A divine offering descended into early access this week, and its name… is The Deer God. Yeah, it’s good, but hold on—I gotta do my intro.

Many gamers, even Steam loyalists, are reluctant to drop dollars onto an early access game, which is understandable. The very concept of the early access program is that you will be receiving an incomplete product. And sometimes those products are more incomplete than you’d like. Sometimes they’re a total mess. But luckily you’ve got me to lay it all out for you. Because I guess this is my job now? Sweet. ANYWAY.

First Glance

Visually, The Deer God looks very nice. Say what you want about the influx of pixel art, but it still looks good to these ‘balls (That’s eyeballs. There’s an apostrophe). And The Deer God gives it a slight twist with a “3D pixel” look, which, for those of you crossing your arms and insisting that’s an oxymoron, just imagine Mario 3 with a depth dimension. Either that or just check out the image below. 5daefd085c5cf228876f638326047682_largeThe landscapes vary nicely out of The Deer God‘s procedurally-generated set design. You will see snow, forest, caves, temples, deserts, old west ghost towns, graveyards, and all with gorgeous sunsets and sunrises pouring from the background as the days roll by. And as for the music, the sounds of The Deer God complement the visuals nicely. They mostly lie in the atmospheric Minecraft-esque realm, while sometimes shifting toward slightly more energetic electronic beats.

Gameplay

So you wanna hear about how it plays? You ask too much, my friend, too much. But I’ve had a couple beers and I’m feeling generous this evening, so I’ll do this for you. But you owe me.

[spoilers are sprinkled throughout, but I promise they are mild]

The basic gameplay involves running and jumping (it is a side-scroller, afterall) and fighting off predators. You begin the game with a “ramming” ability, which will be your main offensive maneuver for the majority of encounters. The fighting system can seem a bit shallow at first, as you are basically left with either ramming an enemy as quickly as you can in order to kill it before you take too much damage, or repeatedly jumping over a faster and stronger enemy as it chases you, and then trying to lose it at the next chasm. But when looked at in terms of realism, I suppose running, jumping and dodging large beasts, and the inability to avoid getting hurt in a fight, would be somewhat accurate.

The game is somewhat roguelike in nature, employing some RPG elements as well as permanent death, and the game is fairly difficult. There are puzzles, of sorts, to be found during your trek. The ones I have seen have been very straightforward, with some involving pushing blocks onto lighted platforms, and others involving breaking walls in order to push blocks onto lighted platforms. When the puzzles are solved, powers are awarded to your deer depending on your moral proclivities. For instance, if you have been a naughty deer and killed every harmless creature in your path, your first power will be a fireball attack, whereas if you have only laid the beat-down on attacking predators, thus aligning yourself with the “light” side of the spectrum, you will receive a shining light power, which can scare away enemies.

Sometimes the controls get a little out of hand. Your little deer dude is SUPER fast and so you can sometimes fall victim to the Sonic the Hedgehog (or dare I say it, Bubsy) effect, where one minute you’re hauling deer balls over an open plain, and then out of the blue you’re tossed a serving of tiny platforms hovering above a layer of insta-kill spikes to prance over. The deer can jump extremely far, and the in-air control is the type where you can turn around on a dime in mid-jump and come back the way you came at the same speed you were moving forward. It’s not terrible, I just don’t feel as in control of my woodland creature’s fate as I’d like.

But your new life as a deer isn’t only about fighting. You must collect food in order to survive, and you will grow and become faster and stronger as you progress. You can mate with female deer and bear offspring which serve as your new body if your current form meets its demise. You will come across other male deer, who will follow you for short periods and sometimes help you fight off predators. There are also quests to be found within the homes of hermits, and more. How much more? I can’t really say, as I’ve just begun playing myself. But I can tell you that I have seen more than a few mysterious places and objects that I have yet to figure out what to do with.

The Deer God pulls together many of the most popular indie game trends currently swirling around and adds an extra dollop of beauty and majesty to the mix to create an early access winner. The game has had a pleasantly swift dev cycle since its successful Kickstarter campaign last July, and Crescent Moon Games is shooting for a full release in January 2015. But if you jump on now, you’ll not only get a cheaper price, but you can come along for the ride of seeing the game stitched up in its final stage. The developer will be releasing the game to Wii U as well as Xbox Arcade, but you can grab it on Steam now here.

Early Access Review: The Deer God
Presentation9
Gameplay7.5
Looking Good:
  • Beautiful
  • Replayable
Needs Polish:
  • Controls: loose
  • Puzzles: trivial
8.3Overall Score