For a creator how their creation will be experience can matter just as much as the creation itself. With games this seems obvious when say, considering the difference between playing games on PC vs consoles. These platforms bring with them different sets of challenges, conventions and expectations from players. For many developers this has led to them being much more forthright with what they believe the best environment will be for experiencing their game; such as signifying that a game is best played with a controller or has audio designed specifically for headphones. Others have been less forthcoming but, upon playing, it becomes clear what the intention of the developers was. All of this is a long winded way of saying that my experience of Blanc is probably sub-par, given I played it solo when it’s clear it was built to be a co-op experience.
It is late winter, a time where new life is just beginning to emerge from it’s long cold slumber. The perils of winter aren’t gone yet however, and a harsh blizzard separates a young wolf cub and deer fawn from their families. In trying to track down their respective broods the lost young ones find each other, their natural instincts first turning to caution before giving way to the desire for survival. You’ll follow them on their journey to locate their families, following tracks and scents left in the snow drift and working your way through the world of man that’s been mostly hidden away by the heavy snow.
The stark, graphite on paper aesthetic that the game uses is probably what drew me to it in the first place. Putting aside colour is quite the challenge, taking away a lot of the tools you have in conveying information to the player. For me, when using black and white in photography, it’s often when I find the colours too distracting or confusing, taking away focus from the elements that I want to emphasise. Blanc is certainly doing that in some aspects although the more complex scenes are quite visually confusing as the player characters blend into the background far too well at times. Still I can appreciate the level of detail that was put into a lot of the levels, even if I feel that there could be a bit more done to make the right things stand out a bit more.
Blanc is a co-operative puzzler, requiring you (or you and a friend) to take control of the cub and fawn in order to solve whatever puzzle is blocking your route together. These take the usual form co-operative puzzles that we’re all pretty familiar with as each of the characters are capable of doing things that the other can’t. Further on in the game you’ll then be doing that whilst you’re joined by other NPCs who either react to or mimic your movements. Whilst some would classify this as walking simulator territory I don’t think that’s entirely accurate, given how much interaction and cooperation is required to complete any of the particular puzzles.
The puzzles are usually easy enough to figure out and even the more challenging ones can be solved with brute force and a bit of luck. The stark colour palette does make some challenges more frustrating than they should be with items that you can interact with not being easily distinguishable from their scenery counterparts. Later puzzles do have the added challenge of working with a very simplistic AI who, if not poke and prodded in exactly the right way, will get horribly confused and refuse to do the thing leaving you to redo the entire section all over again.
The biggest issue I faced when playing Blanc, which speaks to my opening statements about how the game is meant to be experienced, is the control scheme. Playing solo means you’re in control of 2 independent characters on screen and, depending on how coordinated you are, things can get terribly out of whack very quickly. For instance the default mapping has the fawn on the right side of the controller and the cub on the left. If they’re also aligned like that on the screen then we’re all good, things work as normal. If they’re swapped over though suddenly it feels like riding a bike that turns in the opposite direction, completely and utterly unwieldy. Couple that with a camera that really doesn’t like it when you get into weird positions or are exploring somewhere you shouldn’t and you have a recipe for extremely frustrating experiences when you’re trying to solve even some of the simplest puzzles.
Of course this wouldn’t be much of an issue if you were playing co-op, given you’d only be focusing on the one character. Reflecting on my time with it has certainly highlighted the fact that most of the frustration I felt with some of the more finicky puzzles was due to me having to coordinate 2 independent entities on screen, something that’d be a non-issue if I’d grabbed my wife to come and play it with me. Does that mean my criticism is invalid? I don’t think so as there’s still room for improvement in the single player experience but I’m still willing to admit I know I was playing the game in a less-than-ideal way.
The story is fairly middle of the road, being your typical unlikely companions need each other to complete their quest kind of story. It has the usual ups and downs you’d expect in this kind of thing and the handful twist moments resolve exactly as you’d expect them to. Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh given I grew up on movies like Milo and Otis but this isn’t the kind of game that’s going to make a statement or try to draw you in emotionally with its narrative.
Blanc is a game that demands to be experienced in a certain way and, when that demand is not heard, its flaws stand out more boldly than they otherwise would. The stark, hand drawn art style certainly rises to its challenge, even if it falls down at times with visual confusion coming into hard effect. The puzzles are simple and approachable, even if the controls and camera will do their darndest to make them a lot harder than they need to be. All of these things though would likely not be as apparent should you play this with a friend, something that did not come to me until well after I’d finished my playthrough. Maybe I’ll revisit it in the future as it does seem like a good game for little hands to have a go at.
Blanc is available on PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $22.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2.1 hours playtime and 76% of the achievements unlocked.