Dressing gap-toothed trees in capes while feeding them nachos may seem like an unconventional choice for a virtual pet simulator. Yet when you add in charming art, tons of unlockables, and the fact that time spent in the game helps plant real trees in forests around the world, you know you’re onto something special.

Published by Zig Zag Zoom, Tree Story allows the player to care for virtual saplings. There are three different types of trees to choose from (although fans of the game can vote for the next new tree on Facebook). Trees require a balance of food, love, water, and sunlight to in order to thrive. Players are given a base set of clothes, toys, food, and other equipment to cover these needs. But more coveted treats like walnut brownies and growth potions must be bought with coins. Children can also give their saplings some TLC by talking to them using Tree Story’s microphone function.

tree storyPlayers earn the most coins by playing different mini games. These are a standard mix of match-3 games, puzzlers, and simple platformers. The games leave a pretty wide margin of error so they won’t be frustrating for younger children, and the tree-themed reimaginings of classic games is fun to see. Educational facts are scattered throughout the menus and loading screens, but they aren’t a very prominent part of the game. I can see most kids skipping over them. It would have been nice to see the educational element implemented in other areas of the game—perhaps in the form of a trivia mini game.

Tree Story has partnered with a number of prominent organizations including the Arbor Day Foundation, The United States Forest Service, and the Nature Conservancy, and the developer is open to working with even more down the line. When your tree becomes fully grown, it’s sent to the “grove” where it can happily live out its days. When enough virtual trees have been planted in the grove, one of these partners will plant real trees anywhere from California to the Brazilian rainforest. Players choose which project they want to contribute to, and they can track the game’s reforestation efforts in the app and on Tree Story’s home page.

Tree Story doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary as far as game mechanics are concerned. But it has heart, and children will love caring for these quirky little trees. Many mobile games take advantage of the free-to-play business model, so it’s nice to see Tree Story turn in another direction. Tree Story hopes to use the wide appeal and addictive nature of mobile games to do some good in the world, and that, I think we can agree, is certainly something worth admiring.

Nicole Tanner

Nicole Tanner

Nicole has been playing games her entire life. Now that she's a mom, she's passionate about promoting games as a healthy pastime to other parents around the globe. She has been an editor at IGN, where she launched and hosted the Girlfight podcast. In her spare time (which is not very much, honestly) she enjoys gaming, reading, and writing fiction. Most of the time she’s a mom to a crazy, intelligent, and exhausting little girl.