As far as gameplay is concerned, Disney Speedstorm is at the top of the pack. Every character feels unique, there’s a good balance between strategy and chaos, and the level and music design are beyond spectacular for a sometime-in-the-future free-to-play game. But when it comes to monetization and mobile-game mechanics, this game is one of the absolute worst offenders. Not only are there multiple main currencies, but there are two different types of loot boxes, every character needs 5-6 different currencies to level up, and every racer or crew card needs multiple ‘shards’ to unlock. It’s a free-to-play monetization nightmare in the making, and while some modes have been added to make this game look consumer-friendly, it really isn’t.
When I say this is one of the most fun racing games I have played since childhood, I am not exaggerating. It feels like the gold standard of gameplay every company should look for in a game such as this. Large characters feel powerful, small characters feel nimble, and once you raise a character’s Rank to two stars, they gain the ability to harness unique and powerful abilities that can make-or-break your races. At Early Access launch, the game has 18 characters, eight maps, each with at least 4 track variations, over 325 kart and profile cosmetics, and Local Freeplay mode with all characters unlocked. To top it all off, everything is related to Disney IP. You get characters like Figment, from Walt Disney World, and Jack Sparrow, and maps like Beast’s Castle and Mount Olympus, complete with amazing electronic remixes of Disney songs corresponding to each map’s franchise. It’s spectacular, but this is where my praise of the game begins and ends.
Before I dive into the aspects of this game that are completely “pay-to-win” I want to address a couple of Disney Speedstorm’s modes which, at first glance, feel consumer friendly, but aren’t. Take Local Freeplay for example. It’s true this mode has all characters unlocked, but it comes with a catch. You can’t progress though any of your daily or weekly missions, nor can you use any cosmetics you don’t own. Also, if you have kids who aren’t familiar with free-to-play mechanics, you’ll want to access Local Freeplay yourself, lest your child get lost and wander into the monetized portions of the game. Even in Local Freeplay’s menus, the in-game shop is only one button away.
The second aspect that seems consumer friendly at first glance is Regulated Multiplayer. This is a mode in which everyone is the same level and has absolutely no loadout-based advantages. It is the only online multiplayer mode that isn’t pay-to-win. Unfortunately, the most you receive is 1000 Multiplayer coins per week. That’s enough to buy two Multiplayer Boxes from the in-game shop. What is in this box? Oh, just one of 315 random unlockable cosmetics, some for your online profile, others for specific characters and their karts. You’ll be lucky to unlock even 5% of the items in this box before the second season begins if you stick to Regulated Multiplayer.
Solo play in this game has three modes, the first being the always-available Starter Circuit, in which you learn how to play the game as six different racers. This is where the term “pay-to-win” starts to rear its head. Want to partake in all six chapters of the Starter Circuit immediately? You’ll need the $70 Ultimate Founder’s Pack. Those who purchase the $30 edition of the game only get enough character shards to progress as far as Chapter four. Anything further and you’ll have to hope there are shards in the shop, or there’s a Limited Event giving away racer shards. More on that later.
The second solo mode is Season Tour. Eight chapters long, the Season Tour is tied to the Golden (Battle) Pass, with level requirements gating your entry to each chapter. As of launch, only the first two chapters are accessible, with weekly releases for the rest starting Friday, so it’s impossible to know exactly what future requirements will be. Each race in the Season Tour gives Golden Pass experience, which in turn gives you materials for leveling your characters, cosmetics, a couple seasonal racers and crew cards, and Seasonal Coins but again, it’s impossible to know whether the Golden Pass to too easy or too hard to progress through until the final week of the season due to future Chapters being time-gated.
The final solo mode is Limited Events. This is where most of your time will be spent, logging in daily to earn excess Seasonal Coins, leveling currencies, and even some racer/crew shards. Want the best rewards? Those are reserved for characters of a higher level. Since there are literally 48 different leveling currencies required across the current roster of 18 characters, don’t expect these Limited Events to always give you the resources you need, and don’t expect easy access to higher level currencies. Wrenches, which aren’t even considered rare but are required to move your character past level 9, are incredibly sparce, even in events. Only two of my characters have passed level 10.
Once you run out of solo events, which happened for me after only a few hours, it’s time to take on Ranked Multiplayer. All 18 characters have 40 MPR levels. That’s over 720 ranks to grind through every season. And every rank either has character-specific leveling currencies, racer shards, or exclusive cosmetics, so Gameloft expects you to be keeping every character leveled at all times. I’m currently trying this mode out, but it’s exhausting. You make a lot of progress until you don’t. And because this is Early Access, you see a lot of the same names, and, at lower levels, a lot of bots.
I guess it’s time to talk about the in-game shop. Unfortunately, there’s not much to talk about because Tokens cannot be bought outside of Founder’s Packs, the shop is tailored towards Seasonal Coins. You can’t even use tokens to buy the Golden Pass yet, because each Founder’s Pack was given two “free” credits. But the fact there are already Token packages you can purchase to immediately bring an unlocked character to a two-star rank is worrisome. I will be sure to revisit this aspect of my review when Tokens finally become purchasable with real money in a few months.
I already spent $70 on an Ultimate Founder’s Pack for Disney Speedstorm, so I’m all-in, figuratively speaking. At least the gameplay is good enough to keep me from fully regretting my purchase. And, just maybe, ease of progression will become more pro-consumer in the coming weeks and months. That’s my hope. As it stands now, I cannot reasonably recommend anyone purchase this game as there are still far too many unknowns. Perhaps this will change, and if it does, I’ll be sure to shout it out. To those, like me, who are already in this game for the long haul, let’s hope for the best.
Disney Speedstorm is out now in Early Access on PC, Playstation 4/5, Xbox Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch.