Stonefly is published by MWM Interactive and developed by Flight School Studio. Flight School Studio made Creature in the Well, which was briefly on the Game Pass line-up. The art styles between the two games are similar, but that’s about it. Stonefly is an air mech-suit fighting game where the main character, Annika, is pitted against bugs in combat that are much larger than her. She must stun and then push off the fighting bugs to claim resources before others can. Annika’s story begins one summer when she is helping her father repair broken down mech-suits. In their shed they have an older mech that has sentimental value for the father. Annika doesn’t fully understand the worth of the mech and uses it to finish a quick errand, but she discovers the next morning that a thief has stolen her father’s most precious item and she must set out on her own adventure to reclaim what was stolen from her family. It’s a story about discovery of herself and she comes across some interesting characters along the way.
The gameplay for Stonefly is brief cutscenes or transitional scenes that deliver story dialogues with text pop ups and then a quest is usually given. Early on in her story, Annika comes across a small group of other pilots who accept her and take her into their camp willingly, except for their leader. The leader of the pilots is slow to warm to Annika, but eventually accepts her as one of them. As Annika is following the thief’s tracks, she discovers that she can’t keep up considering she is using a scrapped mech suit not designed for harsh weather.
The combat involves Annika jumping with the ‘A’ button to fly and slowly glide down. Holding ‘A’ allows for a slightly higher jump and ‘A’ can be used when over a platform to regain some height. Holding ‘B’ will anchor the mech either on a surface below or can drop like a rock (or I suppose a stone). ‘X’ is used to stun enemies while the right trigger is used to push enemies with wind. Death in Stonefly isn’t as punishing as other games. If the player happens to die in combat, Annika will wake back up in her tent at camp with the other pilots.
When exploring the vast areas in the game. Annika can gather resources with the left trigger, this will allow the player to amass resources for upgrades. There is an abundance of upgrades, the more the game is explored, the more research tasks will be completed. Research tasks are what unlock new designs to craft and most will require a special part that must be purchased from the local vendor at camp. All combat in the game is treated as ‘King of the Hill’ scenarios where you are locked in a small arena and must defeat all the bugs before advancing. I found the king of the hill fights to be repetitive; when breaking apart rocks in any area, resources to mine will typically appear along with bugs that spawn the moment you do and it’s a race against time to stun and blow them off with wind before losing the newly found ore. There are new enemies introduced later in the game that have different patterns to learn and fight against, but I thought there could have been more variety in the beginning area.
There are three different areas in the game that are unlocked through story progression. Most of the story involves searching the lands for clues that will lead to a new path to follow. Speaking of paths, I would like to describe the maps in the game along with fast traveling. So, each area is filled with branches and trees that Annika jumps in between with leaves that can also become a locked battle. If we explore too close to the ground we may fall to our deaths and respawn back on the most recent platform. The planet Annika lives on is filled with massive bugs, some hundred times the size of our small character which is why mechs are so popular. There is a repair button with a brief cool down period after using it, so up on the D-pad that will come in handy in combat or after respawning with diminished health from a long fall.
There is only one map in the entire game and can only be seen when leaving the camps. You only are shown the map so the player may select a checkpoint to spawn at. The checkpoints are few in number, but when discovered, a prompt will show on screen for traveling back to camp and one must be quick to accept it. The only way to get back to camp that I found was to continue to progress the story for a new prompt, find a new checkpoint, or die. There is no button or option in the pause menu to travel back to camp and quitting out risks losing resources and won’t spawn back at camp, but instead the most recent auto save point. Having a fast travel to camp option would greatly benefit this game considering the number of resources required to unlock the majority of upgrades. Having a map to use would also benefit exploring in the three areas, but clearing and exploring them by memory seems to be the only option.
So, no map on hand and some trickery is required to be capable to fast travel when the player wants to. However, using down on the D-pad will show the correct way or current goal if in the camp. If exploring, a gold trail will spawn from Annika’s mech which will fly towards the next objective. This feature is without question the most useful in the game.
