Ride Review – Zadra

Europe’s 3rd RMC opened at Energylandia, Poland in August 2019, incredibly becoming the 16th rollercoaster amongst an amusement park lineup that has become one of the largest in the world almost overnight. Aside from the manufacturer’s single-rail model, this was the first of their ground-up creations to be classified as steel rather than wood due to the composition of the rails – rails which were previously exclusive to their conversions of classic wooden coasters.

Cheekily, the park went on to market Zadra as a woodie anyway, taking any opportunity to capitalise on claims like Europe’s tallest and fastest and using far more traditional wooden coaster imagery on everything from billboards to T-shirts. To the untrained eye it does of course look entireley believable, with the striking (mostly) wooden support structure, but we tend to pay most attention to what materials the wheels actually run on and how that affects the ride experience which, in this case, the wood doesn’t.

Almost exactly a year after the opening date, we managed to visit the park and this attraction for the first time, amidst all the chaos of ever changing travel restrictions. I’m beyond glad that the trip all came together in that way as, nearly one year on again, Zadra remains the most standout rollercoaster to impact my life over such an extended period of inactivity. It still seems the best I can do with this hobby right now is to relive these experiences through writing, so let’s do just that.

The sheer scale of this park becomes immediately noticeable if you happen to be heading towards Zadra first thing in the morning. The ride forms part of a significant expansion called Dragon Zone which sits at the far end of the park, beyond a road that must be crossed via a tunnel and, after much walking, guests are rewarded with quite the sight once they emerge from here.
The area itself has a pleasant, mythological feel to it which, while fairly standard for a good number of theme parks (in Europe in particular), creates a pleasant contrast against the more funfair feel of the earlier secions of the park.

The exercise doesn’t end just yet. Zadra quickly became notorious during opening year for having one of the most exhaustingly long queues to walk through, every single time you fancied a lap, regardless of crowding. Feedback was apparently taken on board and ways were found to shorten it for the following season and though it remains quite the trek, it provides ample oppotunity to admire the features of the ride from up close, which can never be a bad thing. There is one small detail that could easily be missed, just inside the entrance archway – this little shrine to the construction of the ride, a bonus feature that’s always nice to see.
After dealing with a slightly overcomplicated batching system comprised of three lines, turnstiles and TV countdowns, guests are penned in behind a closed door to the station in anticipation of the moments to come.

A 206ft climb provides riders with amazing views out over the twisted yet refined mass of steel and wood that lies in front of them. This style of airtime-laden almost-vertical first drop has become standard fare for the manufacturer over the years and they’ve become almost too good at it, to the point at which we expect perfection at all times. For Zadra it provides a powerful plummeting sensation, particularly in the back row of course, feeling every bit of that 200ft as you race towards the ground and into the chaos that ensues. In particular this drop is nicely framed by two parallel sections of coaster track on either side, so that you really get that sense of diving ‘into’ the structure.

Another feature that is becoming quite common on this particular ride type is the miniature airtime bump found at the base of the pullout from the first drop, interrupting the usual flow. Zadra’s version of this element also turns a few degrees to the right, tugging riders to the left of their seats in a satisfying speedy moment. The train then roars into this complicated mess of a turnaround which contains a fascinating mix of varying positive, lateral and negative forces. It twists first out to the right, upwards, left and back on itself and then, just as it crests the summit in anticipation of some powerful airtime, the track banks to the right again to throw an extra, out of control moment into proceedings.

Even during that descent the track feels that it has to adjust itself a couple more times, compensating again to the left and then lining up alongside that first drop moment in order to enter that signature stall, beautifully situated beneath the lift hill.
This type of element is becoming increasingly popular and rightly so, because it brings new meaning to what coaster inversions are all about. The amount of time spent upside down is unparalleled when compared to the old fashioned vertical loops and corkscrews familiar to us throughout the history of steel rollercoasters and yet, due to the ‘Zero-G’ design, you don’t feel the effects of this at all – elegantly floating through the air with the world inverted around you, both slightly in and slightly out of your seat.
It is of course a masterpiece we’ve seen several times now already and yet Zadra managed to throw a new sensation into the mix for me just upon the exit of this element where, in the back row, there’s a little extra downwards lurch that gives some weird but welcome airtime.

After racing towards the ground again, it’s up into this outwardly banked turnaround which, while visually stunning, may well have been the least impactful part of the ride experience for me. I don’t really associate the moment with any particular sensation, it’s one that feels so well made that it just sort of ‘happens’ around you, though I do of course greatly appreciate all of these innovative methods of changing direction, particularly when looking back on certain corners you’d find on thrill rides of the past.

