Two intertwining sets of tracks trace their way down a snowy hill to a small wolf pup and fawn enjoying a brief moment of fun sliding down the hill as the music swells.
As much fun as this scene from Blanc is, I can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu. Hadn’t I done all this before?
Thatgamecompany’s Journey seared the memory of sliding down sand dunes with an anonymous companion into my brain. Now, more than a decade later, Blanc attempts many of the same beats.
Published by Gearbox and developed by Casus Ludi, Blanc is a short but sweet adventure about an unlikely duo learning to trust one another. While there are some inventive puzzles, it too often evokes games that have done the same thing but better already. Between messy controls and a lack of polish, Blanc misses the mark by not trying to be more inventive. Whatever joy or frustration it inspires won’t last any longer than it takes to beat the game, and my memory of Blanc will surely fade as fast as the tracks I left with my companion in the snow.
Lone Fawn and Pup
In a snow-covered landscape that paints the world white, a wolf pup and fawn find themselves both abandoned. The tracks of their respective families leave a trail to follow, but the journey is insurmountable alone. This begins a friendship built on trust and helping the other out of sticky situations.
Blanc is a game designed for cooperative play. Either locally or online you can breeze through Blanc’s two-hour story with a friend. Each player controls one of the young animals, which have their own skills. The wolf pup can use its teeth to bite ropes and pull objects, while the fawn can ram into large objects and move them into position. The most cooperative skill comes later when the fawn can act as a stepping stool for the wolf pup to reach previously inaccessible heights.
In the spirit of cooperative games like A Way Out, or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, this game asks you to learn not only your strengths and weaknesses but those of your partner. The highlights of Blanc come in the moments of frustration that suddenly make way for joy when two players excitedly piece together a puzzle solution, building off of each other’s observations in the world.
While there is no inherent benefit to choosing one animal over the other, I found myself lamenting that I had chosen the wolf pup when I watched my friend prance around the snow as the fawn. The fawn’s animation and design seem cleaner and fuller of life than the low-to-the-ground ball of fur that is the wolf pup but that I began referring to as a little wiener dog. If your companion is kind enough, you can switch animals at any time through the pause menu.
As a cooperative puzzler, cooperation should feel easy. The only obstacle a game should put in front of you is the puzzle itself. However, in Blanc, the controls present perhaps the greatest hurdle. For such a short game, the many pain points overwhelm the experience.
Simple movements like jumping and navigating different level platforms are imprecise and can lead to repetitive attempts to just get on the ledge you are aiming for. This becomes doubly frustrating when you get the ability to kneel as the fawn and climb up as the wolf pup. These two mechanics need to work in concert but often lead to frustrated communication between players as the animals stumble around on screen because the inputs are so imprecise.
Perhaps most frustrating are the way Blanc uses other animals as puzzles. In the first instance, the duo has to guide baby chicks across windy areas. If you don’t protect them properly from the elements, they’ll be blown away into oblivion, which sends you back to the start of the puzzle.
To do this, players must keep the chicks within a small oblong zone that protrudes out from the main duo. The indicator of this safe zone is a white ring, which becomes incredibly difficult to keep track of considering the world of Blanc is 90 percent white already. A not-insubstantial chunk of my two hours with Blanc was spent on this infuriating chick puzzle as my partner and I struggled to keep the chicks within the small and hard-to-see rings.
Despite a truly original and inventive puzzle that comes in the game’s second half, Blanc cannot get over these technical flaws.
Trading Sand for Snow
Even with all of these drawbacks, at its heart Blanc has the essence of a fun cooperative adventure, even technical flaws cannot hide that. Yet the most upsetting thing about Blanc is that it feels unoriginal.
In the first 15 minutes of the game, I joked to my fawn that this game was just Journey with cute animals. I didn’t know how right I would be. We did a puzzle that required us to navigate exceptionally windy areas that could push even larger creatures back. We had a musically excited race down hills as we slid and intertwined our paths together. And we had a section that was more thematically dark than the rest. The only thing that was missing was the thematic and emotional depth of Journey that came in its original use of anonymous cooperative play.
While Blanc is a cute cooperative puzzle that may satisfy players for the short runtime, it does not bring anything original to the table. Despite its obvious charms, it winds up feeling rather paint-by-numbers — but every color is white.
Blanc is available now for Nintendo Switch and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on Nintendo Switch.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.