The controls for jumping around and anchoring to avoid a gust of wind worked and felt easy to pick up. The lack of a usable map and fast traveling being finicky were my biggest issues I had while playing through this beautiful game. The gameplay does reward the player with resources and also with giant Aphid hunts. On these hunts, Annika is chasing down a blue trail left behind from small bugs. Following their trail will lead to an ancient Aphid hunt which is a massive bug that resurfaces rarely and has an abundance of minerals on its back. These are scattered through the maps and our journal inventory will let us know if some are still waiting to be tracked. These ancient hunts will surely speed along the resource grind, but we have a limited time to gather and lots of enemies will be attempting the same.
Stonefly‘s visuals look similar to that of a comic book or something hand drawn and is noticeable when characters or our ship is in the light at the campsites with sketch lines wrapping around their bodies. The game is beautiful and there are many little bugs to fight, some cute and some menacing, such as the small spiders with a strong spin move. Stonefly does a wonderful job showcasing its color palette through the enemies and mech suits and does change periodically with each region explored. There are customizable options to paint Annika’s mech suit to give a unique flare rather than a default color along with cosmetic upgrades to fabricate. Visually the game looks fine, the background in areas is a still image except for the last level having water. I found when exploring, it was incredibly easy to get lost and I would end up exploring locations not meant to be explored. Anything lower than the starting area usually led to death, but branches with wind would allow for searching higher up areas. All the character designs included regular features except for the Dad, it must have been an artistic choice making his forehead resemble a butt and not giving him eyes due to his age. He only appears at the beginning and end of the game, but has the most interesting history out of all the characters. No spoilers for the brief story here, but the game’s main theme is self-discovery.
The story is presented with no audible dialogue, not even small noises or grunts being made between the characters. The only sound in story scenes is the music that plays as the timed dialogue passes. Any time Annika is resting in her tent hand drawn pages appear and usually provide some small story events. The transitions felt rough and slightly confusing, particularly when Annika went to sleep and I was thrown into the next area thinking it was some type of dream sequence. Stonefly only has in game audio when exploring in the powerful mech. There are sound designs for the moves in the mech and for the environment and its creatures, but is rather simple. Apart from the lack of sound design in the game, the original soundtrack will help distract the player in combat and in exploring. I thoroughly enjoyed the Original soundtrack for the game, it brought a whimsical sci-fi tone to an otherwise deaf game. If it weren’t for the music, the lack of audio design would push people away from the game.
Stonefly isn’t something that will require hundreds of hours to play fully. There is an assist mode in the settings for those that may need extra help or just flat out want an easier time of things. The assist mode offers invincible health and longer stun duration making combat easier to fly through. I didn’t use assist mode until about halfway through the story out of fear it would prevent achievements from unlocking, but no such thing happened. As for the achievements in Stonefly, it will certainly bring those who like to complete games back to the title after the initial playthrough with combat specific achievements, one tied to an optional side quest, and an arena mode. There are 30 achievements, majority being tied to the story, but a fun list to work through. The story will take roughly 10-20 hours to get through counting some time gathering resources for necessary upgrades and exploration. The time required will vary depending on the use of assist mode and side events finished such as Ancient Aphids or the arena mode.
In conclusion, Stonefly is an above average indie title that might be best played on a more portable device encouraging smaller play sessions for grinding minerals. I played on Xbox Series S and had no issues with glitches apart from finding my way out of the intended map a few times. The game would have greatly benefited from an additional polish phase since it feels vastly empty at times and can be annoying to navigate. The lack of a usable map and the finicky fast travel mechanics discourage players from investing the time required to obtain all upgrades in a playthrough. However, not all is loss with this title. It is fairly priced for what it offers with a brief story and the time it takes to finish the game. The standout features that I enjoyed the most were the controls for the combat, the original soundtrack, and the unique art style that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I know my flight isn’t over for this enjoyable little game considering I still need to upgrade everything and I’m missing some fun achievements. The combat after several hours will become repetitive even with newer enemies being introduced. The assist mode is also a fantastic bonus for the game if trying to clean something up. If you’re a fan of air mech games or just like bugs, I’m sure you will find some enjoyment out of this little indie title.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.