Tranquil video games come in all shapes and sizes these days, with Animal Crossing: New Horizons leading the charge. However, have you ever played a tranquil game with a mech? Well, if you haven’t, now you can thanks to developer Flight School Studio and publisher MWM Interactive, which have just announced their new nonviolent action adventure mech game, Stonefly, coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC this summer.
Stonefly invites you to explore a beautiful world of nature in a mech where all the foliage and insects seem kind of enormous compared to the humans. The protagonist is a young inventor named Annika Stonefly, who works with her dad in a mechanic shop in a small town. She’s book-smart but not very worldly, and she ultimately must go on a journey to retrieve a prized family heirloom for her father. The game will be a strongly narrative-driven adventure of self-discovery for Annika that aims to be satisfying for players of all ages.
But there will also be a mech that you can power up and customize in plenty of ways, of course.
Stonefly is one of a kind
Flight School Studio Game Director Bohdon Sayre and Creative Director Adam Volker and MWM Interactive EVP Ethan Stearns presented Stonefly to the press at a recent digital event, where we got to see the game in action for the first time and ask questions about the development. Flight School Studio’s previous game was the well-received “pinball with swords” game Creature in the Well, so this is a developer that knows how to get eclectic. Meanwhile, MWMi is a small indie game publisher with a focus on championing narrative exploration of video games, seeking powerful stories and bespoke art direction, and Stonefly surely fits the bill.
As you can see, this is a beautiful game in static screenshots, and it looks quite good in motion in its announcement trailer as well. During the digital event, everything looked a bit grainier over streaming, but there’s no missing Stonefly’s overall visual aesthetic, which is inspired by the art of Charley Harper, who was known for taking the natural world and iconizing it. Flight School Studio incorporated his design style and his unorthodox use of color. (There’s also a bit of FernGully in there.) Meanwhile, musician Natureboy Flako worked on the soundtrack, providing chill sounds to match the visuals.
The game has been in development for about a year and a half now and aims to be a roughly 10-hour-long experience. With that in mind, let’s finally talk about the mech and what you’re gonna do with it.
Blow away the bugs and capture the minerals
As you explore in Stonefly in your mech, the major thing you will be doing is collecting minerals, which are used to fix things, build new technologies, and generally act as a natural currency. Sometimes, you will need a keen eye to spot all the minerals, but there are also huge nodes that will offer them in massive supply. However, there is a problem: Bugs want those minerals too, and if you don’t collect the minerals fast enough, the bugs will take them all instead.
Stonefly is a nonviolent game, so you won’t be going all Starship Troopers obliterating them. Instead, you will be pushing the bugs off the edge of the area, Super Smash Bros.-style, leaving you in the clear to collect the minerals without interruption. The game will offer your mech many unique abilities for both stunning bugs and ultimately blowing them away. For instance, you can emit a simple gust of wind with different intensities depending on how long you hold a button. Also, you can fly as much as you want, which seems to make you safer from bugs, and you will in fact spend “95% of your time airborne.” In the air, you can shoot downward to stun bugs below, or you can kind of bounce like a basketball, among other things. There is also a “bubble” you can place around minerals that creates a barrier that bugs can’t penetrate for a period. Abilities have relatively short cooldowns, so for the most part, you can feel free to go wild with your arsenal.
Over the course of the linear narrative, which gets “pretty personal” in cinematics with what Annika is going through, she will derive inspiration from the environment that leads her to invent new technology, in turn unlocking new essential abilities. Additionally, you will be able to earn experience and spend the resources you collect on a wide variety of upgrades for your mech, including utility differences, decoys to distract bugs, and basic stat boosts to things like health and pushing distance. There are plenty of XP meters to fill up to inspire more inventions.
You will need the extra help, because the bugs can knock you out. There are roughly a dozen species with distinct abilities and weaknesses, and there are occasional boss bugs to watch out for as well. Dying will boot Annika back to camp, waking up in bed and wondering what happened; however, you will keep the minerals you collected. Stonefly never aims to be frustrating.
The environment itself will offer mysteries and challenges as well, especially with its use of the wind. The wind will be able to blow you away in certain areas if you aren’t careful, but you can hold down the jump button to anchor yourself to the ground and stay put. The wind will apparently be used in various creative ways throughout Stonefly. Also, the levels themselves are designed to be “free form” and don’t force you down a linear path, thus increasing the sense of adventure.
But not every single aspect of the game is about survival and exploration. Sometimes you just want to look cool, especially where mechs are concerned, and you will definitely be able to customize its look. The environment will inspire new designs, and you can change the mech’s color palette. And while most of the mech designs are inspired by bugs, you will find some designs with Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gundam flavor as well.
I asked Flight School Studio if it had learned any lessons from developing Creature in the Well that it was incorporating into Stonefly, and the response was an emphatic yes. The developers learned “how to make tools and technology work” for them. They explained that, in game design, you want to make sure you have enough time to test and develop things, and they have honed their ability to do that since Creature in the Well. Additionally, Flight School realized it needed to make sure it gives players enough time to fully understand the gameplay mechanics the developers are conveying. Ultimately, Creature in the Well taught the team “a lot about pacing and how to space things out and how to be efficient.”
Right now, Stonefly looks to be in a good place. With a strong audiovisual aesthetic established and the promise of a compelling coming-of-age story, it seems to have the artistic side of things on lock. Likewise, with the gameplay consisting of exploration, brushing away bugs, and collecting minerals in a positive feedback loop that allows you to upgrade your mech, the core mechanics of the game sound potentially addicting as well. The runway is clear, so we’ll just have to wait till summer to see if Flight School Studio can achieve liftoff with Stonefly.