Fear not, this moment of relative quiet is succeeded by a fast sequence of twists into one of the most powerful airtime moments in the business. This huge camelback was the standout element of the ride for me, with an insane level of pull over the crest, most reminiscent of a single giant version of those perfect back to back moments on Twisted Timbers (and not just in colour).

After experiencing such an exposed feature of the ride, it’s time to disappear completely into the structure for a moment by means of the second inversion – a much faster and whippier version of a Zero-G that leads into the reverse equivalent of the original turnaround, twisting downwards and back on itself in order to head towards the station for the final time.

Drawing perhaps on inspiration from another RMC classic, Lightning Rod, this return trip is punctuated by a rapid succession of downwards airtime elements as the pace ever increases and hits harder and faster. Two punchy moments in a double down lead into this vicious twisted hill that really throws riders from one side to the other in a welcome return to the type of out of control forces that set this sort of ride apart for me.

With more than enough momentum for one more moment of insanity, a third and final Zero-G inversion takes the train into the closing turn and brake run at an impressive speed. One thing that particularly stands out about Zadra is it’s height to length ratio and the way that it simply blasts through the layout with a very high average speed. This feeling is really accentuated as you tear into those final brakes with your stomach essentially being wrapped around the restraint under such intense stopping force, which is just fantastic.

So, in case it wasn’t clear, I absolutely adored Zadra. It’s got that little bit of everything I look for in a ride of this nature. A strong variety of forces, incredible individual moments, something old, something new. A complete package of a world class coaster experience. We spent two full days on park and tried to rack up as many laps as possible, along with fellow headline attraction Hyperion, closing out the second day with an especially memorable pseudo night-ride that was simply sublime. It was also deeply unpleasant, as the low light level brought all the insects out to play and riders were peppered with millions of tiny bugs, many of which found their way under our eyelids after being hit at ~70Mph. You just know a ride is that good when you can brush off any such adversity and say ‘it was totaly worth it.’

As for how it stacks up against the rest of the world, after much deliberation on the day I settled on it being my 3rd favourite RMC so far, a list that no doubt will need a critical update once I get a few more under my belt. While spectacular in almost every way, it just doesn’t have that thigh-crushing intensity I associate with my absolute best and though there are a fair few tasty airtime moments, I feel like just a couple more would have suited my personal palate.
Upon the inevitable analysis after returning back home Zadra came as close as you can get to being a ‘top ten ride’ without actually being one, yet I’m sure it would easily be for almost anyone else.

Score Card

Ride Review – Soaring with Dragon

The triple launch coaster has become a popular purchase over the last decade. The main advantage to these started out as the ability to hit high speeds over a shorter length of track, a feature which is great for both fitting thrill rides into small spaces and cost saving by increasing ride duration over the same amount of physical steel. The general design also comes with selling points such as eye-catching reverse spike elements and the marketability of multiple launches, or backwards movement, any of which can be turned into a ‘first in <any location>’ these days.

Intamin first entered this particular market in 2016 with the striking looking Soaring with Dragon at Hefei Wanda theme park. Unlike the other competition we had seen up until this point, this was not a compact ride at all. This was the headline attraction for a brand new park, with a sprawling layout that seems to have only ever intended to capitalise on the sheer spectacle of a massive triple launch, rather than any of the other more pedestrian benefits.

I managed to visit Hefei Wanda exactly one year after it first opened, a day on which they were celebrating this first anniversary with heavily discounted entrance tickets and the promise of a late night fireworks display. Coupled with being a Saturday, it was amongst the busiest I’ve seen from any Chinese park during my travels. It is perhaps thanks (or no thanks) to these crowd levels that I witnessed some highly unlikely two train operations on Soaring with Dragon, a spectacle which I have never seen at all in this country outside of Disney.

This kept people moving at a reasonable pace, with the wait times settling at around an hour for most of the day and it was during these slower periods that I got to fully appreciate the design of the queue. The path winds its way in and out of several buildings as it heads towards the station, steadily drawing nearer to the launch track as it goes.

If you’ve heard the sound of either of Intamin’s 2016 LSM builds then you’ll know that they have a rather distinct character to them, a real guttural and resounding vibration of a noise that’s very unlike the clattering of a hydraulic launch or the comparatively gentle whistle and hum of other magnetic propulsion. It is, in a word, intimidating, and as you approach it over time the sound gets louder until the point where guests can actually see it happening just through the fence and foliage, almost drowning out the screams in its wake.

