Deo Review

No matter how angry those birds might be, they’re still pretty darn cute. Most iOS puzzle games are, in fact. But Deo isn’t. It’s an atmospheric game with haunting music and dark visuals, but it still retains the same style of play that’s become so popular on the iPhone, with addictive, yet occasionally frustrating, puzzle platforming play.

The titular Deo is little more than a red ball with eyes and a mouth, and all he (it?) can do is jump. Tap the screen and he’ll barely get off the ground. Hold your finger for a few moments and he’ll be able to catch some real air. And the longer you hold, the higher he’ll jump.

The game is divided into a series of areas, each of which consists of three stages, all of which are structured in the same basic way. The stages are sort of like mini planets that slowly rotate, only they aren’t perfectly round. Instead, chunks of rock jut out at strange angles. Some of the rocks have a green surface, which is safe to touch, while others are black, which will kill you. The goal is to reach the red platform at the end of each stage.

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When you first start out the stages are pretty small and the entire planet-type-thing can fit on one screen. Eventually you’ll be traversing much larger areas that expand beyond the borders of the screen, making it much more difficult to plan out future moves. The action is relatively slow in Deo, but because the stage is constantly moving the entire game revolves around precise timing and jumping. You’ll need to leap at just the right time and go just the right distance. Otherwise, the little red blob won’t make it.

It’s both addictive and frustrating, which makes your eventual success all the more satisfying. What’s really surprising is that the game remains enjoyable even though there aren’t really any new mechanics thrown in as you progress; the levels simply get harder.

What is missing is any sort of high score system, which is the main reason many people play this sort of game. But in place of leaderboards and collectible stars is a very clever way to mark your progression. As you complete stages the world you’re rebuilding will start to, well, rebuild, and you’ll see it grow and turn into something more than just a hunk of rock. And depending on how well you do in a level (i.e. how many times you die) more or less vegetation will sprout up. It’s quite satisfying.

While in a lot of ways Deo is like plenty of other iOS games, it’s really its sense of style that helps to set it apart. The dark and moody visuals are in stark contrast to the bright and happy games we’re used to. And even though the titular character is little more than a circle with eyes, he’s incredibly animated with quite a bit of personality. The only issue is that, like the game mechanics, the visuals don’t change all that much as you progress.

Really, Deo is a sneaky game. It manages to feel unique and interesting thanks largely to its art direction and clever structure, but at its heart it’s still a pick-up-and-play skill-based game that’s perfect in brief bursts. And since it’s so good, you won’t mind the deception. Deo proves that not every game in the App Store needs to star a happy little animal. Sometimes a gloomy red ball works just as well.

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