Deer God, The (PSVita) Review

Developer: Crescent Moon Games/Blowfish Studios | Publisher: Level 77 || Overall: 4.0

Gods come in all shapes and sizes. Humanity’s search for a higher power has led them through several representations of godly beings. Whether some be literal god beasts that are as fearsome as they are mighty, or a more humanized expression that wields similar power in the same feet, hands and body that we are familiar with, our search for the answers that the universe fails to provide us have come to the conclusion that some higher power exists somewhere and in some place. With this in mind I present to you Zoamelgustar. He is the Monster Lord of some unspecified dark dimension and some unspecified domain that only ask for zealous devotion and the occasional live sacrifice from his followers. In exchange, he offers you his divine protection from errant demon lords. Act now and he’ll even throw in a spiffy looking talisman!~

Most people wouldn’t waste a whole paragraph to set up a reference to some 20+ year old anime. I am not most people.

Karma comes around full circle in The Deer God. With nature as your enemy and with all the powers of a magical deer at your disposal, publisher Level 77 and developer Crescent Moon Games is set to bring the unlikely tale of a hunter turned deer from the PC to your PlayStation Vita. With a haunting backdrop and a procedurally generated level design, does this platformer have what it takes to survive in the harsh wilderness of the PS Vita’s dying market?

No… No, it does not.

Sorry to disperse all the mystery so early, but to be honest, I didn’t quite enjoy my time with The Deer God. While the game seems to be a tribute to nature, the Kickstarter inspired by childhood memories of playing in the woods, it works better as tribute to those memories than a video game. The Deer God is marred by a series of unfortunate gameplay elements and some glitches that make the game frustrating to play. It’s a shame that such earnest inspiration can be brought down by poor gameplay decisions and bad programming.

While enchanting at first, the procedurally generated levels quickly lose their charm once the patterns become noticeable. It is only a matter of time before scaling the same cliff, jumping over the same pitfalls and encountering the same landmarks becomes as monotonous as my use of the word “same” in this sentence. This sense of monotony is only further instilled by the predictable patterns of the artificial intelligence. Each enemy is programmed with a strict set of patterns. While they are sometimes fun to exploit, having forced a few to jump to their own deaths, they quickly become another part of the repetitious nature of the overall game, and sometimes even ruin the game’s climactic moments. By chance, I managed to trap a boss underneath a tree branch because their AI wasn’t programmed to handle it.

Among animals like cougars, foxes and bears, other common wildlife like ghosts, zombies and witches attempt to stop you.

Unfortunately, the main quest line doesn’t do much to help offset the gameplay. While the story sets you off on a grand adventure to redeem yourself and reclaim your human body, the actual steps to doing so are pretty bland. Featuring a series of fetch quest, simple puzzles and even simpler bosses, it’s a saving grace that most of them can be done quickly; the few that take longer to complete are more of an annoyance because they require you to find a specific place among a repeating set of level designs. It’s hardly fun to run through the same environments looking for a particular spot you may have missed.

Furthermore, a few other design choices proved more of a detriment to the gameplay than a benefit. While the foreground and background designs helped make the world pop on your screen, several times the foreground would obstruct an important item, conceal a ledge or hide a dangerous enemy. I lost count of how many times I failed to find an item because it was behind a bush, and found even more frustration when a jump was made all the more difficult because the ledge was hidden behind a tree or an enemy jumped out of seemingly nowhere.

Now imagine if that ledge also had a tree in front of it…

Even without considering the design choices, the game itself has its fair share of glitches. Among graphical bugs like the highly-apparent screen tearing and the occasional stutter, there were also moments that I would die in a pit only to spawn over it again to immediately succumb to the same fate. There were also moments when my character would inexplicably be teleported to a different spot on the screen without the use of the accompanying power. Though, chief among all of these offenders was a bug where food would be invisible in certain environments, which is an important resource to gather.

Part platformer and part survival game, The Deer God has a food meter that must be constantly refilled. If ignored for too long, it begins to slowly drain away at the player’s health until the sweet embrace of death forces the player to restart their life as a fawn. The problem here is that such an essential item is sometimes invisible on some terrain. Mainly in the desert and forest designs, I would find long stretches of land without any food. Death became a common occurrence only to later accidentally press down on the control pad and eat seemingly nothing on the screen. Trial and error later, I found out that the food was there but it was far beyond the capabilities of what my naked eye could perceive. While not exactly game breaking, it was hardly fun to constantly press down in the hopes of finding some invisible pixels.

Oddly enough, caves were just teeming with food.

Among the things that The Deer God does well, the graphics do stand out. Beautiful pixelation brings the characters and environments to life, and the inclusion of various visual elements like good lighting, various weather effects, background and foreground environments give the graphics more presence than is thought possible on the Vita’s small screen. The soundtrack is also a pleasant experience. It is filled with hauntingly beautiful sound effects that wouldn’t be out of place in any forest. Though despite these achievements, they do little to detract from the rest of the game’s monotonous and glitched-filled experience.

No snide or sarcastic remarks here. This game does great things with its pixels.

The Deer God is hard to recommend. If beautiful graphics and a well-done soundtrack are enough to distract you from monotonous gameplay, the game might be worth a look. Though, if you are looking for something with more substance, chances are The Deer God will disappoint. It’s unfortunate that bad gameplay decisions and glitches never allowed this clumsy fawn to mature into a majestic stag.

When making up for past misdeeds as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

 

Siegecraft Commander (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Blowfish Studios || Overall: 6.5/10

Note: This is a review based on playing with normal-ass PC controls, not VR.  Play experience may be significantly different if you choose to play in VR.

