Published on February 8th, 2024 | by Daniel
Disney Speedstorm Review!
Summary: Disney Speedstorm is a unique take on the Kart racing genre. Attempting to be free to play in the hopes to gain favour. Riddled with microtransactions and lacking in spirit, the game unfortunately falls a bit flat.
To infinity and beyond!
Disney Speedstorm, yet another entry into the ever growing pool of arcade kart racers. Joining NASCAR, Dreamworks and even Garfield as they attempt to get a slice of the pie that Mario Kart has held a monopoly on for so long. With only Sonic and Crash having the might and experience to be a worthy challenge thus far. Speedstorm comes pretty close, but falls just shy of being a true contender. For all it’s status as a free to play game and it’s user friendly gameplay, it has a lack of spirit or identity to give it a real fighting chance at the top players in this genre. Here’s why:
As mentioned above, Disney Speedstorm is free to play. No buying into an experience you’re not sure of, just download it and give it a whirl. That being said, once you get into it. That free to play aspect, actually becomes more of a hindrance than a helping hand when it comes to taking on more established names like the big three, Mario, Sonic and Crash, the first of which has remained king of the arcade kart racing for decades. Speedstorm, is no slouch however. With smooth controls, fun and addictive gameplay and an array of characters to play from the start with many more unlockable through in game “blueprints”.
To start, the game gives you a brief tutorial and then a 3 chapter opening series. This allows the player to get comfortable with the game, it’s mechanics and it’s characters. There are four types of racers, Speedster; I guess you’d call this the default class, with a focus raw on speed and bonus boost from hitting boost pads. Brawler; aptly named for their focus on all out attacks, with a focus on handling and boosts from stunning opponents. Defender; with a focus on acceleration, these guys are granted a shield after hits on opponents. And last but not least, my favourite class, Trickster; with a boost to, well, boost! These guys are unique as they get more powerful boosts by drifting and also confuse their rivals after hitting them when dashing.
Beyond the classes, every racer has their own unique skill only they can use. As well as a pool of common skills and class skills. Speedsters get access to Rush and Boost. Brawlers get Fire and Shot. Defenders get Shield and Cloak. And Tricksters get Bomb and Hack. As you would expect, these all grant either speed boost, outgoing attacks or inward defence. The unique standout here is the Trickster’s skill Hack. This is a nasty skill to get hit by, as it inverts your controls for a brief moment. So left becomes right and vice versa. This was the only skill I found particularly difficult to work around, to suddenly have to adjust and steer the opposite direction really messes with my sense of direction in game. Thankfully the experience doesn’t out stay its welcome, staying long enough to give everyone else the edge but not long enough to drop you out of the game completely.
Additionally, every racer can have their own crew. Crew members increase one or more stat as well as boost the power of certain skill. On top of that, racers and crew members can have their Star Tier increased; for racers this means from Lv2 they get their unique skill mentioned previously as well as a boost to a few class skills. For crew members, their stat boost and skill enhancement increases. Racer’s can also gain levels with items unlocked through events, challenges or bought via the store. Each level boosts one or more stats in the same manner to crew stat boosts, except you don’t need a crew member as it boosts the racer directly. You’ll need these levels as you progress as the AI does steadily get tougher as you progress through the opening chapters and into the seasonal content. At first, all these ways of improving racers seems intuitive and intricate. But after several hours into the game, it becomes a bit tedious. And in order to farm the necessary materials to upgrade your racers, often you have to repeat races you’ve already beat or complete challenges. There are lifetime challenges and seasonal challenges that give different rewards, some entirely cosmetic and others upgrades to your racer or crew.
Currently, there is only a few modes; Last One Standing; essentially elimination, at the end of every lap last place is eliminated. Boss Challenge; if you’ve ever played Crash Team Racing, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Basically a one-on-one with a tougher AI boss, beat them to win. Fog Challenge; the map is covered in fog, making it difficult to see the track. The mini-map is also disabled, meaning track mastery is the key to winning. Single Skill; as the name suggests, everyone is locked to the same skill and it’s up to the player to get creative with it to make the most of it and win. Colour Match; once more as the name implies. Match your colour to the skill boxes to gain a boost, get the wrong match up and you’ll get stunned! Racers change colour every 30 seconds. And lastly Follow the Leader; every racer has a visible slipstream granting players who are able to follow it a boost. Similar to NASCAR, using this slipstream to your advantage at the right moment can win you the race!
