Developer - Joel McDonald
Publisher - Joel McDonald
Platform - iOS, Android (version tested)
Price - £2.99 on iOS, £3.10 on Android
A few weeks ago I watched The Karate Kid, the older one, with Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san, rather than the one with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. Mr. Miyagi occasionally tends to his bonsai trees, gently chopping off branches to shape the tree more pleasingly (I'm a poet and I never realised). Prune is that, the game.
Hold your tablet upright. A patch of glowing ground is your starting point and a swipe from there - including a diagonal or curving one - starts a tree growing. Swipe in the appropriate places to lop branches from the tree, ceasing growth along that branch but giving a boost to unaffected areas. Your aim is to tease it into the light, causing it to grow enough flowers to match the number of empty stars on screen, whilst avoiding obstacles along the way.
Aesthetically, the game is really something. It's simple, certainly, but the gentle growth of the tree is beautifully realised and everything has a wonderful clarity. The music is as gentle and ethereal as you would expect, given the concept. All in all, it's less a puzzle game and more of a relaxation tool... in fact, the ease with which the 36 levels are cleared certainly points that way. Fortunately there's a nice surprise at the end that will really test your skills, so both hardcore and casual gamers will be satisfied.
The actual process of pruning a tree is a little fiddly but the interface is generous to compensate for this (although how you'd get on using an iPhone is up for debate). You can zoom in to chop away ever more accurately and force those precious extra centimetres of growth towards the light, although there is no 'undo' if your arrogant swipe cuts off your main branch. Starting again is not that much of a hardship and restarting about five times causes the game to present you with a 'Skip Level' option.
There are a number of different gameplay elements, mostly obstacles, to contend with as you progress through the worlds... but we're keen not to spoil them here (er, except for the pictures). The iconic red sun that you might have seen in advertising for the game is the least of your worries by the end and even if Tree-y does touch it, swift action can bring its growth back on course. This is a game with no fail state, after all - when a tree can grow no more you simply start again. Much like Mr. Miyagi with his bonsai trees.
Final Verdict: A sweet game with the most shallow difficulty curve in a long time, you don't play Prune to mow down hordes of alien invaders, or rescue a princess, or defeat the horrifying beast that's been causing carnage on your world for centuries. You play to nudge a tree to the light and watch it blossom: a game of creation rather than destruction. More could have been done with the concept, of course, but what's here is an elegant sufficiency of game.