Belgium 10/21 – Walibi Belgium
Poor Walibi Belgium. They’ve had a rough year to coincide with the opening of their brand new headline coaster. I really admire them for all the hard work and effort that went into getting the place up and running again before the end of the season, after seeing just some of the extent of the flood damage, and thought it was only right to visit and show our support.
And yet day 2 of their grand re-opening weekend – rain like you wouldn’t believe it. The final few minutes of the motorway drive were particularly hairy when it came to visibility, with water hammering in on all sides. Not the best of omens when heading to a park that’s only just been crippled by this type of weather.
Day 2 – Walibi Belgium
As we pulled into the car park, there were only about 10 others in total. We were vaguely directed towards a space, though ended up picking the one wrong spot in a sea of emptiness. Top tip – don’t park next to a tree, they like to keep them clear for emergency access, though they might not tell you that until you’ve already stopped and got out.
The moment I had stepped out of the car, though the actual rain had subsided just a little, one of my shoes was instantly filled with water. Bracing ourselves against the weather with whatever resources necessary, we headed towards the entrance. This is either going to go very wrong, or be amazing.
Expecting the masses, a large series of cattlepens had been set up as the only means of access to the ticket desks that morning and, though it ended up being entirely unnecessary given the current situation, they were unavoidable. And so our day began with several pointless minutes zigzagging back and forth through endless puddles, getting soaked to the bone and already unable to see.
Once inside the park we headed straight towards the back, though only by internal compass. Rocking my raincoat hood down low, along with a medical mask and glasses combo, all I could do was stare at the blurred floor directly two feet in front of me and I didn’t actually manage to lay eyes on any rides at all until we reached the new (to me) area.
Kondaa was showing no signs of life at this stage and had two staff members standing ominously at the entrance, but Tiki-Waka was drowning a couple more staff members with some test laps.
Though it was yet another Belgian Gerstlauer I had managed to suppress, it actually became a momentous occasion. By riding #1 Tiki-Waka I had now completed the entire set of their Bobsled coasters worldwide, all 14 of the beasts.
Sadly this one broke the tradition of ‘every time I ride one of these I keep thinking it’s the best one yet.’ While it looks fantastic (once I could actually see it) and has many more of those quirky track profiling moments, there’s a bit less of an overall punch here than I had grown accustomed to, even while not being able to see what was coming next, but at least it’s unique yet again. Probably also took the crown of best coaster in the park for three years, without too much effort.
More good news, #2 Kondaa was now also testing.
I’d bigged this modern Intamin Mega up in my head for a good while now, though I didn’t know the ins and outs. The theme was all brand new to me and the ride joins the ever-growing list of mythical creatures that find themselves decorating an Intamin train. In this case, Kondaa is a big snake thing with arms, who has a bit of a clash with the local humans.
Maybe they’re building on his habitat, maybe he’s just being predatory, there’s an excellent mural on the outside far wall of the station building that depicts a bit of a battle scene between the two. Some men on their knees, head in hands, doomed (will that be me shortly?), while two cheeky bastards abandon the cause run off with one of his eggs. I’m already loving the aesthetic.
The station has a cramped, jungle feel to it, with great accompanying audio. Took a few listens to work it out, but the tribal chanting that echoes throughout is actually repeating the word Kond – Aa in two disctinct syllables. Maybe they’re trying to appease him, maybe they’re building themselves up for the fight. Yet more paintings on the wall depict men literally riding the creature’s back by means of the spears they’ve stabbed into him in combat. Guess that’s the experience we’re going for.
What with all the external sensations of the weather and my temporary blindness pressing in on me, I really had the time to process that we were actually riding Kondaa until part way up the excitingly fast chain lift. Suddenly we were thrust into a big, vertical twisted drop and, by means of the train alone, it’s already better than GeForce.
The first large hill is an interesting one. It’s not your standard massive ejector experience you might expect from Intamin, instead I feel like it’s more what I always wanted B&M hypers to be/do. There’s a combination of a gentle lift out of the seat and a more intense ejection at different points, that can flip depending on where you sit, and I like that, it’s not just a tease, it still has payoff.
The wacky outerbanked big hill is pretty special if you’re feeling a bit free and easy in those comfy seats. Yet more strange, falling out of the train sideways sensations are coming into play, though nothing in the realms of their wing coasters. It was also often a fun moment later on in the day for the views of Calamity Mine’s second half. Though it took five laps before I even managed to spot it, many times after that the little mine train would pop out of it’s tunnel and say hello to Kondaa in a cute moment of interaction.
The non-inverting cobra roll is a bit of a non-event in the grand scheme of things and I’m tempted to say it should have just actually inverted. There might then have been a bit more whip in the transitions, perhaps like a double version of the dive loop on Hyperion. Instead it doesn’t really deliver much except a very strange creaking noise from the train and I’m left feeling like it was an element created for the sake of the name. We want to build the world’s first ‘one of those’ and see what happens.
