophy. The environment is also filled with dangerous elements like quicksand, deadly spikes, and forest fires. It's hard out there for a deer.
Luckily, you're a nimble young buck blessed with double-jumping skills, and you can kick butt by, well, butting. Many aggressive animals can be outrun or dodged, you'll learn new powers like swift battering ram attacks and fireball spells, and you'll find items that give you the ability to defy gravity or summon other creatures to help you fight.
While it's essentially a roguelike, there are ways to survive after dying. Power-ups can be found, often by smashing objects or pushing blocks to solve puzzles, that allow you to be reborn again as a fresh bambi if you perish. You'll also encounter friendly deer you can mate with (once you're an adult) and your brief love affair will promptly produce a fawn, which acts as a checkpoint: if you die and reincarnate, you'll restart the game where your most recent offspring was born. Your baby will also follow you, which is cute right up until it's horribly killed in front of you by another animal or some environmental hazard.
The 3D pixel art style (created in the Unity engine) is wonderfully done and the score is both unusual and enchanting, serene at times and punchy at others. There are pleasant little moments, such as when other deer join you on your journey, and losing a companion to spikes, fire, or hostile animals can be genuinely affecting. Weather effects like rain and snow, the beautiful day-night cycle, and the fact that your deer ages and grows as you play makes your adventure feel like a real, long, hard-fought journey.
There are a few frustrations. Occasionally a tree trunk in the extreme foreground will block your view while you're trying to carefully perform a jump. The artwork doesn't always make it obvious what is an object and what is background scenery, so you might try to leap onto something and find there's nothing to land on, or you'll get stuck against a solid rock or bush while desperately fleeing a predator. One quest, undertaken for a mystical deer elder, is very poorly conveyed and the reward for figuring it out (a new special attack) isn't explained well either. The game is only in beta version 0.1, so I'm hoping for tweaks and fixes in the future.
According to developer Josh Presseisen of Crescent Moon Games, The Deer God has multiple endings that are determined by your choices and actions during the game. Kill vicious animals and you're rewarded with good karma, but attack innocent or friendly critters and you'll slip over to the dark side, meaning you might get reincarnated as a plant and be nibbled to death by a rabbit. So, play nice.
The Deer God is now available on Early Access through Steam.