A wholesome co-op adventure, bogged down by repetitive puzzles
Blanc is a co-op puzzler about a small fawn and a slightly smaller wolf cub, both of whom are separated from their families amid an aggressive snowstorm. What follows is a heartfelt journey about two animals that learn to trust each other, but it's bogged down by some frustrating puzzles and unexciting minute-to-minute action. It's still an aesthetically pleasing, worthwhile journey to share with a friend or a loved one, but it's not a co-op title I'd recommend over It Takes Two, Untitled Goose Game, or Portal 2, among others.
One player controls the fawn and the other controls the cub as they unexpectedly run into each other, and at first, they have a reluctant, untrusting relationship. But, after the pair help each other through puzzles they begin an unlikely friendship. One of my favourite aspects of Blanc is how it marries these puzzles to the pair's emotional journeys.
For example, the beginning of the game has the pair separated by a rift in the ground, although some fallen trees and debris lay across both paths. Getting through their respective lanes requires them to work as a team, opening up paths for the other by pushing down items of interest or destroying obstacles that are in the way. The fawn is taller and stronger, so it can push objects and create paths for the cub. The cub has sharp claws used for cutting ropes and such things, and its smaller build lets it squeeze into tight spaces.
The pair relies on each other in the puzzling, and this affects how they treat each other throughout the game. They gradually begin to warm up to one another, at first by playing together in the snow, sliding down slopes, and frolicking through the woods. That trust feeds back into gameplay, as the fawn has the ability to kneel and create a bridge for the cub. This progression loop continues for the next 2-3 hours of the game's runtime; the duo connects more and more, and this opens up new interactions they can have in the various puzzles.
Whenever I see cute cartoon animals in a game like this, I'm immediately on guard. Too many Disney films have ended in tears and death, but Blanc avoids tropes like this. The game doesn't include any dialogue, so the entire story is very minimal, simply following the struggles that these animals encounter on their way back to their packs. Along the way, Blanc will tug at your heartstrings with environmental dangers threatening the two animals.
This is where Blanc's presentation shines, depicting the duo and their environments. The cub and fawn's cries of fear and pain are truly affecting, and their animations mostly sell their emotions, whether they're joyfully frolicking through the woods, celebrating a solved puzzle with a joint dance, or shaking at the sight of danger.
The general monochrome art style is a little shaky. On one hand, the minimal colours sell the wintery landscape, and some scenes can look striking when foliage, clouds, and other details are all highlighted with a prominent outline. Even when Blanc pulls back on the detail, the game can still look stunning in a more calm, serene way, like a blanket of snow has covered the screen. The ambient, piano-based soundtrack is equally soothing and appropriate for a small, quaint game like this.
The monochrome, ink-laden art style can have a pretty negative impact on gameplay, though. The camera is fixed in Blanc, meaning that you have no control over it, and it'll only move when your characters do. When characters are stuck behind environmental objects, finding them again can be very cumbersome, due to not being able to see through terrain. The art style makes things worse, as oftentimes it can be a struggle to distinguish environmental details and recognize which parts of the level you can interact with.
Some puzzles struggle with perspective, like one where you need to escort little ducklings through a windy storm. You need to walk at their pace, to cover them from the wind until they reach their destination. At one point, you'll need to walk them halfway with one player, and then let them blow over to the other player's side of the screen. But Blanc's dodgy camera and minimally detailed levels make it cumbersome to judge exactly where the characters should be standing in this exchange.
These perspective issues only pop their head up occasionally. Blanc's bigger problem - in regard to puzzles - is the lack of originality. There are plenty of pushing blocks and pulling levers that can get old fast, and as a result, the co-op experience doesn't stay fresh, since you're collaborating in the same way repeatedly. Thankfully, it's over before it gets too stale.
It should be noted that Blanc is playable alone, with a similar control scheme to Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons. One side of your controller is devoted to the fawn and vice versa. I only checked this mode out for a little while, but it's definitely not ideal. The repetitive puzzles are emphasized, and you also lose the wholesome joy of running around with a friend.