Available on: PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox
Played on: Switch
It’s hard to make a kart racer without becoming a Mario Kart clone. And why wouldn’t you? Nintendo perfected the formula back in the 90s. It’s kid-friendly racing, and it’s fun. And what better license to excel at kid-friendly than Disney?
Disney Speedstorm is the newest free-to-play, season pass-laden venture, and it’s a solidly built, well-designed, and just plain fun racing game.
Speedstorm doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you’ve played any version of Mario Kart, you know exactly how it plays: drivers race, hop, and drift around a fantastical course filled with hazards and powerups, flinging items at each other until reaching the finish line.
Speedstorm also embraces modern mobile game mechanics, such as season passes, oodles of cosmetic unlockables, as well as character rarities and classes.
The starting racer, Mickey Mouse, is a speedster, meaning he has top marks for acceleration, and gains mostly speed-based powerups. Donald Duck, meanwhile, is a brawler. He gets extra boosts from knocking into people, and can unleash more offensive-powered abilities.
Once enough character shards are earned to unlock a 2-star rating, that racer then gains access to their unique powerup ability. Sully can roar and stun those around him, while Mulan launches a gigantic firework missile.
The classes, powerups, and abilities make each racer play and feel unique, though I wish the karts were a little wackier and more visually distinct. How is Jack Sparrow not piloting a miniature pirate ship? No doubt a chance for super rare, purchasable cosmetics.
But Speedstorm makes up for it with the amazing courses. Only nine tracks are available at early access launch, but each one is a gloriously technicolor journey through the magical worlds of Disney. Crash through a movie theater and enter the black and white world of 1930s Mickey Mouse, race along the Great Wall of China, and dash past dancing napkins and beer steins of Beast’s Castle.
Each course is filled with multiple hazards, ramps, boosts, and, most importantly, diverging paths. Racing on a course for the first time is like an epic boss battle, where I haven’t yet learned all the right moves and patterns — tense, exciting, sometimes frustrating.
The racing action is also chaotic and colorful — in a good way. It’s more neon-drenched than Mario Kart, like an underground rollercoaster. And the music! Speedstorm remixes classic Disney songs such as “Zero to Hero” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” with driving techno beats, creating an absolutely fist-pumping chorus. I crank up the volume every time I play.
Freemium games are often overwhelming with different types of in-game currency and modes. Speedstorm suffers from freemium overdrive a bit, though thankfully playing through the Starter Circuit provides excellent on-boarding.
The Starter Circuit gently lays out easy objectives and helpful awards, including earning entirely new racers. Only by working your way through the Starter Circuit can you unlock other modes, such as Limited Events, Season Tour, and Ranked Multiplayer. A thumbs up tutorial!
The Season Tour is the next evolution of the Starter Circuit. Like all freemium games, Speedstorm will advance through seasons every six weeks or so. Each season will feature a different theme and Season Tour. Season 1, Unafraid, is all about Monsters, Inc. By completing objectives throughout the chapters, players can earn Monsters, Inc specific racers, upgrades, and kits.
There’s a ton of content in the season tours alone, though you’ll need to grind away and purchase the season pass if you want to earn everything you can.
Regularly rotating limited events offer special challenges, and look like a great way to earn shards to unlock racers (and increase their star rating).
Speedstorm also supports Ranked and Regulated Multiplayer modes. Regulated matches you to players of your own skill level. Local play also supports up to two player splitscreen.
As impressed as I am with the gameplay (and not entirely repulsed by the loot box, character shard stuff), I was shocked to find relatively few racers and courses. Kart racing fans are very spoiled with the hilarious amount of content in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but poor Speedstorm is only just leaving the pit crew.
Currently at early access launch, the following Disney properties are included: Mickey Mouse & Friends (3 racers), Beauty and the Beast (2 racers), Pirates of the Caribbean (2 racers), Jungle Book (2 racers), Monsters, Inc (4 racers), Hercules (2 racers), Mulan (2 racers) and one racer from Walt Disney World (Figment?).
Few companies in the world have access to more IP than Disney, and just about everyone could be thrown into a racecar. As a free-to-play (eventually), live service game, we can expect a lot more content throughout its life cycle, and thanks to the awesome level design, I’m just as excited about new courses as I am racers.
Disney Speedstorm is currently available via paid early access, by purchasing a Founder’s Pack. It’s rated E for Everyone.