Gearbox Publishing launched this cutesy co-op on Valentine’s Day, and it’s clear they targeted that specific release date to appeal to loved-up gamer couples, smitten with the idea of role-playing as a couple of fur-babies. So far, so adorable/disgusting, depending on your disposition and personal circumstances. Thankfully, Blanc is good enough to be worth playing, even if you’re not seasoned couch co-opers, although two players really are recommended.
My own partner is determinedly not a gamer, despite a successful introduction to a Switch Lite via Animal Crossing. She explicitly doesn’t like “those games where you have to help each other”, which isn’t a great position to be starting from. Yet, we took to Blanc like a deer takes to… whatever deers take to—not a lot, I guess. That must speak volumes for a game that mainly enchants with its graphics and music, and keeps the challenge light.
Blanc kicks off by introducing a black wolf cub, followed soon by a white fawn, each controlled by a separate player. These controls are straightforward: movement plus jump, a ‘gallop’, and a context-dependent action, with examples including cutting ropes and pushing barrels. The animals awake to a snow-blanketed world, deep drifts covering the landscape.
As you set off on a journey to trace both families’ steps in the snow, it becomes obvious that a lot of the early action—and, to be honest, quite a bit throughout the game—is straight out of a walking sim. However, the monotony this might imply is tempered by the sheer majesty of the scenery. This hand-drawn, digitized style uses black line-drawings to sketch out features, and a beautifully stark greyscale palette to fill in the details with charcoal-effect shading. It’s a really effective technique that suits the setting of the game perfectly.
Continuing, you’ll face jumps or tunnels that only one character will be able to pass. You’ll frequently need to stop, maybe backtrack, and take action to help out your partner. This gameplay provokes a lot of discussion, with commands, pleadings, and complaints batting back and forth. It’s potentially very fun playing this way, but you’ll need to be willing to spare a little bit of patience now and again. The two characters are well-balanced, though, offering just about the right amount of unique ability without making either one significantly more powerful. Although you can attempt the game in singleplayer, controlling both animals simultaneously, I wouldn’t recommend it.
These two woodland babes are not the only characters present, either. Along the way, other animals make appearances, either to present their own quests or, more entertainingly, lend a hand with the main one. Some of this assisting can be a bit of a chore, particularly if you don’t fully understand what’s required. But the short space of time you find yourselves acting as guides to a couple of free-spirited goats is delightful.
Most of the puzzles present are pretty trivial: once you spot the right object to interact with, you’re pretty much done. A couple, however, buck the trend, and these are the risk points, the moments where it’s possible to get stuck. It happened to us—annoyingly, right at the end of the game. I don’t know why we had a joint brain-freeze, the clues were all there. But the game can be fiddly in places; the ‘no-dialog’ approach means it’s easy to lose concentration and forget about certain mechanics that might be reused later on, and it can prove very frustrating when the required action or positioning just doesn’t click.
3D games need good cameras, and that goes double for a 3D co-op. Much of the time, Blanc uses its camera to guide the movement onward and draw your attention to specific objects or parts of a scene. This is a great boon—when it works. Blanc does its best to encourage you to stay together as a duo because being far apart would wreak havoc with a single camera view. When, on occasion, you end up being well separated, it can be quite disconcerting—and sometimes a clue to where you’re going wrong. But the way this game realises its 3D world using the illustrative style it does is, in case it wasn’t already clear, practically worth the price alone.
Accompanying all this is exactly the kind of soundtrack you’d expect: poignant piano, soaring wild with each accomplishment, becoming muted at times of emotional heft. Not that there are too many of those, though—wary parents should feel safe that the game is not really about peril, more the nature of friendships—however brief. The setting, the illustrations, the story; everything here invokes that incredible animated film, The Snowman—or even Bambi, I suppose, if that’s more your thing.
Blanc is a beautiful game, a mesmerising experience with just the thinnest layers of gameplay on top. At points, it will frustrate—and possibly even annoy—but, for the most part, this is a gentle, engaging, accessible adventure. Treat it as an interactive storybook, find a partner you can enjoy this game with, and you’re in for a treat.
Blanc is a unique, engaging experience with a few flaws in its approach to puzzles and controls. Still, the overall presentation and storybook feel should reward players looking for a relaxing co-op with a like-minded partner.