I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if there’s a cute animal game that looks like it’s going to make me cry, then sign me up, I’m ready to go. In fairness, though, co-op adventure Blanc looks like it's going to be a lot lighter than games like Endling: Extinction is Forever and the notoriously upsetting Shelter series at first glance, but I’ve learned to never let my guard down around these kinds of games. Those cute art styles are almost always a front for a brutal sneak attack on your emotions.
Blanc is very much aiming for your heartstrings with its adorable animal duo and picturesque snowy landscapes. The first half teases massive potential for a cutesy story with fun puzzle antics, but the game is majorly let down by a repetitive and often frustrating second half and lacklustre ending. After the promise of a warm, cosy adventure, I watched the end credits roll and couldn't help feeling like I'd been left out in the cold.
You play as two animal companions, a long-legged, fluffy-tailed fawn and a floppy-eared yappy wolf pup, who get separated from their families after a blizzard. At first, they have a frosty relationship, but after quickly realising they’re heading in the same direction to find their parents, they decide to buddy up and poof! One of the cutest animal duos in gaming history is born.
There's not a lot going on beneath the surface of Blanc. There’s no text or dialogue here, just a twinkly soundtrack and the occasional cutscene to guide the story, but in many ways, I'm fine with that. At its heart, this is a short, pretty game about having some fun animal antics with a pal that you can play in just a couple of hours.
You can play in online co-op, couch co-op, or, surprisingly, on your own using one controller, the left joystick to control the pup and the right to control the fawn in the style of Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons. I highly recommend playing the game as intended in co-op mode, because wow does it get finicky using just the one controller. I appreciate that single-player is an option, but this tale is best played with two.
At first, Blanc fulfils that cute animal fantasy to a tee. There are platforming sections where you have to navigate through snow-coated villages and forests, avoiding black brambles and deep snow drifts. Each animal has a special ability: the pup can bite things to pull, and the fawn can use its head to push. These two actions form the main crux of puzzle solving, but there are also bits where the wolf cub won’t be able to reach higher areas because of its tater-tot body and stubby legs, so the fawn needs to bend over and act as a platform to help it up. It’s honestly adorable, and a great way to get you and your player two talking about how to navigate through the level with each other’s help.
The puzzles are golden, too. There’s a section where you need to help a group of ducklings and their mum through some tricky areas and it’s adorable. The mother duck is fine, she’s just trucking along, but the fluffy lil duckling dorks don’t understand that they’ll get blown away by a gust of icy wind, so you need to block the wind and escort them through some obstacles. In another area, two baby goats follow the same movements as the pup and the fawn, making for some fun mirror puzzles. All very light and pretty easy-peasy in the grand scheme of things, but it's so gosh darn charming you can't help but fall in love with it.
There's plenty of joy to be found outside of its main puzzles, too. The prospect of a massive open field with an untouched blanket of snow is just begging to be messed up with each animal's expressive frolicking, and later on there's a section that's one long Journey-esque slide with the two of you zooming through snowy landscapes like two bobsleds in a race. It’s an invitation for players to have some playful shenanigans free from the rules of platforming and puzzle solving, which is a must for a co-op game.
It's a shame, then, that this sense of joy is often marred by some frustrating technical hiccups. During my playthrough, I found that the camera would constantly get stuck on trees and other objects, filling the screen with a black void before bouncing back to the scene. There's also its disappointing second half, which feels rushed, to say the least. Puzzles that once felt unique to their distinct locations began to repeat with no new twists or developments, and they also felt less polished overall. At one point, we had to restart an entire level as my partner and I got stuck and couldn’t go back to amend what we'd missed.
The resolution to Blanc’s story also felt underwhelming. Admittedly, it’s fairly obvious from the get-go where the plot's going to end up, but when it arrived it still ended up falling flat, and I can't help but feel like the reason it all feels so rushed is because there are, in fact, giant gaping holes in it. I could be wrong on this, but there's a point toward the end where it feels like an entire level's been straight up cut from the game. As our two friends get caught in another snowstorm, the game fades to black as they try to push through the tundra, but then the opening of the next chapter is them climbing out of an underground vent and getting back to the surface. Was there a level that took place underground as the two sheltered from the storm? We'll probably never know, but the jump felt jarring, to say the least.
I don’t feel good giving Blanc a hard time like this. It feels like the equivalent of accidentally stepping on your dog's tail and then your heart breaking as they whimper because they don’t know what they’ve done wrong. The first half is genuinely brilliant. It completely understands where the fun's to be found in a co-op game, and I will never get tired of gawking at its gorgeous hand-crafted art style. It’s just a shame that it becomes such a slog in the second half, ending as a hard snowball to the face instead of a warm, melted heart.