Ambitious, Small-Scale Indie That’s Big on Heart

I absolutely adore indie games. It’s in this space you will find some of the most revolutionary ideas, inspired designs, and thought-provoking gameplay experiences out there in the entertainment space. However, due to the sheer volume of indie titles, it’s hard to find the ones that are truly worth playing, harder still to sort out the best of the best. That’s why I like to bring whatever spotlight I can to indie games that are absolutely worth your time, attention, and money, games like Stonefly.

Described as a “chill and tranquil action-adventure game,” Stonefly embarks on a scaled-down but no-less-epic journey through a bug-infested forest. You’ll travel by mech, its design inspired by the very insects you’ll need to defend yourself against if you hope to harvest enough resources for ever-better upgrades. And all the while, you’ll experience the heartwarming coming-of-age story of Annika Stonefly, the game’s brilliant but naïve inventor who sets out, wrong-footed, on a quest to recover a lost family heirloom.

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Stonefly hails from Flight School Studio (Creature in the Well) and publisher MWM Interactive, and is now available worldwide on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store. My review follows the launch-day trailer, which you can check out below to get a sense of the game’s story, style, and spirit:

As a big fan of both mecha gameplay and storytelling that plays with a sense of scale, Stonefly has been on my radar for some time now. So it was with great expectations that I got my hands on the PS5 version of the game (courtesy of our friends over at MWM Interactive and Flight School Studio). Seeing it all come together — the gameplay, the story, the design of everything from the characters and their mechs to the environment they navigate, even the music — felt like a triumph in the 2021 indie game space. Stonefly delivers on the promised adventure but how you want to experience that journey is up to you.

No matter your preferred style of gameplay, Stonefly will start out the same way: You play as the young go-getter Annika, whose one mistake leads to a world of trouble. Luckily, Annika’s mech-piloting skills and mechanical ability will keep you alive in a bug-filled forest where you’re just as likely to stumble across riches and resources as you are to have the wind knocked out of you by a variety of rather rowdy insects. There’s a very good chance you’ll get taken out by these little critters early on (I sure did), but where some games might punish you for exploring, pushing the boundaries, and taking risks, Stonefly encourages this.

Let’s say you stray too far into dangerous territory out in the wild, but you manage to find a bunch of resources, research new designs, and gain enough experience to help upgrade your rickety mech. Even if you get bumped back to your base by bugs, i.e. “die,” you’ll be able to use the loot you gathered in order to patch up and improve your mech. You can even change the design to suit your fancy as you go. Then, once you’re satisfied, you can head out into the wild beyond once more, this time just ever so slightly more prepared to take on those biting, bombing, and bullying bugs.

stonefly-flight-school-studio

Image via Flight School Studio, MWM Interactive

Or, you can simply stay home at your base and rest. Interestingly enough, Annika’s tent is where you’ll learn a lot of the story of Stonefly. It’s told through Annika’s inner monologue of thoughts, memories, and recollections, with a bit of lore from the overworld thrown in thanks to a colorful cast of NPCs. The interesting thing here is that the more you “die,” the more you’ll end up back in your tent, learning more of the story. You can choose to focus instead on min/maxing your mech, pinning upgrade requirements to your HUD, and building the best bug-squashing mech you can manage (that’s certainly what I did and am still doing), but it’s Annika’s personal journey that makes your own trip through Stonefly all the more worthwhile.

To keep this review grounded, it’s worth mentioning that Stonefly definitey reminds you of its indie status from time to time. Occasionally, only one of the texture layers would load in, essentially obscuring the screen; a quick reset fixed that and similar such bugs, which were few and far between. The controls take a bit of getting used to since Stonefly opts for a “jump, fly, and glide before you crawl” style of movement, which is obviously different from just about every other game out there. That can be a little unforgiving in regions of the forest where you’re meant to be among the vines and branches, not below them, i.e. falling through the death plane, or trying to repair while avoiding an onslaught of bug bombers. And the guiding lights of fireflies are useful when you’re stuck, but even they get confused sometimes and leave you without any guiding direction beyond simply exploring.

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Image via Flight School Studio, MWM Interactive

My biggest gripe, however, is the lack of control over the camera. You’re all too often left at the mercy of the fixed camera as your mech blindly descends through a hollow tree trunk or behind a mass of twisted vines. That also makes landing in precise locations, which tends to be more forgiving than not, a bit of a trial.

Overall, however, I love the indie darling that is Stonefly. The character designs are charmingly cartoonish, the levels are at once fantastical and yet pulled from real-world elements. The bugs, some of which can do a surprising amount of damage to your mech, are little jerks but so darn cute despite that fact (just watch out for the Alphas…) The music, composed by Berlin-based experimental electronic artist Natureboy Flako (www.stoneflygame.com), adds an organically natural and tranquil ambiance to your exploration, the better to keep you chill while you’re panicking in the midst of battle. And the feeling of building and upgrading your own bug-battling mech from basically the ground up? Fantastic, in all senses of the word. It’s like Honey I Shrunk the Kids crossed over with A Bug’s Life and made a grand adventure of the whole thing. But it’s ultimately Annika’s story that will make Stonefly a memorable title for those of you daring enough to embrace the indie darling.

Rating: B

Stonefly is now available on PlayStation5, PlayStation4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store for $19.99 USD.

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Image via Flight School Studio, MWM Interactive

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