The effects of this on the expectant riders that I witnessed were rather profound and again something I haven’t really experienced elsewhere in the country, either due to lack of crowding and atmosphere or an observed general lack of paying attention to surroundings – ‘we’re having a day out and doing a thing, but it doesn’t matter.’ Guests were vocally nervous, excited and buzzing about what they were seeing and hearing here and that’s always infectious and nice to see. Even I had a small case of the jitters, though that was likely because it was threatening to rain at any moment and ruin my day.

Entry into the station building gets you up close and personal with one of my favourite train designs. Sure it has the wonderfully raised open seating and lap bars popularised by the Mack megacoaster, but really it’s all about that cheerful looking dragon on the front. I love it.

Surprisingly soon (you know, because there’s actually a reason to despatch the train reasonably efficiently when there’s another waiting behind), the first corner is traversed, the switch track is crossed, and you’re ready to soar.

A short but surprising burst of acceleration kicks things off with a little tease halfway up into the massively imposing initial element. What really gets things going though is the backwards launch just as you ease back into your seat after that supposed failed attempt. It’s powerful, and it comes with a general lack of anticipation, making it all the more frightening. There’s now enough momentum to make it most of the way up that enormous reverse spike, which provides a great sense of weightlessness and visuals that would more usually be associated with a swing ride over a coaster.

As you hit the launch track running for the final time there’s one more wrench, though it’s not quite as powerful as a full on rolling launch you might find elsewhere, with a little hesitation as if to say ‘you’ve already got enough speed going here’ – that reverse one is too good for it’s own good. The train can of course now clear the non-inverting loop, an element that generates a fascinating set of sensations and one that’s quite hard to put into words. Something I do notice in these, while being slowly rotated from ‘not quite upside down’ through to ‘not quite upside down again’ is the overwhelming sense of scale and height at which you’re performing the manouevre.

In the coaster world this altitude is most commonly dedicated to the upright riding positions of a lift hill, top hat or camelback and I have ridden a few of the biggest monsters out there without really feeling that height. There’s something about throwing some lateral movements into the mix, or perhaps viewing the sky the wrong way up that just enhances it far more for me.

Straight after diving back towards the ground, you’re thrust up into an actual inversion and that happens all over again. It’s a graceful execution rather than an intense one, it’s good to have these moments of serenity to mix the ride up a bit.

The element turns you back towards the station and fires you out into a glorious speed hill over pathing and buildings, another fantastic visual moment but, more importantly, a real highlight of the ride experience.

For me sadly the spectacle ends here, as the remainder of the layout consists of two fast turnarounds separated by an unremarkable change of direction, and the brake run.

The second of these corners takes place around the ridiculously huge and attractive dragon centrepiece of the park but I have to say that this feature lends itself to being as good offride as it is onride, with nothing particular in the way of exciting forces to speak of during that segment of track.

I hugely admire the ambition and the presentation here, but the perfectionist in me wishes for a better execution and a ride that starts so overwhelmingly strong just seems to burn out before its time. With half the time spent in those glorious first elements, it never really ‘gets going’ with anything fast paced or out of control, the contrast to the serenity that can make coasters the best of the best.

Perhaps there is a little more of that underlying raison d’être present in this triple launch than I alluded to earlier but still, Soaring with Dragon is an amazing experience overall and Intamin’s first attempt at this particular concept did seem to spark a degree of interest for several more throughout the industry, as there were some very exciting announcements not too long after the debut. From attractions like this one I just know that this Swiss manufacturer has all the potential to dominate the industry once more, so we’re just waiting for a park to go all out, throw everything on the table and really tip the multi-launch over the edge.

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Ride Review – DC Rivals Hypercoaster

There’s a huge disparity between the northern and southern hemispheres when it comes to the world of coasters. While we have countless creations to get excited about up top, that keep those like myself busy for years and years, down under there have so far only ever been a small handful of particularly significant attractions spread across the three continents.

2017 was a massive year for the Australian amusement scene. Warner Bros. Movie World had decided to construct their first custom coaster in 12 long years and not only was it going to be by far the biggest around, it would also include a very special feature and have all the potential to be a real world beater. Based on their previous lineup, Australia had always been a distant dream for me in this hobby, somewhere I’d like to go at some point, but no real hurry. As soon as this ride burst onto the scene we were pretty much on the first plane there.

DC Rivals is the second ever hyper coaster to be built by Mack Rides, the German company with a long and proud history who have only really been pushing intense thrill designs on us for the past 10 years or so. They had debuted this coaster type the previous year over in China with Flash, a 200 foot monster with both massive inversions and soaring airtime hills – two features that rarely go hand and hand in designs of this scale. While Warner Bros. chose to forego any conventional upside down moments, this one was also to be far from your traditional hyper coaster as it features two backwards facing seats located on the rear car of every train.

