Blanc Review: Beautiful world and heartfelt story can’t fully outweigh messy controls
Played On: Nintendo Switch
Play Time: Roughly 2 Hours
Developer Casus Ludi’s Blanc has been a hotly anticipated indie release since it debuted during a Nintendo Direct last year – largely because of its black and white art style and simply story of unexpected friends finding their way home together. Now that it’s arrived players can enjoy the heart and eye-dazzling art of its story…if they can deal with slippery controls.
Within the game’s incredibly vivid winter world, players will take control of a wolf cub and a fawn who have become separated from their packs due to a large snowstorm. Together, they must help each other navigate the snowy landscape to find their way home. Blanc doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its beautifully designed world. The hand-drawn look to the characters and environments gives it a personal touch that bleeds into the story well. Even for such a small game, Blanc features some strong detail that makes it feel bigger in scale. The draw distance is surprisingly great with players being able to see trees and other landmark in the distance. There are excellently conceived sliding sequences that feel massive and show how big the setting really is.
Blanc’s setting is a real winter wonderland that’s fun to explore, and Casus Ludi gives players the tools and playground to just have a ball. The design of the wolf cub and fawn are also excellent as they’re able to show off their personalities while having contrasting colors that pop. Plus, with the game’s simple but easy to please color palette, Blanc features the perfect environment for perspective-based puzzles. Players will often be tasked with navigating obstacles within the world in order to continue following the path the two friends are following.
These puzzles range from hopping through a small lodge swallowed up by snow to large factories that see these two friends climb to new heights. Players will also encounter other animals along their journey that end up being a part of best chapters in the game. It’s pretty fun to help a goose get her goslings through some windy areas and there are some other encounters that will see other animals mirroring your actions. These sections with other animals show some good innovation with the puzzle design and help evolve the experience from just moving through obstacles.
Overall, the puzzles are solid and not too difficult to solve once you get the gist of where you have to go next. It’s even nice that the game introduces special interactions and abilities for each character, like the wolf cub being able to cut ropes and pull levers and the fawn being able to let the wolf on its back to reach spots it can’t normally jump to. Perhaps some of the color coding for things each character can interact with could’ve be clearer, but once you explore a bit, it’s not too difficult to see where you’ll have to go next.
As for Blanc’s story, it’s a simple tale of unexpected allies working together to get back home. It’s literally that simple and the story doesn’t stray too far from that idea. For some, it’ll seem a little thin and possibly even kind of boring since these characters don’t have dialogue. But for fans of games like Journey, it’ll be a pleasant treat. There are some heartwarming moments that come from the wolf cub and fawn interacting with each other and other animals. Also, there’s some surprisingly tense moments that add some good suspense and concern for these characters. By the end, you’ll find your heart to be a bit warmer and fulfilled by seeing these two’s journey end on an uplifting note.
Unfortunately, Blanc’s peaceful experience is often marred by the rough gameplay it features. Now, after playing single player for a short time, it became clear that Blanc was designed for co-op. Not just because it features a local and online co-op, but because the single player controls are terribly designed. In single-player, you’re tasked with controlling both characters at once with each one having their movement be assigned to an analog stick. It’s easy to see why they chose to do single player like this, but it just creates a total mess when playing.
As the characters start to run in open space and flip sides as they cross each other’s path, it’s easy to become frustrated by how hard it is to stay in control of them. Often, they just start running away from where you want them to go because you’ll be mixing up what analog stick controls who. You’re constantly having to reorient them and there are certain sections that are clearly designed for two people that are dull to play by yourself. For instance, there are sequences that split the two characters apart to do different things at once. While these moments will go smoothly in co-op, they take longer in single player because you’ll have to do each character separately. There’s nothing more annoying in Blanc than having to fight with these controls and it leads to the momentum of the experience being broken.
There’s this incredible sequence where the wolf cub and fawn are sliding down a hill and you can’t help but be constantly stopped because of how messy the controls are. It’s a testament to how rough single-player can be to play. Also, because of the sloppy and chaotic controls, the age of the Switch starts to show in the choppy framerate and players can have the camera clip into the set pieces, which ends up obscuring vision completely. In co-op, these issues likely aren’t a thing because you’re controlling just one character. But for single player, controlling two characters at once is a total nightmare at times.
There’s no denying that Blanc can easily win over players through its short, but sweet story of adorable animals helping each other get home in a beautifully designed winter world. But if you’re playing it alone, the sloppy control design makes the entire experience much more unpleasant than expected.
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