Sometimes the overall experience of a park is far greater than the sum of its attractions, but at other times the opposite can be true. Nagashima Spa Land falls under the latter category for me and before this monster RMC was built I didn’t really get on with the place at all. I had visited twice before, once to find Hakugei’s predecessor White Cyclone closed, along with 10 other coasters in the park for the sake of a patch of drizzle and a second time as a near successful attempt at redemption, while the RMC conversion was still taking place.
I returned, almost begrudgingly, on a third visit in order to experience Asia’s first rollercoaster from industry legends Rocky Mountain Construction, who have topped polls for a number of years now and become celebrated favourites by many. I had jumped on that bandwagon myself within the 6 months prior to this particular trip after boosting my RMC count from 1 to 8 and pretty much loving every single one of them, which is why I found myself queueing to be let into Nagashima once again in June 2019.
As the other creds here had already been obtained, there was of course only one item on the agenda for the day – ride the new one as much as physically possible. This began with me surging forward with the initial crowds, getting a bit of a jog on and hoping to be amongst the first in the queue. It didn’t work particularly well as for some reason, I assume as the park is part of a larger resort and it’s possible to stay on-site, a significant number of other guests had beaten me there by other means.
No worries, I’m no stranger to a queue in this hobby. However I was soon hit with a strong reminder of just how slowly attractions are run at this park, watching the single train they had on track bounce around the pre-lift section, half empty, about once every 5 minutes. Let it not be said that I don’t suffer for my art sometimes, as this waiting game was particularly painful. Even without speaking Japanese I can to this day still loop the two minute safety announcement in my head along with the accompanying 20 second clip of the song ‘Thrill Life’ by Doberman Infinity. Just play all of it or none of it.
Upon nearing the batch point for the station lockers, staff members begin handing out wristbands to queuing guests, the purpose of which is somewhat overly complicated. Underneath the station are a bank of free lockers into which you deposit your loose belongings before getting scanned with metal detectors and proceeding up the stairs towards the platform. At the top of the stairs, you are relieved of the wristband so that, upon leaving the ride and joining other guests in the locker area you can’t just sneak back up for another lap. While this is a significant improvement over similar systems found elsewhere in the park that involve lockers on the platform, it is still a rather laborious procedure.
The final irksome policy before I can finally sit down and relax is the regimented batching into rows which does not allow guests any choice of seat. Usually I’m fine with such ideas, provided it has been put in place in order to maximise efficiency and throughput. That clearly isn’t the case here, given the time that everything else takes and particularly when coupled with the slightly more unusual local custom of not grouping strangers together, often leaving the train with several empty seats, as I alluded to earlier.
Why all the negativity here, in what is supposed to be a review of a top ten rollercoaster?
It’s a point that rather fascinates me because I have absolutely no quarrels of this nature with any other ride amongst my list of the elite. In an ideal world, the happiness begins upon entering the queue, perhaps even the park itself and never falters for such trivialities. But sometimes these things just stick out in my (admittedly stubborn) mind like a sore thumb and it’s very hard to look past them. It becomes part of the character building of the ride. Does this attraction, or the way it’s being presented, want me to enjoy it as much as I want to? Weird though that may sound, I believe it’s important.
Mostly though, this is a true testament to just how amazing this piece of hardware is. It may be cold, calculated and clinical, but Hakugei is just so damn good and highly deserving of a place among my all time favourites. Forget everything else, we’re onboard now, let’s begin that journey.
A signature pre-lift section begins with the slightest momentum out of the station giving way to several oddly shaped humps and bumps that miraculously manage to provide more airtime than most other coasters would care to admit. A huge 180ft ascent leads to a very open summit, with cracking views all round, and a flat unbanked 90° turn that’s taken at a rather swift pace before kicking you up, over and down into that massive first drop.
The seriously powerful airtime that this machine can produce sparks into life here, that little piece of extra emphasis as seen before on a couple of other creations such as Wildfire really does add to the sensation of riders being pinned out of their seats and dragged towards the ground below. It’s a sustained moment. It hits hard. I’d argue that it feels far more significant than the 300ft first drop of a certain giga coaster in the same park.
At full speed the train heads into what must be one of the worlds biggest ‘double ups’, an element which provides two further sharp bursts of airtime in satisfying succession. An unusual turnaround follows with the track banking counterintuitively towards the outside of the corner in a wonderfully whippy transition, similar to that of the green high five moment on Twisted Colossus, but with only the sky to greet you.
This, again similarly, is succeeded by a particularly out of control ‘double down’ section which for me is one of the standout moments of the ride. It’s hard to anticipate, hard to brace for and can be rather brutal on the leg department with how hard it tries to remove you from your seat – all things I love to see on a coaster.
Continuing to draw on the strengths of previous builds, another signature RMC moment hits in the form of a zero-G stall. With the sheer speed at which this ride moves, it isn’t their finest for that other-worldly upside down floaty sensation. This worked better towards the middle of the train but the front and back both provided a different, powerful and unusual mix of forces.
One of the many things I love about Hakugei is that it just doesn’t want to do corners. Corners are boring. To point us in the opposite direction this time we get a strange overbanked turn with multiple elevation changes that deliver some weird sideways kicks, never letting up.
A glorious but standard zero-G inversion comes next, something else the manufacturer can often take pride in. Watching the dense layer of track supports manouevre itself around you is always a sight to behold.
Intensity follows grace with a powerful airtime hill, the first traditional one of these in the entire layout. As it winds out of this through another banked turn and drop we get another of those violent and unpredictable moments that sets this one above others of its type. The third and final turnaround is a low overbank with unnerving lateral forces, far more than I had come to expect from these rides and a highly welcome feature.
Now, buried deep within the intimidating stucture, the final stretch delivers yet more vicious airtime of both standard and then sideways variety, one last inversion and another of my absolute favourite moments – a tiny little twisted hill that never failed to induce shouts of terror and/or pain from all riders. The whale goes out with a bang and I’m left trying to process the insanity.
Often with coasters of this scale there’s a memorable part, a signature sequence of elements that define the ride and then some ‘other bits’ to go with it. Hakugei is a masterclass in layout design from the moment it leaves the station until the moment it hits the brakes and I have a massive respect for anyone that can pull that off. I’ve got my favourite elements of course that I already alluded to, but the flow, the pace, the sequencing of this thing – everything comes together perfectly and feels so… right. Two minutes of coaster heaven.
Put this ride in another park and it may well have been Japan’s best for me. Just goes to show it’s so tight at the top that even emotion can swing it.