Thanks Gameloft for sending us a copy of the standard edition to preview.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had a harder game to review. Disney Speedstorm is Gameloft’s attempt to make a kart racer using the catalog that Disney has available, but with a bit of a twist. It is a very fast, high octane, aggressive kart racer loaded with tons of free-to-play (ftp) mechanics. I have currently played the game for around four months and frankly I’m hooked, though not as badly as I could be.
Before going any further I would like to mention the elephant in the room: the price. Now, the price isn’t that bad. You are basically paying $30 for a kart racer with Disney characters in it. That feels reasonable. The issue that this is the early access price. Near the end of September the game is going to be going fully ftp. This latest season finally added in the microtransactions so I can finally review them, but there is likely more to come once it releases for free.
With that out of the way, what is Disney Speedstorm? As mentioned, it is a kart racer featuring characters from Disney’s catalog, though currently just Disney and Pixar, plus the parks, without any Marvel or Star Wars and apparently no plans to add them in the near future. What things are included are sorted into collections with each having a few racers, pit crew, and a track map. The basic gameplay loop is set up with a lot of things to grind out daily to get upgrades and a battlepass which seems very core to progression and tied very heavily into getting new unlocks. This battlepass is jsut a series of unlocks, with paid and free options, that you complete from doing seasonal missions and seasonal races. Racing is fairly simple, but each racer falls into one of four classes and has their own selection of power ups they can get from item boxes on the tracks. In addition to these items you also have a dedicated sideswipe button to slam into another, spin them out, and get some various boosts for doing so depending on your class.
Honestly, for me, while the racing can be fun, it isn’t my favorite type of kart racer. It’s just very aggressive with a very high potential skill level with all the things you can do to mess up opponents. Luckily, there is a lot that can be done without playing the online multiplayer, which is what I spend the majority of my time doing. There are a few tutorial races to go through, which are a bit slow, but the game proceeds to unlock the rest of the features from completing them. Once you unlock the seasonal events that is where I’d say he game really begins. These are a selection of races that goes along with the current battlepass. Each pass, at least so far, is centered on a new collection, like Monsters Inc and Toy Story, and rewards you those racers, pit crew, and materials to upgrade them. It also awards you various other rewards that can help you level up or unlock the various other characters currently available.
So far, each pass has given out at least four racers, with each being one of the four classes, and a lot of upgrade materials to easily make them your strongest racers in your collection. When I first started out I complained to a friend about how daunting the pass looked, but since then I’ve come to love how Gameloft made it. Now, it is daunting still, but it is very easy to progress through. If you complete all the seasonal events that come with the pass, you should easily be able to complete all 50 levels of it. You add that in with the weekly missions you should be able to complete from just playing, at least some of them, and you should make some steady progress. The seasonal events are also the main place I’ve found any of the more interesting gamemodes such as Last One Standing or Follow the Leader.
Now, while the seasonal event and the battlepass are a very large part of the game, there are some other things to do. The biggest thing is the daily events. These are just a series of races with certain challenges attached that seem to repeat weekly that give you coins, generic upgrade parts, and collection specific parts. These aren’t bad to do, and feel really great when you level up racers enough to tackle the harder challenges, but I’ve grown bored of these over time as I’ve done the exact same race with the same racer some 20 times. There’s also some other longer form events that offer similar rewards, but usually for one of the new racers added in that season. There’s also some cups that appear. These are basically a time trial, but you are forced to race against the AI and try for the best time each week in order to get rewards based on your placement. These aren’t bad, but are very random and rely a lot on luck. Enemies and item boxes are on which means combat is on too. You can also just not get anything from the boxes that could speed you up while other times you only get speed boosts.
The rest of the main modes are all multiplayer. You have Regulated Multiplayer, Ranked, and Custom Lobby. Custom Lobby allows you to set up a lobby that allows 7 other players to join off your lobby's code. I haven't seen a way to let random people join you without giving them your lobby's code first. Regulated sets all racers at the same level and pits you against each other for rewards. You can use any unlocked character plus any other that is given out for trial that week. Rewards rotate weekly and the mode offers enough rewards to unlock any featured character and give you a crew for them plus a few upgrade items. This mode is great for unlocking new racers, but not as great later when you need more than 10 pieces to make any progress with leveling them. (The Latest update changed the pieces acquired from this mode to 3 so it is basically totally worthless.) The last mode is Ranked Multiplayer. Each racer you have has their own rank and bring in their level, crew, and anything else you have assigned to them. You can start from the bottom with a level 30 racer and just trash some new players or get thrashed yourself by a bigger fish. This mode is very punishing, but increasing rank for each character unlocks more pieces and upgrade materials for that racer so it is good to do to level them more. It is also an okay source of the multiplayer coins.
