Stonefly — Biomes, Beats, Bots and Bugs

Stonefly was one of my most anticipated games of 2021. I couldn’t shake the meta description given by creative director Adam Volker: ‘Rogue One shrunk down to FernGully written as a coming-of-age story’. In a way, this is the most concise way of summarizing your time here. There’s sci-fi elements layered with a wondrous scale of a world. You’re on a quest for the usual teenager seeking an elder’s approval. Stonefly is ambitious, packaged in a lo-fi exploration of mining minerals to power your mech and propels the narrative.

Stonefly’s setup is easy to follow if you zoom out. Annika is a young teen who loses her father’s mech. Later we find out this mech is a well known legend among other miner crews. Annika is very thoughtful throughout her journey which I appreciated. Those moments of inner dialogue where she’s questioning decisions being made are part of the kindness theme seen throughout.

The music composed for Stonefly is a lovely blend of lo-fi and nature-esque beats. Every area or specific set piece encounter has a dedicated track. This entire track perfectly encapsulates what Stonefly was going for. I found another example of pausing my play and sometimes not resuming play because I was so busy vibing. This is one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear all year not only in games.

stonefly - Annika sits in her mech pensively at night.
Top 10 best R&B album covers.

There are a ton of upgrades that are purchased through the minerals you mine. As you make your way through three distinct biomes there’re plenty to collect. I hadn’t noticed initially but it turns out that the bugs are also after the same minerals. If you focus solely on the bugs you’ll see a meter pop up next to the minerals.

Your bot will get beat up pretty easily because you are bound by the same rules. In Stonefly it’s about as non violent as you can get. You knock out bugs and then push them off the area in play. I quickly found out that this means a game over of sorts does exist. If your bot is continuously pushed off the map you then awake in Annika’s camper.

Visually, I preferred playing on TV compared to Switch’s portable mode. The art style in Stonefly looks beautiful across both. I loved the contrast of collared pencil moving backgrounds against cell-shaded type environments. The reason I preferred playing on TV is for everything else. It was easier to keep up with the text dialogue. Also the gameplay felt better since I perceived everything bigger.

A mech descends towards a pool of water at the base of a tree.
CAUTION: water ouchie.

One of my favorite points in Stonefly is once I was able to loot what the game calls Alpha bugs. At first I was feeling overwhelmed thinking I was about to take down some bug titan. It’s actually a way to quickly collect minerals. Since looting here is timed, roughly two minutes, my one tip is to spam the jump and mine action. This way you bounce around mining and avoid most of the bugs that rapidly spawn exponentially.

Text in Stonefly—flies. I wanted to focus on what was being displayed but sometimes I would be mid bug busting. There’s flavored text that I really appreciated. One of the characters said they’re rooting camp instead of saying setting up camp for example. I’m not sure of the solution but I did wish there was at least a way to slow down the text on display.

I wanted to like the story. I sympathize with Annika’s search for fixing her mistake to appease her father. Stonefly ended up feeling like a collection of memories instead of a fleshed out story. The characters look distinct but didn’t stay in my memory. Off the top I only remember Annika and her mother, Chrysa.

stonefly - A mech rests at the tip of a tree branch.
So many wallpaper worthy moments throughout Stonefly.

Stonefly was fighting against my enjoyment. I could forgive the awkward jump cuts between scenes. The way it sometimes doesn’t communicate your next point of interest is to actually head back to camp. Even the tracking flies mechanic would lead to an area out of camera reach. There were stat upgrades that made little impact on my survivability which had me asking why I had even used the minerals for it. Stonefly felt best when I let go of my style of play.

It’s always welcome to see settings that cater to difficulty. Stonefly dubs it as an assist mode. Allowing to adjust three settings: bug stun duration, decreased knockback, and invincibility. I personally did experience moments of frustration but never enough for me to activate any of these settings.

If you’re thinking about trying Stonefly I say first ask what type of player you are. You’ll have mostly a good time, full of flying your bot around to some of the best tunes. It was quite the story that was promised that I feel Stonefly doesn’t deliver on. If you keep your expectations lo-fi then look no further.

Stonefly is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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