The moment to moment fun is addicting at first. But fizzles out with long play, almost like the game is designed to be played in short bursts. And the inclusion of micro transactions would support this.
Seasons are the main attraction after completing the starter circuit, where the above race modes feature within, in the same linear progression tree contained in the starter circuit. With a meatier concentration of races and rewards. These events will keep you busy for a while. Limited Events is a mode consisting of a number of side missions, completing these offers upgrade rewards and cosmetics just like the challenges. But offers a unique experience and can be provide a decent challenge to the player.
Ultimately though, the moment to moment fun quickly becomes repetitive. The inclusion of in game currencies, loot boxes and microtransactions put a sour taste in my mouth. What was designed as a method to keep the game free to play, offering incentives to keep players motivated, ends up making the game less interesting. Microtransactions suck the life out of the game and essentially make it pay to win anyway. There’s not enough consisten fun in the solo content and multiplayer is incredibly broken, often finding matches with players that either have a better or worse connection to the server than you. Making matches entirely one side and impossible to enjoy. There’s a reason that Mario and Sonic games are purchased games, even Crash while it’s bought but has microtransactions too, are all entirely cosmetic and doesn’t affect gameplay at all. These three series always feel like full fledged games and can be enjoyed in their entirety. Free to Play service games always feel a little hollow and require pay to win in order to get the full experience. Thus Disney Speedstorm will never reach the heights of the big three, but it’s not all bad.
This is one area I think the game far exceeds what I was expecting, by sheer design alone I think it beats out all of the big three. Tracks design and locations are simply amazing. The team at Gameloft really out did themselves bringing the various worlds of Disney to life. One of my personal favourites has to be Mount Olympus from Hercules. The old 90s PS1 game was actually one of my favourite games as a child and to see a modern version of the game come to life in such a way is nothing short of nostalgic. From the ancient Greek architecture to the giant statues of Zeus and Hercules standing tall over the circuit and the brilliance of colour everywhere. It’s not the only standout either; The Silver Screen is a map for Steamboat Mickey and it’s really special. The start of the map begins in a classic theatre that would have existed around the time Steamboat Mickey was a thing, but as you cross over the threshold of what would be the “silver screen” the world goes into black and white, much like the video footage of the times. It was a real surprise going into it the first time, I had obviously not seen much beyond any trailers before taking up the review opportunity. So it was a very good early impression made when I first took to this track in the starter circuit.
That’s not all either, some tracks have set pieces going off in the background and every track has numerous layouts. As you progress beyond the starter circuit. Tracks start presenting hazards for the player to avoid. Fail to dodge them and you’ll get stunned, this adds extra mechanics to deal with in the middle of a race and can change the tide of each race at any given moment. Most tracks have 3-5 different layouts, the first two are always the standard layout in either forward or reverse directions. The other 1-3 can feature elements of both or totally new sections not used before. This is much a graphical marvel as much as its a mechanical one, to design tracks that still retain a good flow and throw new challenges at the player is just what I’d expect from a more established series like the big three.
Now in regards to player models, these are a bit hit and miss for me. Some are absolutely amazing and others are just barely passable. I’m not sure if this was a licensing issue or something else entirely. But a I took particular issues with Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann, these two only had a passing resemblance but maybe that’s just a problem with converting real life characters into animated ones, especially ones that are normally wearing pirate costumes and not racing suits. It just felt a little out of place for them to be wearing racing suits, but then again it also felt a little out of place for others like Beast or Mowgli to be wearing them too. Less of a problem and probably just a personal issue. They’re not the only ones that looked a little flat, but they’re the standouts of the racers I had access to.
On the flip side of this, and this might also be part of my bias, but some character designs were smashed out of the park! Hercules and Hades have never looked so good and even Mickey and his friends are super detailed and full of life. Mulan and Shen, Genie, Aladdin and Jafar are all massive standouts.