Before we study the effects of that insanity however, let’s take a look at the layout from a conventional, forwards facing perspective. It begins with a swift and relatively steep climb up to 202ft, greeting the unusual looking Joker faced lighting feature at the summit. The first drop goes pretty much vertical, very quickly, as well as twisting 90° to the right. It creates a violent combination of ejection from the seat and an unsettling lateral shift to immediately put you out of your comfort zone – no mean feat considering how comfy these Mack trains are.
The subsequent camel back is ridiculously huge and contains one of the longest and strongest sustains that I have encountered, the kind of which almost leaves you not knowing what to do with yourself – flail, scream, laugh, hold onto your head, slap your knees? Or all of the above, there’s time.

Following on from this is a slight turn to the left, following the outline of the car park and entrance road, into the striking non-inverting loop element. Instead of the traditional hang you’d anticipate from a standard loop of this silly scale, the 360° twist at the peak provides a very unusual mixture of whipping, falling and floating that’s rather difficult to describe. I’ve always found these a visually stunning moment on board any ride that features one as you catch a glimpse of the surroundings from so many angles and really appreciate the such great height.

After such a strong starting sequence, unfortunately the ride wavers a bit for me here in the following section. A high overbanked corner leads into several more twists and turns which, although covering quite a wide range of elevations, the changes are rather shallow and lacking in significant impact. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment of a hyper coaster trying to break the mould of your average out-and-back ‘hill, turn, hill’ design here, this portion of the ride just doesn’t contain any true standout moments and 3 years later I’m even struggling a little to remember what exactly goes on.

So after slightly too long for my own liking, the train enters another twisted moment back under the overbank and negotiates a lower and faster set of turns that intertwine with the non-inverting loop. This picks up the pace again and snakes out towards the station with a couple more sharp transitions before firing riders into what could well be the highlight of the attraction.

Two sequential mini airtime hills that aren’t quite dead straight, with the subtlest of gradual curves the the left throughout both, contain what I’m sure has been claimed at some point in time as the strongest negative Gs on record. While I can’t verify that information, I know that they’re definitely up there as some of the most powerful I’ve ever experienced, to the point of creating an entirely new to me sensation – feeling airtime through my teeth.

The track then dips directly underneath the first drop and hits a highly unusual off-axis hill to finish on before snapping into the brake run with a real vigour. Despite the seemingly slower middle section the ride is still carrying a surprising amount of energy into the final moments and that almost makes up for the imperfections from earlier on.
But almost is the key word and whilst I absolutely adore the ridiculousness of this attraction, the layout itself wasn’t quite the game changer I wanted it to be. It had the moments to make it there for sure, just not the complete package.

We’re not done yet though, as there’s a whole different experience to discuss. The backwards row requires an upcharge ticket of 10 Dollarydoos which may seem a little steep, but the timeslot system keeps the crowds at bay (it essentially doubles as a fastrack ticket) and makes it feel that little bit more special. We more than happily laid down the cash on multiple occasions because clearly it’s not every day that you travel to the literal other side of the world to specifically experience something like this. Besides, it’s nothing short of incredible.

To say we went in unprepared on the first lap is an understatement. A casual conversation was taking place on the lift hill which was then interrupted all too suddenly with sheer terror like little else I’ve felt before on a ride. The lack of visual anticipation plays all sorts of tricks on the body and mind and as you plummet vertically downwards, facing the sky, you may well find your heart in your mouth before being wrenched sideways and out into the rest of the layout at the mercy of some relentless machine.

The massive airtime hill is of course spectacular, in either direction really, though as with everything in this seating position, it feels just that but more intense for not really knowing what’s going on behind you.

The effect is even more prevalent in the twisted madness of the non-inverting loop and, perhaps most important of all, it carries well into the following section. Every moment that I felt lacked impact in the middle third of the ride had something more to offer when travelling backwards. It’s quite clear that they were aiming for an intense, out of control sequence here and though it may not have hit the mark in the traditional direction, each snappy transition and each burst of elevation change just has that all important extra kick to it, ragdolling riders around with far more than they may have bargained for.

Here comes airtime, you can’t stop the airtime. I’ve almost suppressed how stupidly good the final two (three) hills of the ride feel in reverse and this leads us nicely into the dilemma that this attraction now presents me.

Almost every ride has its good and bad days, conditions in which it could be running at its prime based on the weather or the crowds, there are countless external factors that can have an impact on how any individual experiences a coaster and this makes it all the more fun for us to review, rate and rank our personal favourites against all the single snapshots we take in on our travels. DC Rivals provides you with a conscious choice to forego most of these effects and guarantee a measurably altered ride experience, and I’d say it was the first elite level rollercoaster to do this.

