Prune effortlessly embodies everything we love about independently developed video games. There’s a sense of intimacy here that, when coupled with the originality in its design, creates a must-play experience for anyone serious about gaming on their mobile or tablet.
It’s something we so rarely ever see from big-name studios, destined for the cutting room floor and trampled by the annualised, power-selling franchises we happily chug down year after year. It’s also the kind of game every indie out there wants to create – simple yet captivating and easy to pick out from a crowd.
Planting a tree at the beginning of each stage, your goal in Prune is to maintain its growth as it steadily winds towards the nearest source of light. It’s a mostly automatic process yet one that’s a joy to watch and interactive with as your seedling gradually develops, sprouting branches soon elongate and thicken with age. Get close enough to the open sunlight and your tangle of branches will slowly blossom, their windswept leaves carrying you to the next stage.
The only direct control given to the player is through the use of a simple cutting tool. Trace a line along the touchscreen of your phone and tablet and, sure enough, any limb it passes through will be severed. It’s a destructive mechanic yet necessary at the same time, giving you the means to influence your tree’s growth pattern.
For example, if you have a tree that splits in a perfect “Y” shaped fork, chopping the left branch will see the right extended and vice versa. Figuring out where to cut and when is the basis for working your way through each level. Although the solution to these puzzles will seem pretty straightforward, getting from point A to B isn’t always easy. Later stages will take on a distinct industrial feel as more obstacles are thrown into the mix, with these including corrosive red zones that infect your tree if exposed for too long, as well as buzzsaws and even door switches.
There is also a random element that players should be aware of every time they plant a new tree. Although Prune’s invisible secateurs do a good job of letting you sculpt you saplings, their limbs will often unspool in the most unpredictable fashion. If left unattended, they can throw a real spanner in the works, but I guess that’s the laws of nature at work.
Needless to say, there are one or two levels that can be quite challenging. Prune isn’t the sort of game that allows players to wallow in their own ineptitude however, offering a “no questions asked” skip option when you’ve had enough of a particular puzzle. Although it won’t be marked as complete on the menu, you can make progress elsewhere and come back to it whenever you fancy.
It may not feature a discernible form of narrative yet there are certain themes at play. Much like thatgamecompany’s Flower, there’s a contrast here between tranquil landscapes and the encroaching mechanical menace of the city. Prune doesn’t ooze the same vibrancy, yet its use of neutral, more faded colours works to its advantage. Self-assured of its own beauty, the game even features a photo mode, allowing you to capture every artistic moment frame-by-frame. This same subtlety is also woven into Prune’s soundtrack, which manages to be understated and transfixing at the same time.
If you’re the sort of person prone to losing themselves in artistic gamework, Prune should clock at least a few hours on your first playthrough. Personally, I chipped away at it over the course of several days, playing anywhere between one to three levels at a time. Point is, however you approach it, Prune is well worth the £2.99 price tag. It’s not only easy to pick up and play but meditative too, bereft of the usual unwanted junk so many mobile games come tagged with.