Developer: Flight School Studio
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: MWM Interactive
Stonefly is an exploration game that splits its focus between combat, exploration, and resource finding. Annika works with her father on mechanics, handing him tools and picking up the necessary materials. That is, until one day, where she forgets to go into town and instead decides to obtain resources the hard way using her father’s old mech. This results in it getting stolen, plaguing Annika with guilt. Stonefly is about the journey to find the thief via upgrading an old, rusted mech.
The old mech you begin the campaign with has a plethora of movement options. It can walk on the ground, but its weighty, calculated crawl benefits more from its bug-like design and can glide. It can leap high into the air, increasing its speed drastically. The mech’s spindly legs give off the feeling of an uncertain landing, but it is pretty exciting getting used to its weight in exchange.
It can also drop like a rock on command, which is a satisfying contrast to its feathery flight. Mixing between its stony ground options and high-speed aerial maneuvers is liberating and gives a sense of weight that can only be described as meticulously manufactured. It feels awkward at first, but soon players will likely be weaving in and out of combat situations with ease.
While combat is fast-paced, it is not entirely stressful. Your mech is equipped with the ability to create gusts. These gusts can brush small, aphid-like creatures off of the leaves and branches that you traverse on the search for materials. There is no fanfare for defeating enemies, as they just drop off without as much as a whimper.
This gives a sense of scale – you’re fighting bugs, after all. Larger enemies such as shelled beetles require being hit from projectiles that you can drop from above before being swept aside. These foes are intimidating at first but are easy to figure out, and once you defeat a few stronger ones, they start to replace the standard enemies.
Annika’s mech can repair itself by landing between falling off of platforms and the throng of insectoid assault. Being on the ground is dangerous, as your walk speed is bafflingly slow. Both escaping and entering a conflict rely on your mech’s superior aerial movement, but the act of going into the air alerts enemies to your location. While fighting itself is self-explanatory, the strategies involved provide depth. You may find yourself mixed up with all the available buttons to press, but the kit is intuitive enough to where players will be weaving and dropping between attacks in no time.
Other than combat, your bug mech can collect natural material from the environment. There are tons of materials to collect, but that works against the otherwise intuitive gameplay. There isn’t much indication when you have enough material to increase the capabilities of your mech, so that function is generally stumbled into.
However, it still feels satisfying seeing any number in a resource-based game go up. This confusion may last for a while, as there is no in-depth tutorial detailing the intricacies of why a specific item boosts a stat. Many times, the game simply points you to which item you need to purchase, so the potentially DIY nature of building your dream mech loses some punch.
The story provides an affecting motivation to retrieve your father’s ship. It is insinuated that there is both an emotional and practical reason for taking back the mech, as it is named after Annika’s mother. After being spotted by a mysterious individual, the mech is stolen, suggesting that it has some history to it as well. Annika’s father’s battle stories regarding the machine lend credibility to this kind of worldbuilding, and it’s a satisfying way to progress without the story being told directly to you.
The environments are made of organic tans and olive greens, and even the character models exude a soft tact. This clashes magnificently with the steely silvers and artificial lavenders of the mechs. The rounded quality of the trees and the sharp, unfriendly spindles of machinery exemplifies the power dynamic between the puny humans and normally gargantuan insects.
Exploring such vast areas continues to be intimidating even after adequate movement is achieved. The aforementioned smooth surfaces foster anxiety when landing since Annika’s mech sometimes cannot latch onto them from a steep angle.
Walking close to an edge is a similar affair, but that can usually be mitigated by gliding. While each area sprawls into almost indistinguishable routes, the mech has the ability to drop tracking bugs that show the way. Whether you are looking for an exploratory trek or a guided route, Stonefly has you covered.
The exploration is home to a few minor gripes. Firstly, the camera is fixed, which is odd, considering the right control stick does not seem to perform any action. This means if a stray branch is above you, or you enter a large enclosed area, your vision will be obscured.
This may only last a few moments, but that is ample time to drop off into the abyss. Second, invisible walls that signify the end of the map are not readily apparent. This does make the area look less awkward, but players may meet their end crashing into it. However, the issue should happen infrequently enough to where it does not significantly impact gameplay.
Stonefly provides an intriguing premise that lends itself to strange and fantastical gameplay. With an emphasis on aerial piloting, the combat and exploration give ample control while not feeling too fast for the laid-back spirit. While it can be confusing to shuffle through the various materials, power-up formulas can be brute-forced when necessary. Stonefly smartly lets the player control its tempo without lingering for too long, which appeals to all kinds of gamers.
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