Speaking from the present, in a forwards facing seat, I would personally put this ride on par with sibling Flash, around the back end of my top 30 in the world – high praise indeed. It’s far more intense and powerful than the original, fixing what is essentially the only flaw I found in that ride, but considering I’m somewhat of a layout and design fanatic, DC Rivals is nowhere near as wholly competent and that will forever irk me. If we ever get a third design that combines the strengths of the two one day, I’ll be in coaster heaven.

Backwards though, it really is something else. I’ve studied some of the effects on this site before and I’d love to see them feature quite a bit more throughout the industry in future, with this attraction being the primary reasoning behind that sentiment. At the time of visiting it was easily amongst my all time favourites that could be counted on one hand and today, with more than double the coasters to my name, it would likely still crack the top ten.

So how can I really rank it? (Oh no, he’s off on one of these again). As far as I can see, there’s two things you can do with it.

1. Treat each experience as two different entires on the list – although perhaps more meaningful from a purist point of view, this leads to a couple of complications such as:
At what point do you draw the line between separate experiences and start doing this for other rides? As I mentioned above there are always other factors that have an impact on how well a ride treats you on any given occasion.
I already take issue with things having the same name and having to specify which one in the world you mean, so by extension it just feels awkward to say something like ‘My top ten coasters are: Number 5 – DC Rivals Hypercoaster, but only in the backwards seats
2. Take an average of the two experiences and place it in the middle of the two positions you might have otherwise secured for the individual parts, even though it’s not objectively better than the ride that now happens to be below it, or objectively worse than the ride that happens to be above it – feels harsh, but the cleaner option.

I went for the second option, though the mere thought of this still keeps me up at night. Occupational hazard.

Score Card

Ride Review – Wood Express

It feels like I haven’t raved about Gravity Group woodies for at least a week now so let’s take a look at one of their miniature European offerings. Wood Express opened at Parc Saint Paul in France on the 1st July 2018 and in my eagerness to experience even more of the manufacturer’s goodness we managed to hop across the channel and try it out just a couple of weeks into operation.

Outside of the absolute monsters they also happen to construct, the company have developed a bit of a reputation for creating some of the world’s best ‘family’ woodies, smaller wooden coasters with lower height restrictions aimed at younger guests, but due to the effectiveness of their layouts these are good fun for just about anyone. Standing at a mere 50ft tall, Wood Express is a perfect testament as to why this concept works so well (and would do so for just about any amusement establishment in the world).

The short 6 car Timberliner train with its as-standard cushy seats and comfy lap bars carries a remarkable amount of momentum out of this first drop, which is best experienced in the back row for that initial short burst of signature airtime. In following a reasonably classic out and back style, the first outbound leg of the journey consists of a (relatively) large airtime hill and a quick slight right turn under some structure into a faster shallow hill before banking hard and coming back on itself.

The exit of this turn contains a sharp hop of a transition while levelling out and then surges up into the next largest hill in a ‘double-up’ type affair. A further two airtime moments are squeezed into this straight section with both a leap over the first stretch of track and a reverse equivalent of the transition into the next floor hugging hairpin, back at the station end of the layout.

To compliment the earlier little ‘double-up’ we now get a mini ‘double-down’ in the same manner upon leaving the second turnaround. It’s an unusual sequence that’s hard to see coming and even harder to predict when the expected time spent out of your seat is rudely interrupted for the briefest of moments before resuming normal service.

While still carrying an astonishing amount of drive there’s yet another hill of almost the same height as the previous largest which somehow manages to not skimp on any of the force. This leads to the final, sharpest corner which performs a reverse of the first speed hill under the structure and a quick slight left into the tiny home stretch, consisting of a quick transitional pop and an enthusiastic little burst into the brake run.

Wood Express always left me wanting more, though in no way did I ever feel short changed by the amount of quality ride time it packs into just 1,500ft of track. It’s ridiculous fun for what it is and the perfect excuse to keep lapping again and again.
There’s a satisfying bit of symmetry or even Feng shui going on in the layout, making use of what little there really is to play with in terms of height, speed and what anyone could realistically do with the footprint, but yet the experience still manages to feel significantly wild, unpredictable and out of control, sticking to the roots of what makes me prefer this style of coaster to other more simplistic ‘airtime machines.’

