An adorable duo with disappointing drawbacks
We all have our topics, subjects and themes that we’re suckers for. When it comes to me, two things included in my long list of likes are unique visuals and animals. That’s why I was instantly on-board with Blanc when it was revealed. A completely black-and-white game that features a wolf cub and fawn? I knew then and there that I’d be checking this game out as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
It’s very important to say that while I definitely have elements of any form of entertainment I like, they don’t automatically give that piece of entertainment a pass. Yes, I was wooed by the visuals and main characters of Blanc, but I approached the game as I would any other. Gameplay, in all of its areas, reigns supreme. When I step back and look at Blanc as a whole, gameplay is where things become less black-and-white and more shades of gray.
I think most players who are willing to pick up Blanc will find a lot to love in the same areas that I do. The story follows a lost wolf cub and fawn as they try to make their way back to their families. The duo starts things off in a standoffish manner, but they soon become fast friends who work together to achieve their shared goal. It’s pretty much impossible to not be moved by this animal pairing, as they’re incredibly cute in everything from movement to interactions. Simply seeing the two work together and even frolic at times brought a tear to my eye, and I mean that literally.
The unique black-and-white visual theme also makes the game shine, and plays off of numerous themes you’ll come across. Black and white help make the snowy setting stand out, showcase the difference between the animal types, exemplify the harshness of the surroundings versus living things, and even plays into relationships between the cub and fawn. Two animals who you might think to be polar opposites end up unifying in a beautiful way. I love when a visual theme magnifies and elevates a game instead of being surface level, and Blanc certainly utilizes the approach magnificently.
These fantastic aspects of Blanc are boosted ten-fold by the game’s soundtrack. Without a doubt, the music of Blanc lifts the entire experience to a new level. Every sad moment is heightened by the soundtrack, every moment of playfulness has a wonderful tune to go along with it. To tell the truth, I think the soundtrack of Blanc may be the best element the game has to offer. The music does nothing but enhance the entire experience from start to finish, and an immeasurable amount of praise should be heaped upon composer Louis Godart.
These are the areas of Blanc that offer nothing but enjoyment, but I’m sad to say the experience falters in some other key portions. Blanc never completely falls apart or even comes close to that, but there are plenty of moments you’ll wish the team put a bit more work into. If there was a bit more of a shine here or a little more elbow grease there, the end result of Blanc could have been that of an all-time great.
First off, very technically speaking, Blanc has some issues on Switch. The frame rate is quite variable, with some moments running fine and others having noticeable chug. I’m not particularly bothered by frame rate issues unless they’re absolutely unbearable, and I didn’t notice anything like that in Blanc. Still though, I can recognize when things are running a bit sluggish or choppy, and you’ll definitely hit some spots where that’s the case. These issues persist from start to finish, which is an absolute shame, as it takes away from the visual splendor the title has to offer.
The same can be said for the game’s camera. It’s mostly fine for the run of the game, but there will be times when the camera just won’t show you what you want. Your characters will be out of the screen’s frame or blocked off by set pieces, and you’ll have to maneuver them back into visible spots to progress. When you’re trying to solve puzzles or figure out where to go next, the struggles should be with the environment itself and the puzzle pieces, not the inability to see what your options are.
As for the puzzles, there’s nothing taxing by any means in Blanc, but you will find yourself scratching your head from time to time. This is because you’ll find yourself not standing in the right spot to complete a move, and that can become frustrating. When you know the right thing to do but are fooled into thinking it’s incorrect, it takes away from the adventure. I experienced a handful of times where I had the right idea of what to do, but I didn’t line up my characters where the game wanted. Marry that with a couple of situations where I failed to recognize a set piece I could jump on or interact with, and the setbacks became a niggling issue overall.
The last aspect I had to fuss with is player control, but this is completely on me. Blanc has you playing as both the wolf cub and fawn, and each character is controlled by one joystick. There were a bunch of times where I struggled to wrangle each character to the spot I wanted them to, and I guess my brain just doesn’t work that way! It’s odd, as I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and I had no issues with it. That’s another game where you have two characters you control via each joystick, and I’m honestly confused as to why that game didn’t give me trouble while Blanc did. Again, this is an issue completely on my side of things, as mechanically speaking, the control setup in Blanc is perfectly fine. Also, please note that you can play Blanc with two players; one playing as the wolf cub and the other the fawn. Clearly that’s the way I should have played things, and I honestly believe playing the game co-op would have made it enjoyable in a whole new way.
I find Blanc to be a very difficult game to review. It could certainly play better, the technical aspects could be cleaned up, and the whole package needs a once-over. On the flip-side, the story is endearing, heart-wrenching and beautiful, the visuals play so well with the theme and ideas, and the soundtrack is to die for. In the end, I can tell you that I am very happy I played Blanc and I don’t regret the experience at all, but I’m sad it had considerable drawbacks. I really thought Blanc was going to be a standout game this year, and I still think it could be, just not in its present form. For those more forgiving in terms of gameplay and technical aspects, I wholeheartedly recommend the title. For those very sensitive to moments of frustration or presentation hiccups, I might hang back.
Here’s to hoping Blanc gets a second pass through an update, and it remedies my complaints. If that does happen, I’ll be more than happy to circle back and give my full stamp of approval.