One thing I really feel like I need to mention is the rubberbanding and other catch up mechanics. The second season had largely fixed the rubberbanding, but with the start of the third season it is back again, and this time with vengeance. With how this game works with the stats and levels there should be times where you are absolutely curb stomping the AI since the race is recommended for level 10 and you are level 35. Presently, it isn’t as bad as season one when everyone would be passing you, but there seems to be one or two racers picked each race to be either higher level or use more hidden catch up mechanics, but now also either pass you doing a sideswipe to slow you down or use some offensive item. They currently aren’t as bad with the speed, but they really like to annoy you. I’ve had some never pass me, but stick in range to keep shooting things at me even though I should be running circles around them. AI catchup aside, there’s largely one other current method of catchup and that is the clock ability. When you are far enough back behind first place you can get this ability from a box, and it will just teleport you forward. Now, I’m not sure the exact values or how it determines how far forward to stick you, but I have gotten knocked from second to fifth from people getting this and teleporting in front of me. It won’t stick you in front of first, but every other position seems to be fair game. They recently made some adjustments to it, but it is still in the game and is very annoying. It doesn’t even effect first place since you will always still be a ways behind them.
Artistically this game isn’t that bad looking, but I do hate how they try to do a unified art direction and some characters just wind up looking off. Some translate really well, namely the 3D Pixar films, but any of the more stylized 2D series look off. Also, and this might just be me, but I’m not the biggest fan of putting the characters into racing suits. You remove some of the characters from their iconic outfits and they look just like a generic human, especially if they don’t even sound the same. Personally, the Pirates of the Caribbean racers are the worst with this, but they did at least let Jack keep his signature hair and bandana combo. Elizabeth Swan is just some random blonde with a bad accent. The vehicles themselves are nice, but they do lack a lot of personality. There just isn’t very much that screams this is a racing kart driven by a pirate, and it's similar for other characters. Each character has a preassigned kart that can have the wheels, spoiler, license plate, and colors edited, but only with pieces that you collected from completing missions, battlepasses, or the lootboxes.
The tracks themselves look nice, but the individual races can be a bit confusing. There’s a few set worlds that the tracks are picked from with each race using different portions of the worlds, but with how they are made you see a lot of the same sections and I’ve found it very easy to forget the proper turn if you think it is a different layout. I also feel it is worth saying a lot of the tracks feel a bit generic. Now some are really good and stand out very much as representing their collection, such as Toy Story and the black and white retro track, but others feel like you are in a jungle or Greek mythology cloud track. Some of the more recent tracks have done better about both of these issues, and I really like the Lilo and Stitch map, but I’d love to see some of the older ones revamped with more iconic details. For playing this on the Switch I think it looks really good, but there are certainly a few loading issues with the textures of the track sometimes popping between higher and lower fidelity details. I’ve also had some issues with races starting without loading in bits of my kart. Sometimes it was no wheels, others no interior, and others was no racer. Most of these races ended in the game crashing.
Sound design is really good, at least depending on what sort of genre of music you like. Most levels are based off of some Disney property that has some iconic music attached to it. That music makes an appearance for these races, but almost all of it is remixed into some nightcore or electro dance music sounding cover. Now, each world has a few different versions of these songs with some having more lyrics while others less, but annoyingly most seem to be the same exact song that is remixed. While there is some variation, it is largely the same sounding thing. Some of these work really well, like “Make a Man Out of You" while others less so such as “You Got a Friend in Me.” The Jungle Book is the worst offender with its songs having maybe one whole line from the original songs used in it. Vehicle sounds are also present in the races, and sound decent, but I’ve been getting a lot of bugs causing lots of the kart noises to not make any sound. The races feel really weird like that.