Build stuff, blow stuff up, spawn little guys with swords, and watch it all come together in the hectically-paced Siegecraft Commander.  Your quick reactions and propensity to spam the map with your buildings will get you through almost any challenge the game has to offer.  While it is technically a real-time strategy game, strategy is not usually what is rewarded, single player or otherwise.  Since the game mechanics are pretty easy to understand, the title can appeal to a broad group in the strategy genre, mostly for beginners or people who never play RTS games usually.

The basic idea of Siegecraft Commander comes with placing towers on your map, and using them as stepping stones to travel across the map as you maneuver to vanquish your enemy.  To place one of your buildings, a slingshot mechanic is introduced.  Rather than simply clicking on the map where you want to perfectly place your building, you will have to gauge whereabouts you want to build by aiming with your previous building.  You can’t spawn buildings everywhere, however.  Terrain, other buildings, and seemingly-random obfuscations will prevent you from placing buildings down.  What can make the gameplay chaotic at times is that buildings are hierarchical — meaning your buildings are reliant on its parent building existing for itself to exist.  If Outpost A spawns Outpost B and Outpost C, and then Outpost A is destroyed, all three go down in flames (and all of the buildings attached to Outpost B/C as well).  You’ll have to keep an eye on your earlier buildings for any dangers heading their way, since you could lose 10 or even 20 buildings when an important node falls.

With those basicalities explained, you’ll have a number of different buildings available to build.  Due to a tech tree, you’ll need some buildings as a prerequisite for other buildings.  There is typically no hard limit to the amount of buildings you can spawn from one, but there is a limited amount of space around the existing buildings before you need to branch out further.  Buildings cannot criss-cross, as they lay down a straight line to their parent building, so you’ll need to plan out how you spread across the map in different lines.  Outposts are the most important building, as they extend your keep and can allow for the eventual building of all other towers.  You can make Barracks, which spawn infantry that auto-attack ground enemies and buildings, with no input allowed from you.  There are also other sorts of towers that shoot projectiles, but typically require manual control — the Barracks are usually the strongest tower since there is no micromanagement involved and you can spend more time brute forcing into your enemy’s territory with your regular Outposts to launch explosives from them while your infantry back you up.  The more advanced buildings are powerful in their own ways, but there’s not much impetus to bother with them due to cooldowns of their abilities or construction.

Unlike most RTS games, there is no resource-gathering.  There is a blue and an orange resource on the map that is required for the more powerful buildings — all you need to do is build an Outpost on them to acquire it as a binary value.  Construction is regulated by cooldowns, so if you accidentally launch your building onto an area that can’t be built on, you’ll be waiting for 30 seconds or so for your second try.  The goal is always to eliminate your enemy, and in the single player campaign you will always start out with just your initial Keep while the computer will start with all of their buildings down already.  They will sometimes expand or rebuild lost buildings, but it seems to depend on the level itself whether or not they are told to do anything.  I’ve had a couple of levels where they have a lot of buildings but don’t try to advance on your position other than with spawning enemies or projectiles, and others where they don’t do much but defend.  There are two single player campaigns, sixteen levels in all.

A multiplayer mode is included but unfortunately seems to lag out or become unresponsive at a certain point.  I was lucky and had my very first game continue for about 10 minutes and it was surprisingly a lot more fun than the campaign since you are racing against the other player(s) in a bid to outmaneuver them on the map and then destroy them.  All sides starting with just a Keep also makes it considerably more competitive, as facing against an already-established network of towers always feels like pushing a boulder up a mountain.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of frustrating aspects that don’t make the gameplay enjoyable.  First of all, the slingshot mechanic is a chore to use, and it is the primary thing you’ll be interacting with.  By default, the slingshot will not show you where it is going to land so you have to guesstimate where it might, and even then you’ll be ripping your hair out when it goes half the distance you thought it would for the hundredth time.  Frustration is further enhanced when your building lands somewhere it can’t even be built, forcing you to wait for extended cooldowns and deal with the slingshot yet again.  It would have been nice if there was some sort of flag for noting what terrain could not be built on so you didn’t aim it there.  However, there is a control option available called “Shot Guide” that shows you generally where the thing you are launching is expected to land, but it is for the campaign only.  I get why it isn’t available in multiplayer and is off by default, because it would probably make it not as fun since part of the enjoyment is seeing your opponents fail at hitting their target all of the time.

There’s also a lot of random bugs, the biggest one being that if a tower you are currently controlling dies, you won’t be able to select any other towers unless you open the game menu (via Escape); after doing so, you are then able to select a new tower.  Once, I even saw an infantry soldier die, then the sword came back to life (no person attached) and it started hitting my tower again!  It was kind of funny, but annoying at the same time since I didn’t know if the tower was going to take any damage randomly and the damn thing wouldn’t go away.  Perhaps with future game updates some of these issues will be resolved.

The graphics are pretty good and the cartoonish style of the art meshes well with the idea of the gameplay.  There are only two factions, so there’s not a whole lot of variety in units or buildings.  There is some nice/funny voice acting, but seems to be oddly incomplete.  As I got further in the first campaign, voice overs didn’t play during the story bits — they either weren’t working due to a bug or maybe they didn’t get around to recording them?  I honestly don’t know.  The music isn’t bad, either and also fits the theme well.

Another big feature for this title is that it is also designed for VR play.  While I didn’t get a chance to play this title in VR (I don’t have that equipment available to me), I have played with an HTC Vive for about half an hour or so.  I can see how the experience could be a lot more different, as controls are a significant obstacle for enjoyment here.  Since VR is still a pretty new platform, a game like this might be pretty unique in the range of titles out there.

While there are some interesting points to be had with Siegecraft Commander, I came away mostly frustrated with the experience.  Wrestling with the controls and the lack of information regarding where buildings can be placed is a big detriment to any enjoyment to be had.  The campaign doesn’t feel very exciting, and the stories weren’t too interesting either.