Flight School Studio first came to my attention with Creature in the Well. I had enjoyed the game and the idea of taking a concept we're all familiar with in video games, a dungeon crawl, and how a single element was tweaked to make it unique. In the case of Creature in the Well it was that everything was pinball, you weren't a pinball wizard... but a pinball knight. Stonefly follows the same philosophy, taking a game about exploration and light platforming, but there's no 'killing' and all combat is King of the Hill. Once again Flight School Studio has managed to create a unique gaming experience, but does it also make it a good unique experience?
Stonefly follows the story of Annika Stonefly, the daughter of a mechanic, who through negligence allows her father's bug-like mech, his rig, to be stolen. Wracked with guilt Ann heads out on her own following clues left behind by the thief. Along the adventure, she meets up with the Acorn Corps, a team that pilot rigs to explore the strange world of oversized bugs and plants. With Ann's mechanical skill and the Acorn Corps knowledge of the world, they decide to work together to meet their personal goals. The story is a simple one, but relatable. Even though players have barely met Ann and her father at the beginning of the game there's some powerful dialogue between them to set up her father's disappointment as well as Ann's drive to fix the issue on her own. Even in a world of leaves bigger than a car each character's words and actions are believable.
The story does well to maintain its momentum, has enough to be entertaining, but never bogs itself down trying to be too much. The world itself is extremely interested, where your first idea of travel is to ride a grasshopper, but unfortunately, the world itself isn't delved into too deeply. It would have been nice to have visited a proper town, or heard more history of the world, but I also understand not everything needs to be wrapped up in a neat little bow.
As Ann searches for the thief who stole her father's rig she'll need to take her own rig out and explore the dense foliage of the world. Your basic goal in Stonefly is to explore the world progressing the plot, while also protecting yourself from a variety of aggressive bugs, and collecting different materials that you can use to upgrade your rig. It's a fun gameplay loop of exploring, collecting, and upgrading as you learn more about Ann, the Acorn Corps, and the thief. As you explore you'll encounter bugs that will fight you over collecting components, you'll need to manage collecting resources while also stunning or pushing bugs off the platform to get the most out of them. The majority of these encounters are just random bugs that you'll come across while searching for materials but you'll also come across arena encounters too. These arenas present themselves as a wire mesh appearing around an area, you'll need to successfully defeat every bug in the area before you're able to progress, and this can sometimes mean multiple waves of enemies.
Combat is unique in Stonefly in that you're not shooting bugs with lasers, or trying to fry them. You're simply trying to stun them, and then push them off the ledge. I won't say it's a pacifistic approach to video game combat, but it's certainly a non-lethal one. Bugs that you first encounter are small flea-like creatures, even without stunning them you're able to create gusts of wind that will push them away. As the bugs get larger and more complicated you'll start needing to use a variety of different gadgets to get the upper hand. Large beetles that protect themselves need to be pulled by the wind to reveal their weakness, flying bugs can be baited into a wind vortex knocking them out, and the charging bugs can just be dodged around causing them to fall off the edge. Some abilities can also cause surprising effects on the bugs. The decoy power-up will distract most enemies, but the horned beetles will actually love your decoy and be completely non-aggressive while it's active.
The rig's health adds another interesting mechanics to the game. You'll start with a general shield to your rig, but once that's been spent damage will start being taken to your rig's wind generator, wings, or legs. If you take enough damage you might find yourself in a situation where your wings are too damaged to fly so you can only walk and shoot gusts of wind. You can even get to a point where you can fly but can't do any attacking. Due to your rigs, maneuverability, and generous recovery features though it's hard to find a situation where you're actually fearful of death. Whenever you want, even as you're flying and fighting a full health recovery is a button press away. With a short cooldown even if things get extremely tense you can just retreat for a moment and come back full force.
The only change to combat is in the boss fights against giant Mantis creatures. Here your opponent does have a health bar and you're required to fling rocks into the Mantis to lower its health. These are the only times you'll ever have throwable rocks, and it's a real shame because they're a lot of fun. Not only can they be used to deal damage to the boss, but also to knock out other bugs you'll have to be keeping an eye on too. It feels like a missed opportunity to now incorporate these rocks elsewhere in the game. Just as more bugs are being introduced it would have been interesting to see more world elements that you could play with and use to fight the bugs.
Stonefly is a fun game, as long as you are a fan of smaller gameplay loops and upgrade heavy games. The story does a good job of setting up and delivering a coming-of-age tale, and one filled with real characters. The idea of basing combat on a "King of the Hill" system is truly inspired and doesn't overstay its welcome. Every random combat encounter you'll want to jump into, not just because you want to get better loot but because it's fun to mess with the bugs and push them around. If you want a game that will push and challenge you then Stonefly might not be it, but there's also nothing wrong with a relaxing game experience. It's hard to say define what type of audience will enjoy Stonefly the most, but if bullying bugs and watching characters grow sounds interesting to you then it's worth your time.
TechRaptor reviewed Stonefly on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It will also be available on Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.
- Interesting King of the Hill Combat...
- Characters Have Depth
- Fun Upgrades
- ...Could Use More World Interaction
- No Sense of Danger