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August 2022

Disney Speedstorm

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Gameloft
Developer: Gameloft
Release Date: Summer 2022


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Disney Speedstorm'

by Cody Medellin on June 20, 2022 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Disney Speedstorm is a free-to-play, cross-platform arcade racing game where you battle other players on tracks inspired by Disney and Pixar films.

Few companies can boast such a wealth of characters like Disney. Even if you limit them by taking away Marvel and Star Wars, the number of characters from the main Disney and Pixar divisions is plentiful, and you'll be hard-pressed to find someone from any generation unable to name at least one character. In the game space, the company has tried to use this to its advantage in the kart racing space a few times, and while Mickey's Speedway USA and Walt Disney World Quest Magical Racing Tour are decent, they don't have the staying power that the Mario Kart franchise has enjoyed. Disney Speedstorm is its third attempt at creating a kart racer, and the results from the closed beta are stunning.

Speedstorm has a familiar foundation but also sports some differences and new elements that make this more exciting than its previous kart racing attempts. A boost can be activated at the starting line, but there's a visible meter showing exactly where you need to fill the meter to get that boost. Drifting gives you a boost if you hold down the button long enough, but now, it also powers a meter that boosts with the press of a button. The jumping feature, which few kart racing games have, now feels more useful, since the leap is high enough to avoid track hazards and leap over opponents. Jumping is necessary to reach rails that also fill up the boost meter. Items can still be thrown in front of you or behind you, but you can charge them up to make them more effective; you can't hold them in place when you perform a charge, though. Coupled with a default speed that feels like the 100cc equivalent to Mario Kart initially, the game feels like some real effort has been expended to create something new and fun for the genre.

The characters are a good mix thus far, but none of the Pixar racers are here yet. You have mainstays like Donald and Mickey, along with movie characters like Belle and Beast from "Beauty and the Beast." Others like Mulan make an appearance as well, but what's more impressive is how some characters that aren't often used in games get to shine here. Mowgli and Baloo from "The Jungle Book" are present, and the same goes for Megara and Hercules. You expect Jack Sparrow to show up but not Elizabeth Swann. It's promising to see the game go with these less-used characters early on, and the hope is that the diverse mix continues as the game keeps going. That mix of popular and lesser-known characters extends to each racer's supporting cast, where you have the likes of Mushu, Mrs. Potts, Gus Goose, and Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse, all of whom grant stat boosts when you equip their badges to your racer.

The cast of characters come with some interesting quirks. They each come with a special attack that can be picked up on the track. For example, Donald punches everyone next to him, Jack Sparrow has a field of spinning cutlasses near him, and Mulan throws out a bevy of fireworks with a sizable explosion area. Characters are split into different classes that determine how they'll earn their boost, whether it's through attacking, drafting, drifting or hitting turbo pads on the track. Aside from having different stats, you can upgrade each character and assign them the crew members to augment those stats further, but you can't mix and match franchises that way. One thing that you'll notice is that the characters have a more uniform look; everyone is clad in hi-tech racing suits and drive cars that look like equally hi-tech racing machines. Some will be disappointed to not see some of the more ridiculous things, like The Black Pearl on wheels, but the sacrifice is worth it to see characters in new garb.

The tracks also follow along with the character themes, like racing around Mount Olympus or jungle ruins. Things get freer in terms of theme with Mickey and Donald as you race through a movie theater that eventually blends into a Steamboat Willie-inspired color scheme and a more general one with nods to Toontown and House of Mouse. What's striking are the multiple pathways that appear for each course that are more apparent than hidden so you can spend time experimenting to find your best racing line rather than keeping an eye out on seeing hints of road versus just racing.

Graphically, the game is fine. You'll notice a lower polygon count on the characters that's evident when you look at Mickey's ears, which aren't completely round. Enter a track, and you'll see the textures start to pop in during the pre-race fly-by. Beyond those issues, everything else looks quite good. The characters animate well and have a good deal of expressions to deliver for any situation. The tracks look outstanding, and the particle effects are vibrant. The game runs at quite a high frame rate, so everything so far looks visually appealing.

The sound, on the other hand, is an unexpected highlight of the package. The inclusion of character voices that have a great number of lines is always nice, especially for those still reeling from the pair of Nickelodeon kart racers that failed to provide them, but the music will immediately catch your attention. Every single track is EDM themed with a Disney undertone, so you'll hear stuff like the "Mickey Mouse Club" theme or riffs from the opening song in "Hercules" combined with bass drops. It absolutely works both in-game and on its own, and it's perhaps the best part of the game so far.

Of course, the one factor that might immediately kill interest for some is the fact that this is a free-to-play game, and that means microtransactions. The closed beta gives us access to a good chunk of the store, where we see three different currency types, one of which can be earned in-game with a decent amount of play and challenge completion. One is presumably obtained via real cash transactions, but that was unavailable in the beta, and one was more easily obtained through the season pass. Character unlocks are mostly done here, and this is also where you obtain items needed to power up racer stats, but except for a few opportunities to get specific items, most are handled via a loot box system. It's not new if you're familiar with mobile games, and you get at least five playable drivers if you finish the starter set of courses. Opening a box to get a random crew member versus a new driver can lead to loads of disappointment, especially given the target age group for anything related to Disney.

If you aren't turned off by its free-to-play nature, then you'll be pleasantly surprised by Disney Speedstorm. There's some effort put into doing something different in the kart genre, and it pays off thus far in creating something that feels fresh. The use of the license is good, as they are already including characters who rarely show up in games, and the soundtrack is an absolute banger. The loot box-filled microtransaction system will be divisive, but the game's free-to-play nature means that people can jump in and out without much risk. We'll be curious to see how Disney Speedstorm shapes up when it fully releases sometime in 2022.

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