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Stonefly Preview: Nonviolence, Cute Buggos, and a Coming of Age Story Take Center Stage

The top-down game about mechs and family is out next week.

2021 is shaping up to be an incredible year for gorgeous indie games. There’s the recently announced The Garden Path, the life simulator that looks like a watercolor painting. There’s Sable, which we’ll be seeing more of soon in the Tribeca Games Festival. And then there’s Stonefly, the tranquil adventure game about mechs and family, which will be out in only a few days. Fanbyte recently attended a preview event for Stonefly, where we learned more about the intricacies in its gameplay and got some teases for its narrative.

In Stonefly, you are Annika Stonefly, a brilliant but naïve young inventor who has set out to recover a lost family heirloom. After Annika takes her father’s beloved mech out on a joyride, a mysterious thief steals it in the middle of the night. The morning after, she sets out to get it back. Getting her father’s rig is not just Annika’s way of fixing her mistake, but also of mending her strained relationship with him. In this coming-of-age story during which she meets fascinating creatures and characters, she’ll discover herself, her potential, and much more.

Stonefly’s gameplay consists of using your mech to collect resources for upgrades so that Annika can fulfill her goal. It has a focus on nonviolence, for you’ll be pushing bugs and the cutely named buggos (there’s a difference!) off surfaces rather than hurting them. Jumping, and mobility in general, is crucial. Compared to many other similar games, Stonefly’s gameplay demands you be up in the air more often than not. Touching the ground is dangerous, so you’ll be doing a lot of traversing and navigating around the colorful canopies. The developers would say this is the most important thing for new players to keep in mind before starting Stonefly.

“The onboarding of this game is unique because the game plays uniquely,” they said. “One of the things we see players doing a lot is wanting to crawl. In a lot of games, you’re walking primarily and jumping secondarily. Our game is all about being airborne. Our first advice is just: stick to the air as much as you can … Everything is designed to invert the normal mentality you have as a game player that you walk on the ground and occasionally jump. This is the reverse.”

Sometimes, exploration will be peaceful. The soundtrack is beautiful, effortless in its ability to instill a sense of tranquility even as you’re trying not to fall off. Creative director Adam Volker even cited the music as “the best part of the whole experience” in a recent GameSpot interview.

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At other times, it will be much more exciting and tense. During the preview event, we were shown Alpha missions. In these, you have approximately two minutes to gather the specific material you need. It quickly gets hectic, as you’ll try to collect these resources while constantly warding off the many bugs that swarm you. Here, the music is fast-paced to reflect the drastic shift in pace. It adds a fun challenge to the normally relaxed gameplay — though that’s not to say regular encounters will be a walk in the park, either. The footage I saw showed plenty of intense maneuvering on behalf of the devs that was only made easier through advanced abilities. Ultimately, all combat contributes to how Annika researches and makes new inventions.

All levels in Stonefly are (beautifully) hand-designed, so there will be no procedural gameplay involved. There are a couple of levels that you’ll replay several times; because of that, there will be many differences in how you engage with them. The team tried to add texture and variety to the levels, so some will be longer, some will be shorter, and some will be more linear than others.

Though I’m interested in Stonefly’s narrative, I was admittedly a little hesitant at the start because of all the bugs. I’m definitely someone who has a general phobia of any and all bugs. Fortunately for those like me, the team says that, while actually not initially intentional, the buggos have ended up looking and feeling more cute than scary. The team estimates that the gameplay and narrative ratio is around 60:40. Gameplay will be significant as you explore, collect, and upgrade. But the team has integrated the story into various aspects of the gameplay, so it’s not clear-cut. There are several locations and camps you’ll go to as Annika explores the world, so there’s plenty of narrative content. Overall, there will be much to look forward to in getting to know Annika, her charismatic crew, and her adventure.

Stonefly will be available on PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store on June 1. Be sure to read our incoming review here at Fanbyte.

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Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.

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