One thing I always do after a year has passed, is checking as many “Top games of the year”-lists as possible. There are so many titles that are easily missed, and I feel it is a shame to not give games with a lot of passion put into them the attention they deserve. One type of games I used to be incredibly guilty of this for, were the ones for smartphone devices. I often forget that there are some incredible titles for it, despite there being plenty of garbage for it as well. This was made even more obvious to me when I saw Time listing their favorite games of the year, and included Prune. I had no idea what it was about, but since it stood alongside Undertale and The Witcher 3 as their favorite games of 2015, it certainly must have had some value to it, so I decided to give it a swipe.
True art of bonsai
From the title, “Pruning” is the practice of removing certain parts of plants to make them grow and become nursed, which will be the main mechanic of this game. You will start of each stage planting a seed in the ground, choosing whether it should bend or not, swipe to cut branches to make other parts grow, and reach the sunlight to make it blossom. If you get the same amount of flowers bloomed as there are stars in the level, you will move on to the next stage.
It is a quite simple premise which is perfect for a mobile-game, but the stages will vary a great deal to make every cut important. Different obstacles such as shadows, cliffs, or a limited amount of lightsource, and mechanics such as orbs that will make your tree grow more, will make it so you will have to plan according to the game’s physics and the design of the stages. Another element to make these stages more tricky, is the cutting itself. Cutting one branch, will affect others depending on how much you took away, but you can’t cut freely and expect to win, as when a branch has been cut, it will stop to growing entirely. If your tree can’t proceed towards the light and get the right amount of flowers blossomed, you will have to start anew. The stages are quite short, so this never became an annoyance, especially since the mistakes would always be my own. All of this gave Prune a perfect challenge.
What makes it even more intriguing, are the different thoughts it provides through gameplay. How it makes you feel peaceful by nursing and helping the plant grow into something beautiful, is quite an effective form of interaction and makes you think about what more your simple swipes mean. It makes you easily care for something that might seem very small, which can either be a theme of giving nature a chance, show support to those who struggle, or maybe even that there is always hope. You will have all the time on your hand, can zoom in to make precise cuts, and never feel the stress, while at the same time the game urges you to be accurate. It really is rewarding to feel like you gave someone a chance to make it through despite how impossible it seemed, thanks to your interactions and support. While there are only 48 stages, the game really lasted as long as it needed to and I felt truly calm and collected after the credits rolled.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
Minimalism and what it can tell
The simple presentation is fantastic, with black foregrounds, a heated sun in dreary weather and adorable flowers. What is really intriguing, is the shades of light detailing what is positive or negative, such as the bright sunlight or the dark buzzsaws. It is quite effective in making a wasteland or fabricated areas dark, but literally having a light as a symbol of hope. This is also a good way to convey different messages about environment and life, such as pollution, global warming, or simply about getting room to grow.
Accompanying the more peaceful aspect of being a gardener, is the lovely symphonic soundtrack and chime of harps being used when the flowers bloom. These are simple elements, but all are soothing and calm, giving it easily a memorable and tranquil atmosphere. It all adds up to a fantastic showcase for minimalism as an artform in games.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Prune is simply a marvel. It is amazing how the different messages can be provided within a simple game. Thoughts about nurture, inner peace, including an environmental messages and about how life will prevail even in the face of impossible odds, are all expressed well here through presentation and gameplay. The challenge and mechanics are fantastic and soothing. It really shows how much can come from something so small.