The Tiniest Mechsuits
HIGH Piloting insectoid mechs is fascinating.
LOW Invisible walls.
WTF Having to backtrack to find enemies to kill before leaving an area?!
Despite their popularity in gaming, I’ve never been a fan of huge mechs. I find the idea of controlling a hulking metal beast, with all its complexities and commands to memorize to be unappealing. With this in mind, Stonefly seems to be the solution by redesigning the ‘mech game’ from the ground up. How? This is an action-adventure where the player will control a mechanized unit, but in this case, they’re tiny.
Annika is the protagonist. She’s a tiny engineer (like, bug-sized) tasked with getting her father’s rig back. It was stolen overnight, and she feels responsible for not stopping it.
Guiding Annika through various levels — mostly aboard a small robot mech — the player will fly around from an isometric angle, dispose of enemies in real time and collect enough resources to upgrade mechs while traversing a forest full of dangers.
Developer Flight School Studio took direct inspiration for their mechs from nature, rather than ’80s and ’90s anime, and it shows. Each mech Anika uses resembles an animal or plant in some way, be it a light dandelion puff or a bulky insect. The idea of being able to get through a whole forest by directly controlling a small being, feels — at first — incredibly interesting, and exploring the first level feels pretty intuitive, even though the controls feel are a bit too floaty at times.
The forest is explored from a top-down view with a mech that has limited flight powers, so the player is basically drafting up and gliding gently from from one leaf or flat surface to another, while using a ‘ground pound’ to regain altitude. Some leaves will have enemies that need to be defeated, and others will have vital resources.
Combat is carried out by launching the mech in the air, bombing the ground below, and trying to get the enemies underneath the mech weak enough so that they will flip onto on their backs and be rendered helpless for a short period of time. At this point, the mech uses its wings to blast them with a puff of air and knock them down to the ground below.
Unfortunately, combat mechanics soon get in the way and they seem like a poor fit for the controls. Since enemies are mainly defeated by ‘blowing’ them off a platform while many of them need to first be stunned, it’s frustrating to find that enemies usually come in large swarms. Trying to stun, then blow away a dozen enemies in a limited space while not falling myself ended up being more frustrating than enjoyable. Sadly, the fights are mandatory — Annika can’t proceed by skipping them.
While I could get past the combat if that was the only rough point, resource gathering in Stonefly is hardly what I’d consider entertaining. At times, it will be impossible to progress unless the player crafts the mech upgrades required for success. This is not a design choice I appreciated, especially since there’s a truckload of different materials that need to be collected — it’s often required to scavenge an entire level and then replay completed missions in order to get the right amount of needed materials.
Ultimately, Stonefly ends up being a mixed bag. On one hand, exploring the forest by piloting tiny mechs is a wonderful idea, but the repetitious nature of resource gathering is compounded by the clunky combat, and I’d imagine that most players will be driven away before the experience is over.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Flight School Studio and published by MVM Interactive. It is currently available on PC, Switch, PS and XB. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated E by the ESRB and contains Mild Fantasy Violence and Mild Language. Considering the overall content, I would definitely recommend it to all audiences, but kids would need a bit of help since the controls are not that simple.
Colorblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue in the game is subtitled, while text cannot be altered or resized. No audio cues are needed for gameplay. In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable, and there is no control diagram. Each face button has a different mech ability mapped to it (bombing, blowing away, drifting upwards) with the analog sticks used to move the mech around and rotate the camera as needed.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).