Gameloft is a mobile first studio with a lot of experience creating snappy and responsive racing games through its Asphalt series. Disney Speedstorm represents their second foray into PC and console gaming using the popular Disney license, following the friendly Disney Dreamlight Valley life sim. And while Gameloft’s expertise in creating racing games done right is on full display, complete with plenty of fun callbacks for Disney fans, it also feels as though it’s imported some of the market’s confusing microtransaction baggage. mobile.
As a racer, Disney Speedstorm carries himself with a level of earned confidence, nailing the feel of a veteran go-kart racer right from the start. The cars here are similar in size to real small cars, at least, as far as I can tell from the proportions of the human characters, which is more reminiscent of the Sonic Racing series than the tiny, speedy go-karts in Mario Kart. Vehicles grip the road well and take tight turns with well-calibrated drift mechanics. If you’ve played a kart racer or even any arcade racing game in recent years, you’ll immediately feel at home getting behind the wheel.
Where it starts to set itself apart is in its variety of characters, each with their own classes and special abilities. These include the differences you’d expect in stats like handling or top speed, but classes also have a much bigger impact by changing mechanics, like how you gain boost. Your boost meter is an important part of racing strategy in Speedstorm, and each class is designed to get its boost function differently. Brawlers, for example, gain boost when they successfully stun an opponent, meaning they excel when they’re in the thick of the action, while defenders gain boost by moving away from their opponent’s trails.
Disney Speedstorm – Founder’s Packs Trailer
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Within those classes, individual characters also have their own powers. Donald Duck is one of several fighters, for example, but he’s the only one with the “Why Should He” special ability, which puts up a defensive shield and then unleashes a flurry of punches if he’s hit. The increased variety rewards eagle-eyed Disney fans for recognizing references while also making each racer feel different, even within the same class. There are a variety of regular items that each character can pick up, but having a wide variety of different powers between characters really makes them stand out as their own. The cars themselves have far less personality, though they have only very slight touches of characterization in a set of similar cars.
Another nice twist comes in the form of Crews. Each racer has its own set of support characters, familiar supporting characters from their own movies and cartoons, who can be equipped on the racer to improve certain stats. These run the gamut, from widely recognized companion animals like Khan, Mulan’s horse, or Pluto, Mickey’s dog, to hidden deep cuts like Gus Goose.
Visually, each character has been given a Speedstorm makeover, which works quite well but can be inconsistent. More cartoony characters like Mickey Mouse and Sully from Monsters Inc. look great, and even live-action characters like Jack Sparrow have been given a stylized makeover. The rare exception is animated human characters, like the Disney princess variety, who often look a bit out of place. Some look better than others, but overall they seem flatter and less visually interesting than the other corridors.
The biggest treat for Disney fans, however, comes in the design of the track. These are loosely inspired by their film properties, such as Hercules’ Mount Olympus or a pirate ship from the Pirates of the Caribbean. The tracks are packed with clever bits of character and references, and many include upbeat, jazzy remixes of popular songs from Disney’s animated musicals. They go round and round and defy gravity to dizzying effect, but the signage is always crystal clear and feels utterly fair.
And design-wise, some of the tracks are remarkably slick. The Silver Screen begins in an old theater with a classic black and white cartoon of Mickey Mouse. As you start the run, you dash across the screen and into a black and white world, before going around the theater in color and then teleporting across the screen again.
For added variety, each track type is home to several courses, and Speedstorm also features some alternate modes that are mostly great fun. A Fog Challenge severely limits your line of sight, for example, while the Floating Object Challenge forces you to plan daring jumps to earn items or hit booster pads. The only bad mode I found was Last One Standing, which slowly eliminates the runners in last place until only one remains. It’s a good idea, but whoever loses a health point is boosted against other runners. That means if you’re in first place with only two riders left, your opponent could be automatically boosted in front of you and you only have a second or two to pass them before they take you out.
All of these mechanics are explained through an extensive set of tutorial races called the Starter Circuit that mostly limit you to certain racers and tracks. It’s there that you learn how to upgrade your racers, their special power sets, and more. It’s also where you get your first bitter taste of the aggressive progression mechanic.
I first ran into the progression gate in chapter 4 as Mulan. After navigating without difficulty, I suddenly landed on a run with a recommended level of 6. I had hit the limit of 5, and without the necessary upgrade material to level Mulan up again, I was stuck there. I went ahead and ran anyway, and achieved the objectives with a little more difficulty than usual, but then the next run recommended level 7. So I moved on to the next chapter and played around with Hercules, until I ran into a problem. similar there. This seems meant to push you into the other modes, but it’s weird to take it out of the tutorial before completing it.
I entered the Season Tour to earn upgrade materials, but eventually ran into another hurdle: I couldn’t proceed without a Monsters Inc. character, none of which I currently had. So I looked up how to get one and found that I could earn shards for Celia Mae, one of the eligible characters, by participating in a limited time event. I headed over to these to find more Celia shards and started doing those runs. But getting enough shards to win her would require completing Apprentice, Advanced, or Expert level events, which, again, required a higher level racer than she currently had. Frankly, it’s just a confusing mess of menus, and you shouldn’t need a flowchart to figure out how to unlock a character. You can’t buy currency or characters with real money in this early access period, but the inscrutable menu layout and multiple currencies are indistinguishable from countless microtransaction-infused mobile games.
Timed events are especially frustrating because the leveling requirements make it feel like you can’t get certain rewards when you only have a limited amount of time to get them. I’m sure they’ll bike in and out, but it feels bad to find yourself hopelessly outmatched in timed events with rewards that are going to disappear, even temporarily. In fact, I tried to enter a level 12 race with my best racer, a level 8 Donald Duck, and it wasn’t even close.
Gameloft may resolve these issues while the game is still in its Early Access period. I hope so, because Disney Speedstorm makes a fantastic first impression thanks to its strong racing mechanics and spirited reverence for Disney canon. While the first few hours of Disney Speedstorm are a raucous joyride, the level activation mechanics and confusing web of menus are a blinking “engine control” light. It doesn’t immediately spoil the fun, but it’s definitely cause for alarm.
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