With that in mind, though I’m not usually one to count moments in the interests of maintaining that lack of anticipation in any given instance, I did find myself instinctively adding them up in my head on this ride over the course of a few rounds. The result is a mind-boggling 12 (13 in the back) and while none of them are obviously spectacular in their own right, I find the best part about the whole experience is how consistent in delivery and force these moments are from start to finish. There’s no real sense of slowing down, weakening or pausing for thought and it just seems to defy the inherent physics of a rollercoaster, which is nothing short of top notch design in my eyes.

Score Card

Ride Review – Flash

Even though Mack Rides have now been building rollercoasters for 100 years, they were rather late to the hyper coaster party with their HyperCoaster model. On New Year’s day in 2016 their very first build to exceed 200ft opened to the public at Lewa Adventure in China, over a quarter of a century after that same height barrier was first traditionally broken.

Flash comes with a twist though and it was certainly worth the wait in my humble opinion. Traditional hypers always ended up as lots of straight hills, often boring corners and never went upside down, nothing like the stunning work of art you’re seeing pictured above then. This vertical loop matched the world record for tallest of its kind at 160ft, forcing Full Throttle at Six Flags Magic Mountain to share this title for 18 months until the modification of Do-Dodonpa in mid-2017, and is the first of two inversions found in this rather groundbreaking layout.

This ride is currently solely responsible for putting Xi’an on the map for coaster enthusiasts, already one of the country’s top 3 most visited cities largely thanks to the Terracotta Army – so it has to be said that they were disgracefully slow on the uptake when it came to building amusement parks! In 2018 I experienced both, and you can no doubt guess what was the highlight of the visit was for me.

I arrived at the entrance first thing in the morning to find that the park were equally slow on the uptake as daily testing had not yet been completed. Very unusually for China, a small gathering of either keen guests or already avid local fans were camping out the entrance in anticipation – a display of good taste! General experience has shown that this is rarely a consideration out here, particularly when other attractions in the park are available and notions of coaster fandom are far younger. Ever the professional, I joined in with this waiting game, mind firmly set on boarding that sacred first train of the day.

Light entertainment to pass the time was found on the entrance sign. All the important details are documented on here so you don’t even need my review now, but here it comes anyway.
After some particularly extensive operational procedures had taken place, I took my seat and was greeted with the following view:

I’m a fan of intimidating framing on rollercoasters and this one surely fits that bill. A reasonably brisk climb takes the train up through the centre of the impending loop, providing somewhat of an illusional effect that you’ll never make it out the other side – the track appeared at least as high as the first drop until the moment it left my field of view. That’s not going to work, surely.
The real fun begins at the first drop, which is no world beater, but it does provide a satisfying blend of forces with decent airtime, a sharp twist and some strong positive forces in the still curved pullout.

Turns out I’m a fan of huge loops too. There’s just something about them once you hit a certain scale; the sustained sensation of surrealism in being upside down (but not feeling the adverse side effects) for so long, having a quiet moment to yourself to look around and appreciate that fact, even subtle little visual cues like noticing how tiny you and the train feel against all that track. Things have come a long way with these rides and it’s beautiful to behold.

Traditional hyper coaster service resumes with the first huge surging airtime hill of the layout. POV watchers may have spotted the trim brakes present here, often a pet peeve of mine too, but I’m happy to report that they made no impact on the ride experience for me, to the point that I flat forgot they existed.

Keeping things highly varied and also providing a slight change of direction, the crest of the following hill banks at 90° to the horizontal, somewhat gracefully hanging riders out to one side through a slightly more subdued airtime moment, but one that delivers well with an extra twist both in and out.

Another faster and lower airtime hill completes the outbound sequence of elements and is perhaps the most potent of the entire layout.

There is a solid reason why I keep mentioning traditional hypers one too many times, here it comes again. Where we might often find a huge and largely uninteresting sweeping turn at this point to turn such a massive chunk of steel back in the other direction and break the flow of the ride, on Flash we find this exciting pseudo-inversion (doesn’t quite hit that golden angle), almost-immelman type turnaround with a forceful start and whippy finish.

The second and final actual inversion hits next in the form of a beautifully executed Zero-G roll. Sometimes this element can feel a little overused, out of place or even unnecessary in a layout, particularly in more recent times, but there’s something about Mack’s versions that always seems to hit the spot for me, perhaps complimented by such wonderful freedom of movement in the seating – I forgot to mention this ride of course has my favourite trains, a.k.a. Helix trains. This one is perfect.

While navigating the next two slightly twisted airtime hills I may have started to notice the only real issue I see with this coaster – it’s not quite aggressive enough for my personal tastes. I do like a ride to get a bit wild at some point and really give me something to think about and feel like this part would have been the golden opportunity for that. The experience remains highly competent and polished here, if just the tiniest bit underwhelming. Let’s overshadow that thought now by asking have I mentioned how gorgeous Flash looks?