This is turning into one of those reviews where I keep name-dropping other relevant coasters, so I may as well keep going. The exit of that leads into the first of the speed hills, rather reminiscent of the highlight moments of Coaster through the Clouds, combining that momentum with some headchopping (albeit a little late) to really send you flying for a moment, though perhaps not quite as powerfully as I would have hoped.
At the risk of continuing to sound a bit negative (I love this thing, but nitpicking is what I do), Intamin appear to have failed to break the tradition of having a meandering couple of corners in the middle of their mega coasters. I desperately wanted this creation to cast away the shackles of it’s oppressive forebearers, yet it still appears to follow that age old underlying formula. The turns are at least low-down, fast and far less jarring than the competition in their impact on the layout, but without a key highlight like a snappy i305 transition or something it still feels sub-optimal.
Also, worryingly, this part contains a sideways banked hill that rode exactly like the one on Abyssus – pure visual, all style and no substance, didn’t feel a thing on it.
Good stuff returns in the form of a second speed hill, and then a weird combination of drawn out twisty hill into wonky double down on a corner that I don’t have a name for. This leads into another decent airtime moment, some more low down twisty and then the hilarious climax of little flat hills that are just silly fun. This is the type of creative stuff I can get more behind and adds a certain wild flavour to the ride that is more often than not lacking on Intamin’s clinical airtime machines. A strong start and a strong finish, it all feels so familiar.
And that’s the quandary for me. It both is and it isn’t like their past creations I’ve regularly bemoaned for being too ‘obvious’. It draws on their beats and yet delivers them all differently. There’s more spice and more flavour to Kondaa, it has an out of control feeling at times, but it never truly kicks your ass like you might have expected from the manufacturer. While these days I would tend to be drawn towards coasters that take everything to an extreme, I can also just be appeased by a good, solid, fun layout. And it is that, for one of these. World class yes, world beater no.
They do have other stuff here of course. It had been far too long since I was acquainted with Challenge of Tutankhamon, so much so that it had begun to fade in my memory. Our previous visit was such a rush, what with fast track and SLCs to contend with, that it barely made an impact. Far from just another shooting dark ride, this is potentially the best of its kind in the world. It appears to have been well loved just recently, with many of the more technical effects working really well, much more so than I remember from before at least.
The ride provides a perfect balance between interaction and spectacle, something which I believe so many others miss the mark on. You feel compelled to both shoot at the targets, many of which are (for the sake of the story) active moving threats, and gaze in amazement at all the other scenery and magic (fire!), with neither disctracting from the other. Underneath all that is the drive to actually score well as a a team, not just for unrelated bragging rights, because achieving a certain amount will take you down a different route at the end of the ride, to fight the big boss. More to see, more to do – get involved!
Why have one shooting dark ride when you can have two though? I was a little concerned for what Popcorn Revenge would be like, though admittedly knowing nothing about it. Turns out it’s also fabuous in its own right and the two are easily different enough to justify the co-existence.
These popcorn critters are out for mischief and need flavouring to calm them down, so the trackless ride vehicles pass between a central, circular hub to reach several different rooms that contain a screened scene for shooting. There are a lot of fun little details beyond your average screen based romp however, with each room being complimented by some degree of physical set, a chaotic little screen in the central room from which you can continuously rack up points while transitioning to each area and other, more hidden bonus ways to score points. Loved it.
Elsewhere on the dark ride front we gave Palais du Genie another shot. Again this was better than I remember, mainly in the music department. It had a solid, catchy tune playing throughout the main madhouse portion, something that all of these should have by default.
Time to mop up the last cred, #3 Fun Pilot, the Zierer Force 190 putting in all the hard work while the legendary Coccinelle is out of action.
It was rather amusing to contemplate what else in this park justifies a reride, the place used to be such a cred run and yet they’ve done so much to dramatically transform that status in such short time. Belgium’s getting serious. Why can’t we?
Settled on Calamity Mine for old time’s sake, though I’ve since ridden a hundred different iterations of the same throughout China. The OG version still has charm and is nicely decorated for it, though it is a little distracting to have Kondaa looming over it now.
Based on how dramatically the wooden coaster experience can change over time, thought we might as well give Loup Garou a lap as well. I took issue with the restraints previously and spent the duration surviving, rather than enjoying.
Not sure exactly how, but they weren’t an issue in the slightest on this occasion, which then only helped to highlight that it just aint very special. A lot of mild mannered bouncing around that makes for some light entertainment, much like the Intamins of old.
All this was done between wanting to rack up some ridiculous number of laps on Kondaa simply because it was a walk on all day (thanks to the weather) and really, stupidly good. The aim was to better 16, which was my tied personal best between local boy Icon and the recent Ride to Happiness revelation.
That became far too easy by the end of the day. See if you can beat 22.
Now, what’s this about America re-opening?