Prune’s author calls his game a love letter to trees, and says it’s all about the beauty and joy of cultivation. We can’t think of too many games centred around gardening that have made it to the top of our favourites list, but a few hours with the minimal and beautiful Prune suggests it’s an award-winner in waiting.
Many people continue to argue over whether games can be art; whatever your opinions on that matter, there can be no doubt games have the potential to be artistic. Prune easily succeeds on that score. The visuals are all subtle gradients and flat shapes, silhouettes of plants occasionally swaying in a digital breeze. All the while, a brooding yet simultaneously somehow relaxing soundtrack sets the atmosphere.
Prune probably isn’t a game to recommend to anyone who absolutely must spend their gaming time rampaging about the place firing guns in every direction. It’s a contemplative and serene experience — but that doesn’t mean it’s boring.
First, Prune eschews hand-holding. Initially, you’ll get the merest hints of how to continue — the suggestion to drag upwards on a glowing spot of soil to usher a shoot into the world; then you’ll see how to prune branches with a swipe, like you’re playing a zen version of Fruit Ninja.
After that point, you’re on your own, and must figure out how best to make your plant grow — and, indeed, in which direction you should urge it.
For the most part, you want to be getting towards sunlight, at which point flowers bloom. Enough flowers and the game considers the level complete, enabling you to move on. As you work through Prune, further challenges await discovery, including orbs that destroy brittle branches, or others that infect your plant, forcing you to abruptly hack away at your carefully cultivated prize and joy rather than end up back at square one.
Prune could have been ponderous, but it in fact frequently excites. The plant grows quickly, and so you must make split-second decisions regarding where to prune. And given the organic nature of the game, forward planning only gets you so far — it’s all too easy to accidentally hack off an important branch in the heat of the moment. Never before have I cried out in anguish at my iPad for having accidentally chopped the wrong stick.
But then that’s Prune: it’s like nothing you’ve ever played before — a little oasis of grace among almost countless App Store me-too clones. If you've got the cash and an appetite for a different kind of game, you won't be disappointed.