What Is Stonefly?
Taking on the role of inventor Annika, one of several Borrowers-sized humans in a forest world, players will go on a journey to recover her dad’s lost mech, but in doing so will explore the wider Maple Canopy, gliding from one branch or leaf’s edge to the next, harvesting minerals and learning more about the wider cast and Annika’s place in the world, in an adventure coming to PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, and PC this summer.What that translates to in actual gameplay terms, as evidenced by the extended hands-off demo I saw, is gameplay both in and out of Annika’s mech. While I only glimpsed just a bit of Annika walking around on her own, members of the development team explained how players will have the chance to interact with other members of their camp, walking around, chatting with other characters, and working on Annika’s mech to customize it (more on that in a bit). These on-foot sections definitely don’t appear to be the majority of the game, but players will need to sleep and progress the days of the story forward to keep pushing the narrative onward.
The camp sections don’t seem like a huge leap from what Flight School did with Creature in the Well, where players could go to a boarded-up town to take a breather from the main campaign, upgrade, and more. Annika’s camp will do the same, letting you craft an upgrade or learn a new ability, but I always appreciate a story that lets you experience the world at your pace and have a location or setting to ground you as that all progresses. The small teases we get into Annika’s brilliant inventor mind (which extend to the rest of the game, as Annika thinks aloud to herself, represented onscreen though sadly not in voiceover, about new inventions and more as she explores), and the group around her left me immediately curious to know more about their lives. That’s in large part thanks to the story’s setup and how it’s married to the art style, creating an almost Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli-esque setting with plenty of potential while still remaining rooted in something relatable.
Because while Annika’s realistic problems surrounding family, her legacy, and more are easy to recognize in our own lives, the rest of Stonefly dives right into the delightfully fantastic. Players will have their own crappy-at-first mech to spruce up, customizing it with new legs, a hull, and its color scheme, that they take out into the world, exploring, collecting minerals, and contending with the many bugs in their way.
Mech in the Wind
Stonefly’s isometric camera gives players a pretty sizeable view of the environment, as at any given time you might be trying to make a tricky hop from one area to the next, fending off – non-lethally – bugs that are greedily trying to take the minerals you need, and generally exploring the world.
During my hands-off demo, Flight School explained they would expect players to probably spend about 95% of their time in the mech airborne, as you’re faster and more agile for both combat and exploration. The developers even described the mech’s jump as less of a jump and more of a bounce, giving some sense of weight and heft to the small but sturdy mech in an otherwise large world. Your mech will have a host of different abilities it can use, showcased in the lower right-hand corner, as contending with the many bug enemies will require some strategy.
Stonefly Announcement Screenshots
You’re never killing the bugs you interact with, much like Marvel’s Spider-Man never sees the webhead kill any of the thugs he beats up and webs to buildings. You’re instead trying to knock them away or off of whatever platform you’re on, as the precious minerals you’ll want to collect first are essentially Stonefly’s currency to help you earn upgrades. There are about a dozen bug species, each requiring different strategies to overtake – I witnessed small bugs the player could easily shoo away, while other bugs needed first to be flipped over, as their study exterior prevented the player from knocking them back.
But however you’re approaching bugs or environmental challenges, wind will play a significant part of the journey. Stonefly’s levels are a bit more open and less defined to offer players some freedom in exploring the natural environments, but if you ever lose your way, you can call on a series of tracking flies to guide you, similar to the guiding winds in Ghost of Tsushima. You’ll also use wind to reach new locations, and based on the combat I saw, much of your mech’s abilities are tied somewhat to the force and momentum needed to push and knock enemies away.There certainly seems to be depth there, too – not just in the different approaches needed for the variety of enemy types, but also for the volume of foes you might be facing at any one time. I witnessed both smaller bouts and swarms of enemies, and it’s clear you’ll have to learn some smart crowd control if you want to make off with as much of each mineral horde as possible. The developers also teased that there will be some higher-risk, difficult missions with limited time to explore as well via a look at the game’s beautiful map, which is something Annika draws and adds to herself as the 10-ish hour journey goes on.
And while I’m eager to see how deep the abilities and upgrades allow the combat to go, I came away most impressed by my first look at Stonefly thanks to its startling visuals and imaginative world design. There’s a beautiful use of color inspired by the mid-century modern designer Charley Harper, and sharp geometric shapes create a fascinating blend of 3D worlds with a touch of 2D flair.
There’s something simultaneously welcoming and familiar yet strange and mysterious about Stonefly’s world. Taking something everyday like the trees and foliage around us, zooming in on a microscale to give those familiar elements a sense of scale and scope, and setting a human story in this fantastic world left me fascinated by what’s waiting to be discovered. The world seems brimming with possibility, a new delightful surprise hiding behind each leaf in the corners of the screen.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, host of Podcast Beyond!, and PlayStation lead. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.