Rollercoaster Ranking – Intamin Launch Coasters (part 1)
Whilst they currently manufacturer almost any theme park hardware you can think of, Intamin have become particularly renowned for their record breaking and often world beating launch coasters. They began using LSM technology back in 1997 in order to immediately smash both the height and speed world records for a rollercoaster with back to back installations of the Reverse Freefall model on either side of the planet.
By 1998, they had switched over to the subtly different LIM system for their suspended coaster range, creating both a one of a kind ride in Volcano, The Blast Coaster (R.I.P.) – an early pioneer of the full circuit multi-launch concept, along with their relatively popular compact shuttle rides known as Impulse coasters.
In 2002, an alternative engineering solution for train propulsion was developed for Knott’s Berry Farm, giving birth to their range of Hydraulic launch coasters which, throughout the same decade ended up repeatedly pushing the boundaries yet again. This type of launch enabled Intamin to continually surpass their own record for tallest coaster, holding it ever since they first took the title, and culminated in 2010 with what remains to this day as the all time fastest out in the UAE.
As technologies have grown and changed, the Hydraulic launch appears to have been phased out again in favour of the more energy efficient LSM technique. 2007 saw the start of this uprising with the ride type now commonly labelled by enthusiasts as the Blitz coaster. As the race for raw statistics began to tail off, the drive for more fundamentally well rounded experiences took over and this revised launch model became the foundation of their now highly regarded multi launch coasters we both know and anticipate today.
In that very same year, the family market was also tapped into using yet another system of tyre propelled launches. Although a shaky start (I’ll soon tell you why), this simpler concept also remains active to this day, complementing the available lineup with rides from the smaller end of the scale.
Outside of all this we’ve seen any number of innovations from Intamin that also happen to involve launches. From Half Pipes to Wing Coasters and from the legendary Aqua Trax to an exciting upcoming single rail project in Australia, it seems there’s nothing they can’t do with them.
But records and engineering aside, which ones are the best to ride? Yes, it’s time for another ranking list and, as I’ve opened this field up to absolutely anything with a launch, there’s quite a lot to sift through. “Heads back, face forward, hold on tight and brace yourself.”
Though there is more than one of these on the list, this one gets a special dishonourable mention for either doing it wrong or me doing it wrong. The entire experience can be summed up by being launched sideways in a jerky fashion on every single pass, with an unforgiving shoulder restraint just to the side of your head/neck ready to absorb the impact. The live band out front was a nice touch at least.
Displaying the aforementioned beginnings of tyre propelled launches on smaller coasters, this early motorbike design is awkward and uncomfortable in almost every way. The parts of the ‘seating’ on which your knees press against for the riding position used to have a layer of padding which, at the time of my riding, had partially worn away, leaving a knobbly mess of remains and hard plastic to grind away at your flesh and bone through every vibration from the train. It also actively made children cry around us – is this what you want from a family coaster?
The surprise at finding this Impulse coaster didn’t share the layout of all the others was not enough to overlook the fact that I also found it surprisingly rough and shaky for a ride of this nature. Like the Half Pipe it’s a bit of a gimmick to be bouncing back and forth between two spikes as your entire layout and if there’s discomfort involved then there’s very little merit to the experience.
We now leave the realm of physical discomfort and enter one of simple monotony and disinterest. These look like Half Pipes again, tamed down without the added rotation of the seats and yet the whole seating setup feels oversized, clunky and unnecessarily claustrophobic for what you would imagine the target demographic to be on a Toy Story ride. It bothers me more however that this is becoming a stable product of Disneyland parks – a lazy, small footprint ‘coaster’ (barely) that doesn’t even tie into the ‘theme’ (barely) very well.
With pain removed from the equation, these are actually alright, but still not great. I appreciate the more open seating with dangling legs for the effect they’re trying to go for, particularly against the example just above us. It’s all just semantics at this stage though, it’s nice to stick these on the list and call them a +1, but do they even feel like rollercoasters?
The same can be applied here – a big straight line and not even two spikes, just one. This one sits directly behind the following entry as the queueline, theming and atmosphere was all very tired, dated and neglected giving absolutely no impact to what was once a highly significant attraction in the coaster world. Glad to have got it, shan’t miss it.
