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Disney Speedstorm: a live-service karting game shouldn’t be this good

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We’re happy to order some humble pie and eat it. When Gameloft SE were announced as partners with Disney, looking to bring a life-sim (Disney Dreamlight Valley) and a karting game (Disney Speedstorm) to home consoles, we held back a chortle. Call it console elitism, but Gameloft SE were better known for mobile franchises like Modern Combat and Order & Chaos, and the prospect of their live-service games coming to both console and Disney seemed unappetising. 

In goes the humble pie. While Disney Dreamlight Valley is far from perfect, it’s become a staple in our house. Our kids feel like they’ve graduated from Animal Crossing, and Disney Dreamlight Valley gives them something a little meatier in the quest department, with heroes dropping every few months. Oh man, I can see our kids’ baby steps to MMOs and I’m worried. And while Disney Dreamlight Valley is a live service game, which initially rang some alarms, it’s a generous take on battle passing and weekly challenges that doesn’t pester. 

disney speedstorm preview 1

It should have been an indication of how Disney Speedstorm should land. We’ve had some solid evenings with this new karting experience, exploring the full depths of its many game modes, and we can say with some confidence that Gameloft SE were the best people to take this on. Like Disney Dreamlight Valley it’s still got some issues, and we’re questioning some aspects of its longevity, but by golly is this a refined diamond of a karting game.

Some housekeeping first: Disney Speedstorm, like Dreamlight Valley, has not received its full release yet. It is, for all intents and purposes, a Game Preview game, and one that you need to pay for. By purchasing one of three founders’ packs – priced at £25.99, £44.99 and £59.99 with varying add-ons – then you can start playing now, with a plan to release the game for free in the future. But if you want to experience it now, then you pay your money and make your choice. 

Our first concern was how thick the layers of live-service might be. Disney Speedstorm is undoubtedly a game-as-a-service, with the tell-tale store, battle pass and weekly events. Simplicity takes a hit too, as it often does in these kinds of games. If you’re a parent, it’s worth noting that you will have to help your younger player through EULAs, semi-complicated menus and a noisy number of game modes. But when compared to the free but similarly live-servicey KartRider Drift, it’s a Fisher Price toy. It doesn’t come close to the constant notifications and labyrinthine menus of that game. 

The caveat is whether Disney Speedstorm has been balanced so that people will open their wallets. There’s been a fair amount of conversation around this online, and we’re going to be boringly on the fence. Take that £25.99 starting price: you don’t get a huge number of racers as standard – just Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck – and the bile starts rising up. But Disney Speedstorm is just being coy, and racers start arriving pretty fast as soon as you hit up its Starter Circuit and Season Tour. Soon, you will have Goofy, Hercules, Jack Sparrow and more (as a note, the choice of characters is eccentrically wayward. Did we really need Elizabeth Swan, Li Shang and Celia Mae from Monsters Inc?). Disney Speedstorm just wants you to earn your way, and that means winning a few races and making some progress. Money doesn’t necessarily come into it. 

disney speedstorm preview 2

The problem comes with the upgrade structure. Each racer can be upgraded, and those upgrades need resources. You can also bolt-on up to three crew members, with passive effects, and those are upgradable with resources. We found getting characters to level 10 was a cinch, and often arrived there through natural progress. But getting past that milestone was ornery. There didn’t seem to be an easy and consistent method of gaining the resources, and the feelings of grind edged in. 

Will you care? That’s a question. Upgrading characters is vital if you want to push through the Ranked Multiplayer, which will be the go-to for sweaty players. Huge piles of cash or long swathes of grind will be mandatory for anyone who wants to reach the top ranks, and that will be dealbreaker for a lot of people, particularly considering the cost of the Founders’ Packs. The larger packs cost more than a Mario Kart 8 cartridge, for example. 

But we’re going to be apologists. Because there’s Regulated Multiplayer, as an alternative to Ranked, which gives you a few karts to try and levels you up automatically to level 30. Or there’s Season Tour, Limited Events, Starter Circuit, Local Freeplay and Private Tracks. We’ll go into them in more detail when it’s review time, but know there are plenty of modes where the upgrade level is all but irrelevant. 

But the kicker is how cracking Disney Speedstorm feels on the sticks. We’ve not played a karting game – possibly not even Mario Kart 8 – that feels so immediate. That’s helped by some fantastic accessibility options like auto-drive and auto-accelerate, but also by the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, just polish it to high heaven’ approach to controls. Disney Speedstorm, for anyone who has played Mario Kart, will be utterly familiar, with its powerslides leading to nitro boosts, and weapons that echo the iconic green shells, mushrooms and more. 

What impresses most is that Disney Speedstorm wants you to play, and has no interest in you dawdling at the back of the pack. Overrun a corner or dink a wall and your speed will be barely affected. You’re already off the racing line, so why punish you twice? There are three separate methods of boosting your speed, so getting hit doesn’t lead to compounding issues either – you can quickly return to the fray. It’s a generous old karter. 

disney speedstorm preview 3

Our most common criticism with karting games is the generic courses, and that’s simply not the case here. Disney Speedstorm takes a Spaghetti Junction approach to track design, with Tony Hawk’s grindrails that act as secret passages, actual secret passages, and modular level designs that unlock parts of the course to make them different on a second playthrough. Plus, each level riffs on a different Disney franchise to fantastic effect. A race through a cinema emerges, through the curtains, into a Steamboat Willy-style black-and-white course, and it is a particular winner. 

Disney Speedstorm, straight out of the traps, is a supremely polished, highly kinetic racer. It feels astonishingly good to play, pulling up to Mario Kart on pole. We’re eager to see how it grows and adapts this extremely solid core. 

For us, two questions remain. The first is going to become clear in the following weeks: just how obstructive is that balancing? Are we going to feel the pain of a lack of resources, and the grabby hands of Corporate Disney Daddy on our shoulders as it turns us to the monetisation store? The second is how long the fun is going to last. We’ve always seen karting games as a party event, something to chuck into the cartridge slot when mates or family are around. Do we really want to be coming back daily, weekly and seasonally to complete battle passes and maintain our racers? Does live-service fit the karting genre at all? We’re genuinely unsure. 

But there’s no doubt about the quality of the karting game that the live-service packing-peanuts are surrounding. Gameloft can be supremely proud of how immediate, finished and bombastic Disney Speedstorm is. This is karting at its absolute peak, and – at least for now – we’re going to be following its slipstream to see where it’s headed. 


Keep an eye out for our full review of Disney Speedstorm as it approaches full release. In the meantime, huge thanks go out to Gameloft for the review code. 

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