Guide a mech through a FernGully-like world in this unique narrative-drive adventure.
With video games being so prolific and prosperous, it’s rare to see a game that feels wholly distinct. That’s what makes Stonefly, from Creature in the Well developer Flight School Studios, so delightful. Dripping with style, it blends an emotional narrative with chill resource gathering and weird but endearing movement and combat. Some of the swings Stonefly takes miss occasionally, but I walked away from this heartwarming story wholly satisfied despite some frequent frustration.
Stonefly kicks off with the heroine—Annika Stonefly—at odds with her father in a sequence that winds up with her carelessness losing their family heirloom mech. Distraught, Annika seeks out the mech in the wilds of the world, meeting new friends and foes along the way on a quest that is always moving forward but still allows time to smell the flowers. The visually spectacular setting is a forest-like area with branches and leaves. Bugs are ever present and the humanoid characters can’t contend with them, so they pilot insect-like mechs around the world.
The writing is very strong, though this is definitely a game where effective voice acting could have gone a long way. Still, I love the way the personality of Annika is felt across every aspect of the game. She’s meant to have an inventive mind, so she is regularly inspired by what she comes across to craft new upgrades for her mech. The story and the gameplay are inextricably linked, which makes the storytelling more impactful and the gameplay more meaningful.
Gameplay is primarily linear, as Annika is chasing after the lost mech. You mostly control a junker mech that you upgrade along your travels. Moving around has a unique rhythm to it as you glide through the air quickly, bouncing off the ground to regain height. When you run into harmful bugs, you are routinely forced into combat with them. Your basic mode of combat is pushing bugs off the side of the map, often precipitated by stunning them with an aerial bombing attack. While the king-of-the-hill-like outcome is familiar, the mode of combat takes a little getting used to, but when it coalesces, it’s fulfilling and fun as you figure out the optimal way to push the onslaught of bugs out of the way.
You can also aspire to be less confrontational, since usually your goal is survival and resource accumulation as opposed to destruction. You can dart around, trying to mine the collections of minerals and such across the map. Unfortunately, some of the resource gathering gets a little tedious, especially when the game breaks from the linearity and points you toward finding specific items. Some of the more frenetic segments involve Alpha Aphids, gigantic bugs that you can find in the world that are large enough for you to comfortably sit on their hulking backs. Of course, they don’t want you there, so you have to hang on for dear life, collecting resources as they appear, while avoiding gusts of wind and other smaller aggressive bugs.
In general, just exploring levels is a joy, as the fusion of the visuals, music, and sound design make for a wonderful spectacle. The joy sadly regularly unfurled for me as I’d find myself falling off the map to an underground area where I couldn’t trigger a respawn without quitting out to the main menu and losing some progress. I also had a few instances during combat portions where an enemy that had to be killed would be knocked out of the arena I was locked into, thus requiring another quit out to the main menu as well as some lost progress. Thankfully the checkpointing is relatively generous, and I also welcomed some of the other quality-of-life options in the game. Sometimes the levels are easy to get lost in, but at the press of a button, you can summon guiding flies that will show you the direction you should go.
Even with those bouts of frustration, Stonefly is a thoroughly unique game that has novel gameplay ideas and a wonderful story. Dancing around the world while piloting your mech, trying to find emotional catharsis for your heroine while also beating up some bugs so you can get more resources to upgrade your current ride is a heck of a gameplay loop. It’s well worth experiencing if you want a chill adventure.