The Deer God is unfortunate proof that what’s true for books and covers also goes for games and graphics. Its pixel art is gorgeous, naturalistic environments in parallax layers with light streaming through the treetops. It’s stunning. But, a side from that and the music, the only real reason to recommend The Deer God is its premise: you’re a dead deer hunter reincarnated by the Deer God as a deer.

While the idea of experiencing life as one’s victims is powerful, unfortunately, that’s not really what The Deer God is going for. The normal deer-like activities running, jumping, eating, growing, even reproducin are the most enjoyable, and a game that conveyed a message through those could have been stronger, but The Deer God suffers from wanting to be A Real Game and has subsequently ended up a real mess.

Because this is a 2D platformer, it’s filled with traditional platformer features: crumbling platforms, spikes, lava. Real Games have combat, you see, so an inordinate amount of predators want to kill you on sight. You can fight, initially by charging and then later with abilities unlocked by “solving” simple block-pushing “puzzles”, but success depends more on your current size than on skill.
The inventory system is mostly pointless. Selecting these single-use items, like one that releases bees to attack foes, is too fiddly for a tight spot. Only the bouncy toadstools are really useful, for obstacles too high to jump over when only a fawn, but you can’t guarantee you’ll have one. Your general goal is to help other deer and humans (except hunters; kill those), usually with fetch quests. You run and jump right through repeated chunks of environment until you find an NPC, briefly interact, and then continue on to the next. It’s just dull, especially given how likely you are to miss a jump because of a passing tree in the foreground and fall to your death.

The Deer God attempts to give meaning to death but fails to deliver. A karma system punishes you for killing friendly animals with reincarnation as something weak, which is interesting in theory but in practice just leaves you as a porcupine stuck in a hole, waiting to die of starvation. Usually, you come back as a fawn, either one you’ve created with a passing doe (if you managed to reach adulthood) or unless playing in Hardcore mode at a checkpoint.

So it’s difficult to know exactly what message The Deer God is trying to convey with these systems. It seems somewhat hypocritical to punish you for killing deer by encouraging you to kill other animals, even if they are predators. What about the circle of life? Perhaps the point is to make you feel sorry for the deer, by showing you how rubbish it is to be one. In that, if in little else, it succeeds.