Stonefly Review – Serene Teen in a Mean Mech Machine
Developed by: Flight School Studio
Published by: MWM Interactive
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
I don’t care for mech media. Stuff like Gundam and Evangelion always struck me as properties that took away from the coolness of mechs. Mopey teens and adults dealing with trauma set to the admittedly awesome backdrop of giant fight mechs. If you could cut out all the talky bits and just focus on giant robots doing their thing, it would be much better. I’m not making any friends with these broad, sweeping generalizations about mech media. Stonefly is different.
There is no mech bureaucracy threatening the lives of pilots. There is no undercurrent of unresolved trauma. There are no mechs as an allegory for Christ. Stonefly tells a simple story well. You are Annika Stonefly, a young person living amongst the trees in the absolutely giant world of Stonefly. Everything takes place in a world where either the main characters are very small, or the world is very big. You work with your aging father, repairing the mechs of Stonefly, called “rigs” in the game. One day after noticing a shortage of a material, Annika sets out in her father’s dope custom rig to go mine some up.
This nighttime jaunt introduces you to the mechanics of Stonefly. Your father’s rig is a smooth operator. It mines fast, jumps high, and glides like a dream. I recently attended a preview event for Stonefly where the devs were explaining their game. To paraphrase their lead designer, “You should be in the air as much as possible”. This is very true. While your dad’s rig can and will walk across the ground, this mode of conveyance is far too slow. You should be jumping. With a tap of the jump button, you’re sent skyward. Constantly jumping is the best way to move in Stonefly.
Jumping, and being airborne in general, is such an integral part of Stonefly. Your weapon fires downwards, as a subtle clue that you should always be above enemies while firing. The levels themselves are built with jumping and gliding in mind. It takes some getting used to. What are you shooting at, anyway? The world of Stonefly is filled with bugs. I’m not talking about program errors, but actual bugs. Like the kind with lots of eyes and legs and stuff. During development, to keep programming bugs and in-game bugs separate, they referred to the in-game insects as “buggos”, which is what I’ll do as well.
The buggos are well designed, aping their real-life counterparts, but with a dash of the cartoonish. You’ll be facing off against horned beetles, spiders, caterpillars, and all things in-between. After a brief tutorial on how to fly your dad’s rig, and a short bit of combat, you return home. The next morning, your dad’s rig is gone, and he is hot pissed. After receiving a verbal thrashing about responsibility (you left the storage shed unlocked), you decide to head out to find the rig. The main problem with this plan is you don’t have a rig. No matter, one delightful trip on the back of a cricket later, you meet up with the Acorn Corps, a group of pseudo mercenaries who mine giant bugs for fun and profit. They’re written really well, and they’ll be almost constant companions during Stonefly. They offer trade options for buying and selling the materials you get from buggos.
Through a section I’m not going to spoiler, you end up with your very own rig. It’s broke down, un-upgraded, and a complete and utter disappointment compared to your dad’s rig. This is when Stonefly opens up and really starts to shine. Levels are handled in an open fashion, with different areas being discovered by traveling through the map in different directions. Hidden cosmetic upgrades for your rig can be found with a little extra exploring. Rig upgrading is interesting. Depending on how good – or in my case bad – you’re doing, Annika will pop up in the corner thinking to herself. “A tweak to these servos would get me jumping higher”, or “Maybe if I add more beetle shells, I could take more of a beating”. These little thoughts lead to upgrade ideas, or “inventions” as Annika calls them.
You’ll take these ideas to the upgrade screen and implement them. Upgrades will cost materials, and require certain tools to install. Not to worry. Once you uncover an area on the map, it can be fast traveled to any time. This is a “patrol”, and it’s just a way to explore the level again, collecting materials. This may sound like a grind, but in my time with Stonefly I picked up more than enough just through regular play. You might notice that you’ll come across a material in your list that you just. can’t. find. I was annoyed by this, checking everywhere, before realizing that I had jumped the gun. There is a way to get rarer materials. You can track an alpha aphid of course! Why didn’t I think of that? The game explains that alpha aphids only emerge once a month, and only stay above ground for a short time. Their backs are covered with rare materials found in the deep earth where they slumber.
After collecting enough tracks to successfully locate an alpha, you can select it from the map screen and get to it. These encounters are tough. The materials are outstanding and there’s a lot of them. The problem is the materials also draw in buggos from all over the world, and boy do they want to rumble with you for a drop of dinotite. These sections are timed, lasting only about 2 minutes. You need to mine as much as you can, and avoid being beaten to death. All of this happens on top of an absolutely giant flying aphid.
Can I talk about the visuals? I’m going to talk about the visuals. Stonefly has a beautiful art style. Everything looks hand painted. You can even see brush marks on character models and the scenery. Everything just feels cool. The different map areas all have a different feel. This is of course accomplished with the excellent art. The music is also great. There is nothing more satisfying than traveling through the treetops, listening to some real chill beats. As soon as I’m able, I’m getting the soundtrack. I never buy soundtracks, but Stonefly is an exception.
There’s so much I could touch on, but I would run into novella-length territory. One more thing I’d like to touch on: You can paint your rig from your camp menu. Go nuts. It’s not tied to upgrades or anything else. The game wants you to pretty up your rig and make it yours. All in all, I was super surprised by Stonefly. It wasn’t on my radar. Before I got an invite to their presentation, I didn’t know the game existed. Hopefully, after reading this review, you’ll know that Stonefly exists, and is definitely worth your time. There is so much I didn’t want to spoil about the game. If you jump in, you won’t be disappointed.