A strange new world, Massive insectoid predators, and powerful mechs might sound like the realm of a fantastic anime but that’s not quite what we got when developer Flight School Studio and publisher MWM Interactive gave us a glimpse of Stonefly earlier this week.
For those that didn’t catch the initial announcement of this upcoming title, Stonefly is set to fly onto PC and Nintendo Switch on 1 June and introduce us all to a world beyond your garden. The real wild outdoors is found down beneath the short grass, where bugs creep around and Annika Stonefly is on the adventure of a lifetime to find a lost family heirloom using her smarts, strategy, and a mini mech. It might sound like a PIXAR come production Studio Trigger production plucked from the silver screen and put up on a console screen, but there are plenty more reasons to be excited about Stonefly.
Stonefly takes us on a tale of adventure and discovery as Annika Stonefly, a genius inventor explores a massive handcrafted world, on a mission to find the aforementioned lost family heirloom. Without giving too much away, the narrative tale is a story of growth for the main character Annika. From her first steps in this tale, Annika will discover that there are different types of dangers out in the world and that she is capable of more than she believes possible, in order to look after the people that care about her.
Emotional growth isn’t always the sort of goal that is as easily displayed as a new mech or even lifting a hammer. Instead, this is something that the team at Flight School Studios hope to convey through character interaction and the comic book style subtitles that make up the game’s dialogue. There’s something to be said for allowing us to experience those characters in our own voices, but it’s certainly not the only way you’ll see Annika change in Stonefly. Another less obvious display of Annika’s journey is the impact she makes on the world around her. For example, in some of the up close and personal moments we get with Annika, we’ll find her campsites grow and reflect the experiences this young girl has had over the course of Stonefly.
Stonefly is advertised as a heart-warming story of self-discovery, family, legacy, and belonging and it looks like the kind of tale that will just charm us into submission.
It can’t have gone unnoticed that Stonefly looks utterly gorgeous. Stonefly introduces a seemingly simple style that I prefer to look at as understated elegance. It takes a good bit of inspiration from artists like Charley Harper, and a myriad of other individuals from across the late century, moulding flat objects and solid colours into a 3D environment. If you’re a fan of Flight School Studio’s Manifest 99 or Creature in the Well then you’ll love the use of color in Stonefly. Rather than the deep inky blacks and orange blue hues of blockbuster sci-fi, Annika’s mech floats around a world largely made up of calming browns and yellows, just occasionally interrupted by excitement as a rush of insects swarm the stage and flood the screen with blues, yellows, and other bright intrusions.
Just like the levels, characters have a hand-drawn style, and the bespoke design of this title, rather than a procedural patchwork, gives it a level of care and attention to detail that runs throughout the entire title. While Nintendo Switch owners might be used to drops in quality when it comes to wonderful looking graphics, the development team assure us that they were “aggressive” with their assets from the beginning to ensure that the Unreal Engine provided a great port from PC to Switch in the end.
Let’s be clear, I had to get to Mechs eventually. A core part of Annika’s journey is literally riding around tan oversized insect world in her mech. Rather than half cloned human flesh or sleek metal fingers, Annika’s mech is of its world. This naturalistic vehicle allows our protagonist to get out and explore the treetops, looking for her quarry and unveiling new parts of the world on her map.
Of course, like and robotic assistant it comes with a range of abilities, but don’t expect to be blasting away insects with a laser sword. Stonefly is more interested in survival and exploration than blowing stuff up so Annika’s mech is built with movement in mind. Instead of spending most of your time on the ground, stomping through your problems and occasionally jumping into the air., this mech spends most of its time leisurely gliding across leaves and treetops and only lands for a moment to then hop out of danger.
This focus on exploration and movement defines the mech’s Functions. Functions are essentially upgrades, split into Core, Utility, and Defensive measures. These are largely divided into large game-changing abilities and more traditional stat-based add ons that enhance the more central conceits, providing more air time, faster travel, more health, and so on.
The more extreme end of the mech upgrades, which come slotted along the right-hand corner of the screen, can be anything from repelling insects and spraying acidic goo, to spawning a fake mech that attracts insect attention or dropping a shield. However, to get these upgrades you’ll need to invent them first.
Progression Through Exploration
What is striking in Stonefly is that Annika learns and adapts through experience. As she takes her mech into new territory she encounters new elements of nature and different insects. This exploration leads Annika to inspiration. Rather than the drudgery of uncovering blueprints of buying specs from an existing merchant, Annika is the force behind new mech legs, hulls, designs, functions, and more. As you take the time to play through Stonefly, the world provides that inspiration and it’s so refreshing. This also adds plenty of incentive to go out and scavenge the myriad of in-game resources, to build these brand new inventions of Annika’s.
As you’ll probably guess, this explore and upgrade cycle is one of Stonfely’s core components and should be a reason to keep soaring through the treetops, as long as you can use those abilities to avoid the interest of the local insects.
I’ve already stated that the fantastic artwork grabbed my attention when Stonefly dropped an early trailer, but the insect design is certainly something else. The local wildlife generally spends the game getting in the way, lobbing goo, taking chunks out of Annika’s mech, and looking utterly fantastic. While they clearly take a little inspiration from real-world creepy crawlies, they manage to fit this cute world in their own way. Not only did large hulking entities like the Berrypod Boomling provide a flash of color in among the autumnal leaves of our early ride through Stonefly, but swarms of all types brighten up this adventure.
While Hook Wasps may buzz in as a pack and be somewhat aggressive, the more diminutive Popcorn Flea will hunker down and use its spiny hood to keep Annika away. Even the spitting Sticky Longsnouts and their less than inviting projectiles are a welcome, if problematic addition to the canopy and keep Annika on her toes as soon as she lands.
When we stepped back after some time with Fight School Studios it’s obvious that all these awesome reasons to get excited for Stonefly are all excuses to take a journey and find out what’s in store for Annika. You can get a glimpse of this gorgeous new world and catch our thoughts on Stonefly when it buzzes onto PC and Nintendo Switch on 1 June. Alternatively, find out more now on the official website.