Speaking of weird, there’s a lot of oddities with the voice acting. Some genuinely sound like the characters, while others sound like someone trying to sound like them, while still others sound barely anything like them. Now I’ll give some of these voices a pass since the movies came out some 30 years ago. It is likely really hard to get all those same people back. The weird thing is there are others like Buzz and Woody where I’m pretty sure they are voiced by Tim and Tom. They are also saying things more related to racing than I would think they could get by simply ripping lines from the movies. I’m really curious if some of these lines are reused lines from other past racing games that Disney had made and they simply allowed them to get reused here. For the most part I don’t find the voices that bad, though they did massacre my Pirates, but it is very hit or miss with whether or not your favorites might sound the same or not.
As for the controls, I honestly hate them. For the Switch version you get two controller layout options, which are labelled incorrectly in the options menu. The default option requires you to hit three buttons on the right side of the controller to fire a skill backwards. The second option, which I like less, but have to use, let’s you flick the right stick backwards to use a backwards skill, but that stick is also shared with your sideswipe options. I really wish these were separate, since I’ve had some issue with my inputs not being read correctly. Right now there are two accessibility options, auto drive and auto turn, which is nice, but I also would appreciate a color blind option, especially with the Color Match race type.
Stability has honestly been hot garbage over my time with the game. There’s been a load of different bugs, too many to list here, and some have been present since I’ve started playing. They seem to fix some near the beginning of every season, which is about every two months, but they always introduce new ones. Currently, the store has a really hard time loading and seems to crash and reset every time I go into it the first time. I’ve also had the game drop my connection to the internet, which is very much needed to play, and waste one of my limited race attempts. The game still crashes on me a few times a week and that’s one that’s been happening since I started. Now, I’ve also had some really weird interactions with my controllers. I’ve played the game a few times in handheld mode, but there was one occasion it refused to let me play until I unattached my joycons. There is another semi-frequent issue when the game will require me to connect my controller again, including mid-race. The most frustrating issue I’ve had constantly is there is sometimes some delay after picking up an item and being able to use it. Usually it works instantly, but I’ve had a few instances where it takes around two seconds for it to be able to be used. Sometimes when I’m trying to fire it backwards, it will shoot forwards with it registering the forward movement of my stick back to neutral after flicking it backwards. I’ve also had many instances of the game freezing, though it isn’t too bad in single-player since the whole race halts, but it is a serious issue in multiplayer.
As for moral content, there isn’t much to mention. This is a kart racer with some offensive abilities, but nobody is getting hurt from any of the abilities. The Biggest thing would likely be your stance on some of the included properties, such as Hercules. A lot of his stuff comes from Greek mythology including the minor mentions of Hel, but the Greek one with a single L. There is also almost magic, at least it looks like it, but the game refers to those abilities as hacking. There’s also a few lines which are a bit darker, such as Randall threatening to shove you into a door chipper, but that’s the worst one I’ve heard so far. The biggest annoyance is the game sent a bunch of pride customizations to everyone during June, including some I haven’t even heard of before. That level of degeneracy does have me worried for what stuff they could push on the playerbase in the future, but one can mostly just ignore that stuff.
The biggest thing I’d like to cover before ending this review is the current spending options. For just a bit longer the game will still have a price tag in order to play it, but that is soon going away. Instead, it will be FTP and will include a decent bit of microtranactions. Over the three seasons I have played, each one has been less and less generous, and I’m a bit worried about how bad it might be when fully free. Things cost a quite a bit of money and there aren’t many decent things to spend on. The best thing is the battlepass, but other than that it is largely meh cosmetics and some various boosts to progression with certain racers. Currently I don’t feel a large need to spend, though I did have a couple seasons head start, but if you are someone who easily falls into the trap of spending large sums on microtransactions, I’d likely advice you to stay away. The developers did an excellent job of adding in dopamine hits to get you to want to spend and get just a little bit better. If I was a parent looking at getting this for my kid I likely wouldn’t buy it, but that is largely because in about a month you can get it for free and save $30. With that being said, if you like what the game is, I do think getting the $30 option is a great deal given what all it gets you. You get at least around $60 of value if you were to just buy it all with microtransactions at a later date.
Overall, I still find myself enjoying Speedstorm, but just not as much as I once did. I’m currently only logging in around once or twice a week and doing whatever new stuff they released in my time away. I'm really looking forward to it going FTP so I can hop on with some friends and properly try out coop, but I'm still having fun grinding it out and watching numbers go up. Also I'm really looking forward to the day they decide to add in my favorite Disney villain: the Carnotaurus. I'm really looking forward to the game lasting long enough to add those odder racers into the game.
-Paul Barnard (Betuor)