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Monday, May 20, 2024

Disney Speedstorm Early Access Review

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You may have heard Disney Speedstorm was going to launch as a free-to-play kart racer from the crew behind Gameloft’s long-running Asphalt series. In fact, you may have heard this because that’s what we told you about it back when it was unveiled in June last year. Well, that’s changed. It’s still a kart racer from the Asphalt team, but it’s not actually going to officially launch in its free-to-play state until late 2023 or early 2024. What we have in its place is an “Early Access” version of Speedstorm that just… costs money to play – which, of course, is how all good video games worked before the game industry started copying the gambling industry’s homework. However, despite packing an entirely decent brand of arcade racing action on track, Speedstorm’s drowning level of gacha guff and free-to-play DNA may leave those shelling out a fee to play feeling a little goofy.

For those of you curious about how Speedstorm’s Early Access program works – and what you’ll receive for your money beyond simply being able to play it – a 5,000-word FAQ awaits you on its official website. This is roughly 4,950 more words than I generally like to absorb before playing what’s ostensibly a family-friendly kart racer. At any rate, if you come out the other side of that under the impression Speedstorm is a mobile game masquerading as a PC and console game, know that in its current Early Access state that feels like a fairly accurate way to describe it.

The Bare Necessities

This is unfortunate for a few reasons, though none more so than the fact that, on track, Speedstorm is a plucky little arcade combat kart racer. It’s got a great drift feel in particular, with easy mid-slide adjustment that allows us to open them up into long, low-angle powerslides. There’s also a really satisfying ability to transition between drift directions very smoothly. With responsive controls and a good sense of weight to the karts as they jostle on track and crash back to the course from jumps, I really don’t have any complaints about the handling at all – and that’s obviously a massively crucial part of any kart racer equation. That, and four-player split-screen – which thankfully Speedstorm has, albeit only on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. PS4, Xbox One, and Switch only get two-player.

Disney Speedstorm Screens

There are also some interesting layers to the combat, with items able to be used in different ways depending on how you activate them. For instance, a fire pickup can be tapped to send flames licking from the side of your kart that will stun any opponents you touch, or charged over a few seconds to trigger a blast all around you that can knock out multiple other racers simultaneously. The jellyfish pickup can be triggered to make you temporarily invisible, or it can be charged to become an attacking forcefield that will actually explode and take out opponents. There’s just a little more depth to the combat here than usual, and I can appreciate that.

Each of the characters also has a distinct themed power-up. Donald Duck, for instance, gets a protective raft that turns into a ghostly flurry of fists. I like these close-quarters attacks over the ranged ones, and they seem to work well with my driving style and Speedstorm’s tightly bunched racing. I also have a lot of time for Donald Duck because he’s angry, a World War II veteran, and he’s too proud for pants.

I have a lot of time for Donald Duck because he’s angry, a World War II veteran, and he’s too proud for pants.


On that note, the dartboard approach to Disney characters represented in Speedstorm has resulted in a pretty random shortlist of characters and tracks for launch, with The Jungle Book, Hercules, The Pirates of the Caribbean, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, and Monsters, Inc. making the cut alongside Mickey and his mates. The modern race suits are a cute touch but I reckon the art team has missed a trick with the vehicles, which seem super vanilla compared to the karts of something like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which are brimming with personality to match their drivers.

The selection has made for tracks that all boast sufficiently different atmospheres – from a dank pirate port to the Monsters, Inc. factory, and from Disney’s black-and-white origins to the opulence of Mount Olympus – but they’re not especially technical and don’t tend to feel very different to one another during the moment-to-moment racing. The bigger problem is, despite seemingly boasting several track ribbons per environment, the courses reuse such significant sections I’m simply never able to tell them apart within locations. There’s more variety in the remixed music tracks than the racing tracks. As a result, Speedstorm begins to feel very repetitive very early.

It doesn’t help that this solo format of one-off races is frankly a bit boring – and when your competition is incumbents like the untouchable Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and the terrific Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, that’s a problem. Obviously I’m fully aware that, with its destiny as a live service game, there’s no doubt that there’s a whole wad of new tracks in the pipe set to arrive at regular intervals – but they’re not here yet. So what are you buying right now? Some digital tokens and an exclusive racing suit that tells people you were here before they were? That’s a tough sell.

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Gosh it Disturbs Me to See You, Gacha

This brings us to the point where this 40-year-old dad checks out both physically and spiritually, because gacha-style, mobile-inspired upgrade and currency systems are like absolute kryptonite to me. Put clearly, the sheer amount of menu nonsense and overlapping economies in Speedstorm is simply absurd.

Put clearly, the sheer amount of menu nonsense and overlapping economies in Speedstorm is simply absurd.


Tokens are blue. You earn these from completing objectives during races and moving up reward tiers, and we will apparently be able to buy Tokens to access locked content faster. Then there are tokens that are like Tokens, but yellow. These are Season Coins. You get these from moving through the Golden Pass, which is Speedstorm’s battlepass equivalent. I bought that with a Golden Pass Credit. That’s another currency that came with the Early Access pack, separate to the Tokens and Season Coins. Then there are the Seasonal Tickets and Universal Box Credits, which seem like Tokens but they’re purple.

Also separate are the Multiplayer Coins, which are tokens that naturally come from competing online. There’s ranked multiplayer racing, where you take your characters in at whatever level you have them, and “regulated” racing, where racer stats are standardised. I’ve won races in both, but kart racing seems quite soulless racing against strangers and I can’t understand the appeal. It belongs on the couch, if you ask me.

You’ll have to do it if you want to use the Speedstorm shop, though, because sometimes things cost Multiplayer tokens. However, some other things cost blue tokens, and some things cost yellow tokens. Sometimes they cost a purple one, because why not? Sometimes items are just there, a la carte, and sometimes they’re in a blind box. Did I mention there are different types of boxes? There are different types of boxes.

Then there are Racer Shards, which are essentially another currency unique to each individual character that you use to unlock racers and upgrade your characters’ star levels, and then there are upgrade materials, which also stack as basically another currency you also need to upgrade your characters. You’ll need to do that to keep up with the competition. This stuff can be found in the loot boxes you earn playing, rewarded via the Golden Pass, or simply bought from the shop with one of several currencies. Maybe in a box. Maybe not. For 1,200 Tokens I bought 20 Mulan shards, which are automatically traded for one Mulan star. I want to make my Mike Wazowski faster, but now I need four Scare Tanks, one turbo, and four wrenches, and I'm short two wrenches. Did anybody say any of this out loud?

This doesn’t sound like a game; it sounds like a job.


Are you still following? Because frankly I don’t think I am anymore. The mechanical monkey in my brain just backflipped off a building. I haven’t even got to the crew mechanic, which appears to be JPGs of other random Disney characters here to be another thing you need to upgrade. Or the Loot Points. Or the Collection Level, which are points, but different. Are kids meant to understand this? This doesn’t sound like a game; it sounds like a job.

Verdict

Disney Speedstorm in Early Access is a fundamentally good kart racer that’s currently too light on tracks and too repetitive to warrant the required investment. Worse still, it’s buried beneath a veritable Splash Mountain of gacha garbage and so many discrete currencies that do different things that it almost seems like a parody of the entire free-to-play genre. Nothing sucks like gacha, plucks your bucks like gacha, makes you jump through hoops for Donald Duck like gacha.

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