It seemed unusual for Blanc to release on Valentine’s Day, until I realized how co-op-focused it really is. It’s not impossible to play the dichromatic, puzzle-filled adventure about two young creatures surviving together without a gaming partner. However, the mind-bending task of controlling both characters on one controller is a unique challenge.
This central gameplay choice highlights Blanc’s crucial, cooperative theme. The action could be a little finicky at times, but experiencing the duo’s odyssey through a dazzling winter landscape is worth it.
My objective over the course of my two-and-a-half-hour run is simple: Find my family. It’s a tried-and-true plot that works so well for Blanc because the game features absolutely no dialogue. The protagonists, a wolf cub and fawn, are stylized (and, like everything in the game, look stunning in the hand-drawn world of snow and charcoal). But the duo isn’t anthropomorphized. They communicate only in bravado-filled barks, heart-wrenching whines, and expressive body gestures.
Soaring over the vast, lifeless, and richly detailed snowscape, the camera halts to gaze on an unassuming spot. Then the ground begins to split, eventually revealing a tiny wolf all alone in the chilling setting. Meanwhile, an equally forsaken baby deer looks over a frozen river. Across this icy barrier, the pair meet. Though I can’t translate their communication, I have no trouble understanding.
Fear and mistrust color the pair’s warning barks as they set off, one on either side of the frozen bank, to track down their loved ones. If I happen to guide one too close to the other, I’m greeted by upset yapping and can’t continue forward for a few seconds. It’s a touching opening that draws me to both creatures as I watch their struggle to accept help from a natural enemy.
Through the game’s every challenge, my connection to both grows. The fawn’s taller frame allows it to jump to higher places and, eventually, help its canine companion over ledges by acting like a climbable step. The cub, thanks to its more compact frame, can squeeze through tight places and cut things like rope with its sharp teeth. If one player is slightly more experienced with gaming, I’d suggest they control the deer, but neither character is more challenging than the other to handle.
Each animal also gets its own personality-filled animations which are beyond adorable. For instance, the wolf scrambles up taller ledges while frantically waving its stubby legs. The fawn is more subdued, and its slightly ungainly leaps hint at a future grace.
The moment-to-moment meat of the game consists of navigating the blizzard-swallowed world by solving puzzles and platforming. I appreciate how frequently these elements change, keeping things from growing monotonous.
Early on, I wander through a village completely engulfed in snow, moving boxes, planks, and platforms to make it through the deep drifts. Just when that style of play starts to wear on me, the game shifts. My task now centers around helping a gaggle of goslings through the blizzard. As I begin to tire of that, I’m presented with a Simon Says-type challenge.
As the mechanics get more complicated, there’s more room for frustrating hitches. Sometimes an action just doesn’t seem to line up correctly, or I run around with little idea of what to do. It helps that each section is relatively brief, and I rarely hit stumbling blocks I couldn’t quickly leave behind in the powder.
Dramatic tension, by contrast, only increases as I near the end. The protagonists have their ups and downs, but stick with each other. However, I know that finding their families has every possibility of ending poorly. The wolf’s grown relatives may see a lonely deer — or its family — very differently than the weather-beaten cub. As the pair’s bond deepens, so too does my fear. It’s a wonderful facet of Blanc’s otherwise simplistic narrative.
There’s no fairy-tale ending waiting for our frostbitten heroes, but the conclusion is satisfying and stirring. Its gameplay may not always rival the exquisite visuals, but Blanc is a wonderful experience to share with a partner.