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‘Stonefly’ Review: Mechs Versus Minibeasts On A Kaleidoscopic Stage

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‘Stonefly’ Review: Mechs Versus Minibeasts On A Kaleidoscopic Stage

An action-adventure set in the treetops of a mesmerising fantasy stage, there's more than meets the eye with Stonefly, the latest game from Flight School Studio. Its art style is like a diorama of bewitching wood carvings from an artist's retreat, but its dynamic combat and exciting exploration offers challenge and curiosity for what this wonderful and dangerous world is to its inhabitants.

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Annika Stonefly isn't as interested in rigs (you and I would call them mechs) as her father is. She's content to hand him a wrench, listen to his war stories and help out on his repairs for his customers, but she gets the feeling that she's playing second fiddle to his passion projects. The jewel in the crown is Chrysa, a rig named for Annika's mother, and this one is so precious that it's kept locked away.

Annika assures her father she will purchase the last of the limodot required for this most recent job, but the task slips her mind and by the time she remembers the shop is already closed. She takes Chrysa on a joy ride to collect the resource from the leaves, and once she's got enough, she parks the rig back in its shed and heads to sleep. However, as she forgets to lock the doors, someone steals her father's prized possession in the night. He is furious yet despondent, writing the rig off as there's no way he'll see it again.

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Fortunately, our heroine spots a very unique shoe print in the dirt by the shed doors, and Annika strikes out on her own to reclaim Chrysa and mend her relationship with her father.

Oh, by the way, Stonefly has got a whole The Borrowers thing going on. Setting off from her home inside the nook of a tree, the protagonist hops onto a cricket to ride them to the shoemaker's shop. Flight School Studio has tapped into this vivid and kaleidoscopic art style to present nature from the eyes of someone so small. Vines twist in awe-inspiring arches across the screen, sycamore leaves chewed by caterpillars are landing pads, and streams become lakes studded with chunks of detritus. The forest isn't a peaceful place, though the jubilant brass instruments of the game's soundtrack might convince you otherwise, as the beetles and bugs don't like outsiders.

Like Creature in the Well, the developer has ensured that the combat is the most memorable and the most moreish element in the game. The rig and the enemies act in an accordance that comes from a level of careful consideration to ensure that neither is weaker than the other. While Annika attempts to harvest resources from deposits in the area, insects will emerge to throw a wrench in things. Scissor scarabs are small but boast a nasty bite that propels the rig backwards. Bulky and bullish, berrypod boomlings are slow but are able to catapult the berries from their backs at the rig to damage it. Spitting longsnouts hone in on the airborne rig and fire projectiles at Annika, whereas silken worms trail a goo that gets all in the joints of the machine and slows it down.

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Stonefly / Credit: Flight School Studio
Stonefly / Credit: Flight School Studio

The rig is equipped to neutralise these hazards with a range of satisfying attacks in a haze of swishy abilities. Your aim is to stun and shunt these critters off the leaf/stone/tree trunk and being adaptable with your approach is the key to stopping the hordes in their tracks. Pelting the bugs with explosives from above is how you whittle down their health, but some are hardier than others and some are only vulnerable in certain states. Others will cling to the rig and will shake loose if you create a whirlwind below you. Should things go awry, Annika is able to perform repairs on the fly, but if the rig takes too much damage, then it won't be able to take to the air or push bugs off for a short period.

Wooshes of air streak across the screen in sweeps of white as you shove the creatures, and it's so gratifying to hear them plink-plonk onto the forest floor as you defeat more and more of them. Annika is extremely intelligent, too. In combat and in exploration, she'll muse to herself on how to improve the rig so it's faster, stronger, able to avoid the attacks of the insects. These plans are found in the workshop of every camp she sets up and require items and materials that are bought or harvested from the natural world. And, you're able to swap core, utility and defence features out for the adventure you're about to embark on. Think Titanfall 2 with its loadouts, but pour buckets of paint over BT-7274 and model him after a stag beetle.

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She also encounters the Acorn Corps, a trio of freelancers who have struck out on their own to complete the most hazardous jobs out there, including tracking enormous aphids and landing on their shells that hold the most precious materials. Clara, Ravenwood and Daven are interesting secondary characters and two of them appear to be some sort of humanoid bug species, adding depth to the world of Stonefly. And, can I get a shout out to the animators of the game because they knocked it out of the park. The movements of the insects, the people and the rigs are so fluid and filled with character.

Stonefly / Credit: Flight School Studio
Stonefly / Credit: Flight School Studio

For all of these positives, it's a little anticlimactic yet absolutely pertinent to point out the bugs in the game. Yes, programming ones rather than creepy-crawly ones. The game advises you to play with a controller but there's an issue with the cursor or character drifting even if you're not inputting a command. As customisations and upgrades are shown in hovering boxes, it's annoying to only read half of the information before it disappears, and worrying when you set the mech down on a thin branch and it starts to wander off.

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Moreover, I found that, in one area, I wasn't able to travel back to camp at the designated checkpoints. To fix this, I threw Annika and the rig off the nearest branch over and over again until the game forced me to go to the camp for repairs. Not quite the epic saga that Stonefly was cracking up to be.

As the game looks like an animated children's cartoon, part of me expected to listen to the characters converse and Annika vocalise her inner thoughts with voice acting. Though I appreciated the choice that the characters were silent, voice acting would have anchored the story at the centre of the experience while bouncing over lily pads or flying through the forest. The visuals, as charming as they are, occasionally took up more of my attention and there's no way to pause dialogue or change its speed.

Stonefly / Credit: Flight School Studio
Stonefly / Credit: Flight School Studio

Also, I found the fact that you could only go to camp using those aforementioned checkpoints to be a thorn in my side. Like, if I'd gone out to the Canopy to collect a specific amount of a specific resource, I'd like to be able to cut the excursion short right there and upgrade my rig as soon as possible. Instead, I've got to fly from here to there until I find a checkpoint and there's no compass or wayfinding system to speak of. There is a sparkling cloud of flies who are able to point you to your objective, but those are only available if the story is taking you to a new location. Don't get me wrong - I don't mind a scenic route when the scenes are this enchanting. However, the similar colour schemes and structures obscured what was climbable and what was the background, so I'd explore what lay below the branches and discover that it was just destruction and death.

The smaller stuff, like the character names being different in different dialogues and the letterbox bars obscuring speech bubbles, that's fixable with a post-launch patch. The addition of a fast travel to camp feature might take a little longer and is dependent on the number of players who also want this ability. Overall, these issues were bumps in the road on the two standout aspects of Stonefly - the art and the rigs.

The enemy designs were done with care and detail that stunning a cluster of the creatures and then scooting them off a leaf feels like snatching survival from their jaws. And, as more and more inventions and upgrades unlock, the rig is yours to helm and personalise. On a console, I could certainly see Stonefly being a firm favourite for younger children, especially with the multiple save slots, accessible story, colourblind modes and the assist mode that lets you switch on invincibility. There are a few wrinkles, but it's nothing that a helping of elbow grease won't fix.

Pros: Eye-catching art style, fully formed protagonist, very chill vibes

Cons: Bugs (programming ones), no way home, story is sometimes lost in the action

For fans of: Grounded, Into The Breach, Titanfall 2

6/10: Good

Stonefly was played on PC with a code provided by PR. Stonefly is available June 1 on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Flight School Studio

Topics: Reviews

Imogen Donovan
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