Prune is a game for iOS that was just released. I played it on iPad, so that’s the version I’m commenting on. The game was made by one Joel McDonald, who doesn’t have a track record as a game developer yet as far as I can tell. It’s well made, looks beautiful, and is my iOS Game Pick of the Week.
In each of Prune’s levels, which are structured in several “acts” similar to the equally wonderful Monument Valley, the player is tasked with helping a tree grow towards the sunlight, where it will blossom and thus complete the level. To do this, the player needs to prune the tree just the right way at the right time, so that it will sprout a new shoot ever towards the sunlight. The idea is to cut the “bad” branches by swiping across the screen, freeing their energy for the tree to grow other branches further into the right direction. Through the levels, this gets progressively more difficult, as the tree has less and less room to grow and new obstacles and mechanics are added to the flow. There are, among others, red globes which will burn the tree when its branches touch them, or pale blue spheres that will allow the tree to grow with more vigour even through shadows, helping it to reach the sunlight eventually.
Prune has a simplistic yet effective art style. Its trees are black silhouettes against a pastel backdrop, and it’s all very calm and beautiful. The author actively uses “zen” in the description, and while the art style is surely contemplative, the gaming itself really isn’t. In fact, it can get quite frantic when you have to time your cuts to avoid the dangers of the environment. However, it’s never punishing in a way that’s stressful. With every try, it gets more clear where to cut next time in order for your tree to grow the right way, and you can try as often as you feel like.
Prune uses the touch interface of the iThings in a natural way. Swiping as cutting, i.e. translating a real-world action into a related motion on the touchscreen, is as intuitive as it gets. Fruit Ninja is probably the earliest example that I can think of here. It’s not a new or in any way innovative control scheme, yet it’s the most natural for touch devices. Contrast games that rely on an overabundance of buttons or, worse yet, on-screen control sticks. I always found them lacking – I think there is a distinct feedback gap with these control schemes. No surprise you are able to buy a variety of third party gamepads nowadays.
The game has a reasonable, fixed price, and there are not IAPs. There is no reason for those, either, and I’m glad the developer refrained from just tacking on one of the ubiquitous currency or booster mechanics that have become a staple of modern mobile games. More games need to do that, really.
All in all, Prune is a soothing, beautiful game that I can thoroughly recommend. It’s a rare gem for its art and music as well as the business model, and the mechanics are a perfect match for the touch interface.