Forwards seems to be the recommended direction of travel for most things in life, but some rollercoasters like to buck that trend. The concept of having both forwards and backwards has seen a major resurgence in recent years following on from the Shuttle Loops and Boomerangs of old, with compact launch coaster designs permeating many markets. But what about starting out backwards in the station, sometimes even staying that way for good? That’s a lot harder to come by.
In fact there are only a few major coasters out in the world that can offer it at the moment and based on personal experience so far – we need more of it! I’ve elaborated before on the negative effect that anticipation can have on certain coaster elements and what better way to completely remove any pre-emption than to turn the ship around and physically stop guests from seeing what’s up next?
I think there’s a bit of a stigma attached to the concept currently, either being seen as a bit of a gimmick, an oversimplified marketing ploy or perhaps something to be feared amongst the age old expectation of thrill rides making people feel nauseous – not looking where you’re going will likely make those susceptable to motion sickness feel even worse. Personally I’ll advocate it all day long, as I relish every unique experience I can find in the coasting world and the simple action of turning a seat around can be both a tremendous enhancement and a well earned selling point for any attraction.
The focus today will be on any coaster that goes backwards for at least 50% of the layout (ideally more) and, as usual, those that I’ve personally tried out. Let’s see how much of an impact they made on me.
This attraction is no longer with us, though the taller American brother can still be enjoyed (twice over) at Six Flags Magic Mountain. It was originally designed as a Reverse Freefall coaster with a forwards facing launch up a vertical spike leading to, as the name would imply, a freefall in reverse, but in 2010 Tower of Terror became the first of the two models that was modified to begin the journey backwards. Accelerating to 100Mph before quickly seeing the ground run away from you sounds like quite the exhilarating experience, but although they’re rather special, I don’t particularly rate these straight lines very highly as coasters. Hence the #10.
It was a total ordeal for me to get on this ride as the place was, in the true style of all minor Japanese parks, ridiculously quiet and they took half a day to get it up and running. I had noticed on arrival that they had turned the back two cars of the train around, something previously undiscovered as far as I was aware (along with the new name and some fountains) and this revelation made the waiting seem far more worthwhile.
As it turned out, bit of a rough one. What could have been some impressive backwards airtime in the first drop and subsequent big camelback ended up rather bouncy and jarring, taking the edge off proceedings. It still made it better than your average two hills and a corner layout though!
There’s that gimmicky feel. World’s first!, with a caveat – in the dark.
This indoor Vekoma did actually start life in 1996 as a backwards experience though, finally losing that claim in 2013 to a bit of a rebrand and a train turnaround to conventional mode. It’s an unusual layout when travelling in either direction, with a lot of stop and start action on multiple block sections as the ride winds its way down inside the pyramid shaped building. The sinister feel that the original theming package carried did work rather well with the extra disorientation, though in the end it turned out to be just as enjoyable a ride when moving forwards. The audio visual effects are the real stars of the show here.
Here we have another Japanese creation with a couple of cars they decided to turn around for fun. Unlike the previous entry from this side of the world, Rocky Coaster rode really well and was further enhanced by a number of factors including a sudden thunderstorm. Not only did I have no idea what the layout involved, we were half blinded by torrential rain and left with a sensory overload of a rollercoaster experience which I believe may have been significantly less remarkable had we not also been travelling backwards.
Alright, another cheat. For 2020, this unique Pax take on the shuttle loop coaster received new trains that featured both fowards and backwards facing seats. As a complete experience you obviously still get pretty much 50/50 of each direction, but the extra fun in starting out backwards in the station here comes with the higher speed carried into the two airtime hills that precede this insane element. There’s no way you can see these coming, or the following wild inversion goodness, and the ride is made all the better for it.
Fury offers the unique feature of presenting riders with a choice of which direction they wish to travel in throughout the ride. Voting takes place using buttons in the restraint before the train reaches a turntable within the launch track. If you wanted backwards, it’s fingers crossed for a left turn. I really wanted this for my very first try and luckily my wish was granted. Basically it’s better that way round and I love the extra jeopardy involved in the decision making process.
For a limited time only Thorpe Park introduced two rows of reverse facing seats on the Swarm trains dubbing the experience ‘Brave It Backwards‘. I already liked this coaster even though it can be considered more graceful than exhilarating for the most part, but I was not ready for how big of a difference the new seating arrangement would make. As soon as I found myself being dragged through that first inversion, totally unexpectedly, I was thrown into an uncontrollable fit of joyous laughter. With no idea what was happening throughout, the result was amazing, infectious even. I only wish that this feature had become a permanent one.
Hmm… Who can really say which direction this monster has it’s victims facing once things get going. A large part of what I adore about this ride is never knowing which way is up and the mystery surrounding that isn’t going to stop me from including it on this list, though perhaps with a slight penalty in ranking position.
Where the backwards significantly enhances Eejanaika is the first turn out of the station and the lift hill. It teases and terrifies from the moment of dispatch, tipping riders right back almost onto their heads before levelling out the seats again. The steady 250ft reverse climb is an absolute nervous nightmare, never knowing when the first drop is actually coming to kill you. All you can do is attempt to distract yourself with the scenery or try and find something to hold onto – not much at all.
Hollywood Dream alone is a great coaster and I totally fell for the aesthetic of this ride upon arrival with it’s mould-breaking B&M hyper styling, satisfying visuals, selection of onboard audio (via buttons in the restraint again) and unorthodox layout. Since 2013, as advertised by the Backdrop suffix, a separate queueline has been introduced that leads riders to board a backwards facing train.
We finally tried this out late at night, right towards the end of a very long day and something totally magical happened. I’ve never felt airtime like this on a B&M, before or since, arms and legs were uncontrollable flailing everywhere and it was such a special series of moments. For such a simple idea, it truly is a top notch enhancement.
DC Rivals is the current king of backwards. Where others above have simple dabbled with the idea or played it safe with middling hardware, this ride started out as a world class coaster and has carried a reversed final car from day one. Mack achieved greatness on so many levels here, providing both Australia and by extension the Southern Hemisphere with an attraction to finally brag about on the global stage. It’s also the manufacturer’s largest rollercoaster project to date, offering ridiculously twisted vertical first drop, bucketloads of airtime and a massive non-inverting loop.
Oh, and for a small fee you can experience all of that backwards. It’s honestly amongst the best single (well, several) ride experience I’ve ever had. So many surprise moments, so many forces that the direction of travel happens to make even better and, most importantly, so much fun. At this stage I’m willing to believe you can improve absolutely anything this way.
Japan have been trying to dominate this list but Australia have made it their own. Thanks to this striking beauty of a coaster, all the parks on the Gold Coast now seem to have latched onto the idea and we’ll soon be seeing competition from a Gravity Group woodie with the back of each train reversed. If this rides like any of my current favourites plus all the good stuff outlined above, then I’m definitely not ready for it and words can’t describe how excited I am by that prospect. More please.