Disney Speedstorm Review
Much like Gameloft’s other major Disney game on the Xbox, Disney Dreamlight Valley, Disney Speedstorm has abandoned the Founders Pack model and moved to free-to-play. Everyone can now pull on the white Mickey Mouse gloves and give it a go. Sounds like it’s time to file the ‘P’ off ‘Preview’ and give it the full verdict.
Coming back to Disney Speedstorm after playing it to death a year ago, it’s clear that two things remain very much the same. One, this is an astonishingly polished karting game. Across every conceivable axis – the feel of the karts, the quality of the tracks, even the drum and bass-lite Disney tunes – Disney Speedstorm is slick, perhaps slicker than any karting game we’ve played. Two, that slickness is flooded with currencies, events and live service trappings. No number of Sorceror’s Apprentice brooms can possibly mop it away.
That one-two combo of fantastic racing and overwrought games-as-a-service makes Disney Speedstorm a complicated game to recommend. Because if you’re someone who has a violent allergy to live service models, and often complains about the state of the games industry for that very reason, then we’d push you away from Disney Speedstorm. Its business model has such a large presence in the game, and it is so repeatedly pushed on you, that it becomes impossible to ignore. You are engaging with it on a moment-to-moment basis. This is a distant cousin from the relaxed monetisation of Disney Dreamlight Valley.
Kids are going to get nothing from it, we should note. My eight-year old bounced out of it almost immediately. She just didn’t know where the game was on occasion, buried as it is within various modes. She had specific racers that she wanted to unlock, like Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, but the characters were not only inaccessible: they were locked in Ultimate Boxes and other such bundles, which meant handing over real-world cash (with extreme RNG, since characters are composed of shards and you need ten to unlock each) or grinding to unlock them over hours. Going from Super Mario Kart 8 to Disney Speedstorm can be like getting hit round the face by a brick of gold bullion.
Playing solo, working through the various season passes, the pay-to-win doesn’t bite much. It hurts on occasion, particularly when you’re moving into the higher character levels or working on the latter tabs of the season pass (and gosh there is so much season pass content to play). But mostly there is a well-designed curve that means you always have at least one racer who can participate in the hardest challenge for your level.
Playing multiplayer is a different beast, however. Regulated multiplayer is a godsend that levels the playing field by putting everyone on the same Level 30. But participate in any other multiplayer mode, like Ranked, and the progress you’ve made on your characters really does make a difference. That might mean insane persistence and grind, or it could mean hundreds of £££s spent in the Speedstorm store.
We hate that we have to spend such a large proportion of the review covering these caveats. We’re even sympathetic: it’s stupendously clear that Gameloft have pumped money into Disney Speedstorm, and the cash is up there to be seen on the screen. Incredibly talented people have made this. That needs to be paid for, and a free-to-play model means that fans not only get a low barrier to entry, but there are plenty of people waiting to play in the multiplayer lobbies. You might never get that in a £59.99 title.
But by golly did we wish it was a £59.99. Because this is one of the best karting games out there, challenging even Super Mario Kart – once you have every character unlocked to play with, of course.
The karts in particular feel intuitive. The drift has the speed and snap of the absolute best, not only bursting you ahead at speed, but also adding to your energy bar for a future speed boost. Get good and you can turn on a dime. Then there are the weapons, with one bespoke weapon per kart – Donald Duck madly punching, Genie randomly choosing from three wishes – and they can all (and we do mean ALL) be fired backwards or forwards. There’s even a charge for each weapon, where holding the button has an increased effect. Mario Kart should get its pen and paper ready to take notes.
The tracks are similarly well-thought out. There’s more here than we remember from a year ago – clearly, the cupboards have been restocked. Our favourite is still a track starting in a cinema that crashes through the screen and into a black-and-white series of twists and turns. But a Monsters Inc. track across the factory floor, plunging through doors to different realities, is fast overtaking it. Each of these tracks have a multitude of shortcuts and winding Tony Hawk-style skate-rails, allowing for a sudden move into the lead.
The racing has so few flaws. The pyrotechnics can get a bit much on occasion, and our younger players simply don’t know which way to go (we’ve established that Disney Speedstorm is more for adults). We also found the chaos of being in the mid-positions to be prohibitive: you’re getting bashed about so much, and so often, that it can feel like you’re never going to win. And because we were playing so often, grinding away for the best items, the tracklist felt a little on the light side. We know these tracks back-to-front now.
You can probably see our dilemma. Disney Speedstorm is a masterful technical achievement and absolutely in the upper echelons of karting games. It just oozes class. But it’s dripfed through a live service that couldn’t possibly let you have everything at once, and a series of currencies and unlocks that seem designed to bemuse. We’re not normally sensitive to free-to-play games with this degree of live service, but even Disney Speedstorm got us hankering for a one-time price tag.
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