And now we come to the audio section where I always struggle to find enough points to talk about. There’s only so much good or bad I can say about audio content within a game. It always boils down to good or bad, there’s really no inbetween. On the note of that, I’ll start with the voice actors and the delivery of their lines. As someone who grew up with a lot of the older Disney movies, I can say I have a lot of nostalgia hearing these characters revived in such a way. For the most part, a lot of the actors reprised their roles that they played in the original franchise, with some notable absences. Obviously Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley aren’t just going to be available or affordable for a team like Gameloft and Robin Williams, sadly is long passed. The replacements do a good job, but there are moments when you can tell it’s not the original and to some degree, that is a little immersion breaking. Not to the fault of anyone, but it’s just how it felt at times. Although I will mention that one of my favourite comedians who’s also a world renowned impressionist Jim Meskimen, does a stellar job of standing in for the late Robin Williams, one that I think even the great man himself would be proud of.
Apart from the notable absences, it blew my mind that Gameloft were able to get so many of the original voice actors to reprise their roles once again. It was a huge dose of nostalgia as mentioned above to hear new, yet fitting voice lines from some of the characters I grew up with in my youth. As they battled it out against the other racers.
Now the music, that is another thing entirely. With a streamer friendly mode, streamers can be happy to know that they can broadcast this game without the fear of ban hammers. But in all honesty, the soundtrack is so heavily remixed that it would be very unlikely that anyone would get into trouble for producing content for this game.
That being said, the music that isn’t licensed is superb. With a mix of orchestral and pumping electronic music, the game has a vibe that I can really get behind. Not unlike other racing games, with an air of flair that is distinctly Disney. I don’t know how to explain it, but you just gotta experience it. I would honestly find myself chilling in the menus, listening to the music and just vibing. But that ain’t the meat of this pie, I just realised I’ve been making a lot of pie references huh? Anyway, the licensed music. There are some real bangers here, as I mentioned I’m a sucker for the old Hercules movie in the late 90s and the PS1 game. To hear a remix of Gospel Truth from the movie, needless to say I was positively jamming as I raced around Mount Olympus to the sounds of the heavy bass remix. If I was scoring the graphics and audio alone, the game would receive almost a perfect score.
Disney Speedstorm, sits in a weird place for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the opening moments of the game, even if the starter circuit was a little too easy for me. I understand it’s design for even inexperienced racers or kids to pick up and play and have a good time. The chapter system is fairly good and the game offers a decent challenge in the season chapters and limited events. But the inclusion of microtransactions and a pay to win vibe severely hamper what should be a great game. If the game simply gave better rewards for offline races and daily challenges and removed the upgrade materials from loot boxes or packs payable with real money, it would score so much higher. I’d actually rather pay $40-60 to buy the game and earn upgrades by progressing through the story. Rather than a free to play game with lootboxes.
The broken multiplayer system left a foul taste in my mouth, though I’m not one for playing racing games online anyway as the matching systems are always terrible and it’s really hard to sync users from all over the world in an environment like racing if it’s not a dedicated racing sim like Gran Turismo or Formula One. I only played a handful of matches online but never one a single one. I could see myself having a lot more enjoyment out of playing locally with some friends like the good ol’ days of Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing.
Where the game fails in elements of play, it exceeds in other areas. The design of the game is so user friendly, menus are easy to navigate and the UI is clean and gives just the right level of info without being too intrusive. The graphics and art are amazing and leagues above what I was expecting from a free to play title. And the audio too, ranks pretty high on my very strict rating. I’m not easy to impress with game soundtracks as I’ve been spoiled with some of the best in game music throughout my many gaming years. But Gameloft managed just that.
What I will say is this; Does Disney Speedstorm break the hold of the top three? No, does it come close? Almost. I applaud their effort in trying, I can definitely say I like playing this game’s content more than I do playing the most recent Mario Kart games (I’m a real sucker for Mario Kart 64, that for me was peak Mario Kart). But I also enjoy Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled far more and would choose that over Speedstrom eight out of ten times if given the choice. Is the game fun? Yes if playing solo, no if trying out the multiplayer. Is it worth downloading and experiencing for yourself? Absolutely. But it might not be worth all your time.
Game Genre – Kart Racing
Developers – Gameloft Barcelona
Publisher – Gameloft
Rating – General
Year of Release – 2023
Platforms – PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch
Mode(s) of Play – Single, Multiplayer
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