Slightly taller, slightly faster and in a better physical location – jutting out of the hillside for a bit of extra perceived height. This one just about edges it for me, though you honestly can’t tell the difference in stats to ride it. As perhaps the worst of any coaster to bear the name ‘Superman’, this one manages to make 100Mph feel surprisingly unremarkable – quite the feat.
You’d think this one would have a bit more going for it with what looks like an airtime hill, the opportunity to face in either direction and lap bar restraints, even just some more modern techonology. After suffering through far too much pre-show for a ride of this length, the result was entirely a non-event for me. The spike exiting the building to pop outside and give you some cool views even falls flat on its face by not going high enough to matter. When will this string of shuttle coasters end?
Right here. We can actually start saying I like these rides moving forward, so that’s a plus. Baby Kanonen was the smallest of the hydraulic launch coasters to be built and ended up with a certain awkwardness about it. The stunted top speed with the size and scale of the track, trains and layout just didn’t add up to a good sense of pacing and flow. It wasn’t anything special (and the park clearly knew it too, giving it only 10 years before selling it on and buying something far better), but entertaining nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the non-chalance of the station announcement – “place your head… against the headrest.”
If you want an equally disinterested piece of audio on a ride, there’s still Rita. Ever since it got consumed by the Dark Forest of Thirteen and lost the subtitle – Queen of Speed, a man quietly declares that “you must escape” before uttering in the same tone “go, go… go…” It’s just so amusingly anticlimactic for what is admittedly a decently powerful burst of acceleration to start this ride. Crank up the beans on these hydraulics and things get more impressive for sure, particularly if you’re a big fan of launches.
I’m not that bothered about the sensation of launches any more though (my loss) and so it’s time to start focusing on the layouts that come after it. I didn’t finish what I was going to say about Rita because Desert Race is exactly the same ride. I’ve always been of the opinion that this one rides noticeably smoother, slightly showing off those twisted hills that break up the almost unending fast banked turns. The layout made sense for Alton Towers as they had to stay below the tree line, but in reality I’d just call it a compromise in performance compared to their past projects that faced the same restrictions and not quite exciting enough for my tastes.
So with that in mind, enter the one up, one down product range that was used to surpass the world records of the big ol’ spikes we talked about earlier. Zaturn opened one month after Stealth at Thorpe Park, is exactly the same and, standing at a massive 205ft tall, is only ‘medium-sized’ for what this ride type has achieved. There’s very little to the layout obviously, but the sensations of an even faster launch, along with the entry and exit of the top hat, plus the violent burnout of all the wasted potential energy into the brake run is always decent fun. I just can’t get overly jubilant about a ride that’s over almost as soon as it begins and this one had no soul.
The tallest coaster in the world had no soul either, and that disappointed me. I expected the park to play up the fear factor, on this of all rides, but all we got was this parking lot coaster, some generic disco vibes and guests (including ourselves) having distracted conversations while sitting on the launch track about to experience 128Mph to the face and see the world from 456ft in the air. How can you possibly turn this hardware into a non-event, a one and done? A Six Flags way was found.
Whilst the hydraulic coaster started out with more than just a top hat element, I’m not sure Xcelerator had the right approach either. Fast turns and a sensation of speed are all well and good but it even lacks any further key moments after the starting sequence and even misses that extra bit of fun over the brake fin humps found on later models. Solid ride, but ended up a little forgettable outside of the history for me.
More of the same of course but this one stands out from the pack due to a solid theme and great sense of fun throughout the zone it resides in. Having grown up with the park I do have a bit more of a sentimental attachment as well and at one point in the past the whole concept was absolutely terrifying and intimidating to me, feelings that had long since faded by the time I reached any of the others in this list.
Whilst we’ve already seen some impressive hardware here today, I’d say none of these rides really show off what the mad lads at Intamin can do to a full extent. The technology and the ideas are there, but the layouts and standout moments that keep me coming back for more are not. Join me in the top half where we’ll at least have some context into how much better things get compared to this motley crew.