Playful fun in ‘Prune’ and “To-Fu Fury’ mobile games
Now and again, an indie title comes along that reminds you how elegant video games can be.
We tend to think of video games these days as complex, frenetic and often violent. But like movies, all games can be reduced to two core elements: image and sound. Keep those elements radically simple, and you can create a Zen type of experience.
Such is the case with “Prune” ($3.99; iOS), an unlikely success story out of the college town of Madison, Wis., that invites players to explore the exciting world of … tree pruning. Stay with me.
“Prune” grew, as it were, out of a tree generation algorithm that was designed to emulate the way in which branches form and spread. The seed of the idea – sorry, these puns just keep happening – was to speed up the process and allow the player to actively determine the growth patterns with selective pruning. It’s like having a digital bonsai tree in your pocket.
“Prune” can be played on the iPhone or iPad, but I recommend going with the tablet version if you can. As your tree grows up and toward the light, you make your pruning cuts with quick swipes on the touchscreen, and the process is much easier and more accurate on the larger iPad screen.
There’s no clock on the game, no point system, and no in-app purchases to clutter up the experience. There’s no tutorial either – in fact, there are no text elements at all. It’s just you and your tree.
The goal is to guide your tree up and through the shadows, into beams of light that will trigger the branches to blossom. Find the optimal path to the light and the blossoms will emerge and flutter off.
As you progress through the game’s levels, additional obstacles present themselves. You may have to guide your branches through a narrow space between rocks to reach the sunlight, or maneuver around overhanging ledges. When the wind whips up, you must account for that. Later, circular black and red danger zones pop up. The black circles will kill your branches, and the red ones will infect them, traveling back down to the trunk and roots.
For those who like their puzzle games quiet and calm, “Prune” is a real delight. The gorgeous minimalist graphics, combined with the gentle ambient music, provide an almost meditative experience. These kinds of abstract chill-out games – “Osmos” is another great example – have become a genre onto themselves. If you’re looking to kill time, may as well do it with an eye to aesthetics.
Playful ‘To-Fu Fury’
In keeping with the Japanese theme, “To-Fu Fury” ($2.59; iOS, Fire) is another option for players in the market for a quick-fix mobile game time-killer. The latest from Amazon Game Studios, “To-Fu Fury” is a platformer/puzzler for both iOS and Amazon’s Fire OS.
Like “Prune,” the game takes a playful approach to an unlikely gaming subject – in this case, tofu. Your onscreen character is just that, an unassuming cube of soy curd with delusions of martial arts grandeur.
You’re a tofu ninja, in essence, navigating levels as you would in any typical platformer. The fun is in the oddball physics that are applied to the gameplay. Your little square of tofu is both elastic and sticky, so when you hurl yourself at a surface, you stick to it – floor, wall or ceiling. You can skittle along the ground, make straight-line leaps when necessary, or just kind of fling yourself over obstacles in arcing leaps that take gravity into account.
Your mission is to collect floating balls of energy – chi – while avoiding obstacles and figuring out Rube Goldberg-style contraptions. The designers get a lot of mileage out the simple game mechanics. Selecting the best path through a level requires lateral thinking, quite literally, and the spatial puzzles get more challenging as the game progresses.
“To-Fu Fury” isn’t as pretty as “Prune,” but the game has an agreeable silliness that will appeal to younger players especially. Taken together, these two games are a nice little combo – for kids and adults both – and are particularly good when driving in shifts on long family road trips. I speak from experience.