The final sequence involves a sharp and forceful corner that brings the train right to the ground for a little twisted S-bend slither, some semblance of a tiny overbanked turn and a hop into the brakes. I love the change of pace in these final moments here and they emphasise a little more the point which I alluded to in the previous paragraph – more violence please.

What a ride though. Easily one of the worlds finest and, for me at least, a significantly greater experience than any traditional hyper I’ve ridden to date. Almost everything about the varied and forceful layout just suits me down to the ground, from the powerful airtime moments to the graceful inversions, from the cracking visuals to the wonderful trains. It exists amongst the absolute best in terms of all round coaster packages, particularly across this scale and height, though it just never truly exceeds at any one thing, leaving it to somewhat lurk in the shadows behind some of the more bombastic attractions amongst my favourites.
Dare I say it’s almost too well designed? It lacks a little in what I often coin as ‘character’ by feeling so damn competent, even just a bit of theming or music or one wacky moment could have pushed this one over the edge for me. Maybe it’ll come with maturity – there’s a plaque stating a 50 year shelf life on this one and I certainly hope it lasts that long.

Look at that – I managed to make it to the end without once moaning about the fact that it got cloned and built in Turkey with a generic-ass name, further robbing it of any charm and individuality! Bah.

Score Card

Ride Review – OCT Thrust SSC1000

What a mouthful of a name. OCT Thrust SSC1000 is derived from both the jet car (ThrustSSC) that holds the world land speed record and the operating company of the park in which it resides (who knows about the 1000). OCT run a number of theme and amusement properties throughout China, the most well known of which are the Happy Valley parks and this particular S&S compressed air launch coaster lives within Wuhan’s contribution to the chain. This is the most recent installation of the ride type at any OCT property, with the opening of the next at Window of the World Changsha still TBA, and the layout is a mirrored clone of Bullet Coaster from their Shenzhen park – we’ll come to the reasoning later as to why the original won’t be receiving as much of the spotlight here today.

Do-dodonpa – Fuji-Q Highland

The ride is also one of only 7 rollercoasters operating throughout the world with such a launch system. Compressed air launches found fame (notoriety) back in 2001 with the opening of both Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion and Dodonpa at Fuji-Q Highland. The former was plagued with reliability issues and had a rather short lifespan for a rollercoaster, sadly I never had the chance to try this one with only 6 years in operation, though the latter has managed to successfully retain the world record for fastest acceleration on a coaster and will celebrate its 20th birthday later this year.
It took a whole ten years before the concept was revived and purchased again by Happy Valley themselves but, more importantly, it was also vastly improved upon.

These originals relied on the unprecedented intensity of their launch systems to provide the main thrill, the selling point of the ride and the layouts were much simpler in design. You may well know by now that I’m not a huge fan of this idea, the sensations of a launch alone have never been enough for a coaster to enter my personal big leagues.
I believe these specific S&S creations are solely to blame for my current mentality as the Chinese installations introduced a more varied and interesting sequence of elements into the mix. Not only is the launch sequence the most terrifying and violent on the planet, we now have an amazing coaster to complement it, to make good use of all that potential energy.
When I first experienced acceleration like this it was unlike anything else that had come before and by the end of the ride I was physically exhausted. I had to sit down on a bench and recover for a while, as opposed the usual run straight back round for a reride. This rarely happens to me at all now, if ever, especially for those exceptional rides which I deem ‘worth’ any physical duress these days. Subsequent launches have invariably felt inferior too (including the king). In other words, I’m broken.

On to the actual ride then. OCT Thrust begins with the train, which now by the way also has 3x the seating capacity, making the power of the launch seem even more ridiculous with all that extra weight, pulling forward onto an unassuming launch track underneath a TV screen you might well find anywhere else in the park that usually shows off some generic Happy Valley promo shots of the ride (poorly edited amongst others from the chain).
The train negotiates back and forth a couple of times as the catch car comes into place while unnerving mechanical noises are made. After a tense pause, riders are then mercilessly blasted into the first top hat at an incomprehensible pace. The stats are yet to be officially verified to my knowledge but due to the technology we can assume they most likely sit somewhere between Dodonpa’s world record and the equivalent fastest accelerating hydraulic or LSM launches of the theme park world, so ~80Mph in significantly under 2 seconds.

The launch may as well be instantaneous, as it certainly feels that way, but now the fun begins. Thanks to some open seating design and lap bar restraints, the powerful airtime on the first element can be fully enjoyed as the ride plunges over 220ft into a tunnel below some pathway – a great moment for riders and spectators alike.

