Asphalt developers, Gameloft, has created a charmless, impersonal cash grab version of Mario Kart 8 and we're not impressed.
The gaming world is often a very strange place. The fact that an upcoming free game from a well-known developer of free games for our mobile phones has now released an Early Access edition that costs £25.99, is no longer surprising. And it would have been all right if Gameloft's highly acclaimed Disney Speedstorm had at least been really, really good.
Every cartoon film, animated character or game character today has its own Mario Kart-styled racing game and in recent years this sub-genre has been crammed full of plagiarism. Some better than others. Little Big Planet Karting, Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing, Sonic Team Racing, Crash Nitro Racing, Kartrider, Warped Kart Racers are just a small selection available, and now Disney has entered into the scene, which is hardly a shock. No one owns the rights to and has created more iconic film characters than Disney, and when they announced a little over a year ago that they had merged Wreck-It Ralph with Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Jack Sparrow, the Beast, Woody and all the others into a Mario Kart clone, it was a no-brainer.
Gameloft is an experienced studio that has almost exclusively developed racing games for our mobile phones and their Asphalt game series is now ridiculously popular and in its ninth instalment. With Disney Speedstorm, they have largely taken the game mechanics from Asphalt 9: Legends, shrunken the tracks and replaced the wreckage with Disney-style mini-cars, making for some kind of mix between the ships in F-Zero and the maps in Mario Kart 8.
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The set-up is identical to Mario Kart. Eight drivers, each in a kart, drive around short tracks with different types of Disney themes (inspired by different Disney films/worlds). At four points around each track there are blocks containing weapons and power-ups, and of course you have to drive fast, push your opponents out of the way, pick up weapons and shoot down the drivers ahead. Super simple and directly ripped from Mario Kart, of course. Gameloft has also put in other elements directly taken from Mario Kart 8 such as the drifting function (which is simpler but activated in exactly the same way) and the ability to drive on walls via specific (light blue) energy fields in certain selected places on the tracks.
The difference is that Disney Speedstorm is a free game designed as a live service, which means that everything costs money and everything is locked from the start. Mickey is available and seems to be the game's "all-round" character while everything else is locked and has to be unlocked via game time or real money. And it's a shame, as always, that there isn't something as simple as a straightforward, uncomplicated game mode where you just choose a driver and drive, without all the fuss.
70% of the promised Disney characters are also missing right now, which of course means that they will be rolled out in the form of "seasons" in the coming year or so. Personally, I'm more than a little tired of this kind of arrangement and really don't want to sit for nine hours to play as solely Goofy.
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I'm also not at all fond of how this game feels once you're in a race. The physics are terrible and it always feels like the car is hovering two centimetres above the ground. The drifting is too simple, which makes it boring and the tracks lack all the charm, variety and fun tricks that you find in Mario Kart 8. Disney Speedstorm is also too slow in the first two classes, even if you drift and hit boosts to get way ahead of the competition. It feels like the brake is semi-depressed all the time, which is frustrating and that's never the case for me in, say, Mario Kart 8 where even 50cc feels fun and reasonably challenging.
I'm not particularly fond of the way it looks, either. The design is nothing that I would describe as anything other than a failure as the colourful charm of the Disney world has become a little too grey here and a little too impersonal. The way that Jack Sparrow or Belle from Beauty & The Beast looks, for example, is reminiscent of carelessly implemented Disney Infinity versions, and in combination with mobile game-like graphics technology, it's not something I want to praise. For PlayStation 5, Speedstorm looks okay even if the courses look too "wet". On Switch, the frame rate often drops to about ten frames per second (from 30), which in my world makes this almost unplayable on Nintendo's console.
I really wanted to like Speedstorm as I adore Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, love Sonic Team Racing and really enjoy Crash Nitro Racing. But I can't. This is soulless, unimaginative and stupid in its design and just a way for Gameloft and Disney to try to make a quick buck on an ever-growing sub-genre. My eight-year-old son was not the least bit impressed yesterday and left the couch after only three races, which in many ways may be the single worst verdict this game will ever receive.
4 / 10
Music is nice. Good presentation.
Monotonous game mechanics. Way too slow. No personality. Charmless. Not very pretty.