By Joel DeWitte
Thankfully for me, there is no shortage of easy to pick-up collaborative experiences within the indie gaming space. It’s a way for a nerd like me to share interests with my partner, and when it’s balanced just right can be something we can both appreciate. Even better if the medium can include a heartwarming story and charming characters. Blanc, developed by Casus Ludi and published by Gearbox, includes all of these traits amidst a crisp backdrop.
Blanc is the story of a deer and dog who have been separated from their packs amidst a snowstorm. While an uneasy alliance of survival at the start, over time a kinship grows as they journey across the tundra-like landscape featuring quiet wooded areas, abandoned towns, peaks and valleys, and more. It’s told without speaking either from the creatures or narration, but the environmental storytelling is one of Blanc’s strongest suits. Both animals have their own sets of barks or whines that are used sparingly but at accent points that convey their feelings appropriately. A piano-focused soundtrack ebbs and flows depending on when the story warrants quiet moments, playful experiences, and harrowing events.
What Blanc excels at is its visual composition. It’s a striking display of black and white that could light a room by itself. The snowy backdrop is a stark white with just enough black outline to flesh out the environment and clearly depict the trees, houses, brambles, and critters. There’s this great sketchbook style, for the most part the black is used as shading like someone who’s bored in class and scribbling lines across the page. The deer and dog have the biggest contrast. The mostly white deer’s prancing along with the largely black dog does a great job of highlighting their differences as well as making an easy distinction between themselves and the background. This smart aesthetic is eye-popping in the best way.
The game gives the option of solo or cooperative gameplay. While I can’t speak to the individual experience, my partner & I both found it approachable as a team. Different chapters will have their own unique challenges to overcome. At the start for example, simple things like crossing rivers along a log or series of rocks require jumping over them (or walking through if the pup) have you each going across different legs of the landscape and working together to rejoin each other. Each of them can push and pull items that Many obstacles require working together. For example, the canine is tiny and will need help occasionally from the fawn to lift them toward higher ledges. The dog can cut ropes with his teeth to do things like breaking a platform for the deer to walk through. Later on, additional wrinkles create obstacles that feel like a natural progression. Some of these are fun surprises that work better playing yourself than being described by me.
While the fundamentals are strong for Blanc, it stumbles like Bambi throughout. At least on the Nintendo Switch, a consistent issue was framerate drops during more active points and in transitions between chapters. Fortunately this game has very little timing-based puzzles, but it was a nagging experience either way. There are also times when the platform jumping and other tasks were finicky, like it had a very small window where the button prompts would appear. The camera itself when in tight corners can feel claustrophobic, seemingly unintentionally as it obscured the view or honed-in too much to where it was difficult to get a sense of space. It didn’t mar the entire experience, but was a disappointing blemish to a solid package.
Blanc as a cooperative experience is a pleasant, breezy game that is well suited especially for two players with different levels of experience. The view is beautiful, and the wildlife are expressive despite a lack of dialogue. That coupled with very clever usage of an ambient ivory-keyed soundtrack makes almost a cinematic experience, even despite those performance issues. If you have a co-op itch for a lighter fare, this could be the game for you, but I’d suggest a different platform that can handle the game without hitches that could tarnish the experience.