Keen eyed readers may have spotted the trim brakes on that first drop but do bear in mind that I would be the first to report on and complain about any negative impact they had on the ride experience – there was none. The exit of the tunnel leads into a banked upwards turn culminating in a second strong airtime moment as the train dives towards ground level again.

As though taking inspiration from more conventional hyper coasters, this track is designed for airtime moment after airtime moment, the third of which comes with a twist at the top providing some satisfying lateral forces in addition to the now expected out of the seat sensation.

The fourth and final hill breaks the mould yet again by being banked completely to the right at 90° to the ground. This gives the unusual feeling of the body being kicked sideways against the will of gravity in an attempt to leave the train and is a feature that has later been included in and popularised by several RMC creations, amongst other coasters.

The last element in the sequence is a tight and twisted double turnaround, this time intense in the positive G department and culminating in a rather brutal snap (possibly unintentional, but I call it character) into the brake run. It feels a little soon but I believe the whole point in this style of ride is to leave you a little dazed and breathless, which it achieves all too well with that ridiculous launch and subsequently ending almost as quickly as it began. The important thing is that all the moments in between are of the highest quality.
Why has the ride (and the sky) changed colour? Well I didn’t have a picture of this final section of track for OCT Thrust and so I’ll cheat and say that this is a good point to segue into the key differences with the original installation of this layout – Bullet Coaster.

Strangely enough I want to like the original more. After all it came first, I rode this one first and I’m not exactly an advocate of cloned layouts around here. The Shenzhen installation looks far more attractive too, being set in a Shangri-La themed area with that much prettier colour scheme. Unfortunately this version of the ride fell victim to something which makes this whole ranking clones business a bit more of a nonsense than it already is – a revisit. A reassessment.
Let’s just say this second visit wasn’t a good day in the grand scheme of theme park trips and the ride itself felt like it was vastly underperforming. I wasn’t getting the same kick, the same buzz I had since become used to getting from the ride type in general and I was upset by this revelation. The only reasonable way in which I can display this emotion is by no longer giving it the specific credit it undoubtedly deserves in a numbered list.

So it may be less easy on the eye but OCT Thrust hasn’t yet been given the opportunity to let me down (almost, but covid). It currently remains my favourite S&S air launch coaster and takes the honour of being the key representative for the layout, with Bullet Coaster sadly relegated to sitting outside my top 25.
Every single moment of the ride delivered with spectacular efficiency during my time spent with it. I love the sequence of elements and the way they all hit the mark, never faltering for one second. The hallmark of coaster design at its finest.

Just to confuse things further, this same logic doesn’t apply to my score cards. The opportunity for an objectively better card (in both theming and opening year) trumps any personal feelings. Have to be sensible about these highly important matters.

Score Card

Ride Review – Hakugei

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.

Score Card

Ride Review – El Toro

Located at Six Flags Great Adventure, El Toro is in my opinion the greatest wooden coaster on the planet, it is an absolute masterpiece of modern engineering that turns the much loved wooden coaster into something truly incredible.

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First a bit of history before I start gushing over perfection. El Toro was the last coaster built by Six Flags during their era of excess. This era brought the World the coaster legends Kingda Ka, Tatsu and X, as well as countless highly regarded Inverted, Floorless, Hyper and Flying coasters.

El Toro is an Intamin Prefabricated Wooden Coaster, this means the track is laser cut in a factory and then delivered to the park and assembled much more like a steel coaster would be. Intamin to date have only built 4 prefabs, with El Toro being the 3rd and the only one in the US.

Both of those previous facts make El Toro’s very existence seem rather unbelievable. What if Six Flags had ended their spending spree 1 coaster earlier? What if Six Flags hadn’t taken the risk and added such a rare and untested coaster model? It’s obvious isn’t it? We wouldn’t be blessed with wooden perfection and the World would be a much sadder place.

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Other than making construction much easier what are the other benefits of these prefabs from the point of view of a park? Well it’s not the cost that’s for sure. A prefab of this size is easily equal to the cost of a similar sized steel monster, if not more. In theory, prefabs require much less day to day maintanence than a traditional wooden coaster, but still much more than a steel one, further adding to the mystery of El Toro’s existence.

While not fantastic from a park’s perspective, the prefab technology is amazing from a riders. The precision cut track sections offer 2 major advantages over traditional woodies in terms of ride experience. The first being the coasters are much smoother, as smooth as steel in most cases. The other, the more important, is thanks to the track construction prefabs are able to handle much greater positive and negative forces than a traditional woodie. In El Toro’s case this means one thing only, ejector airtime at it’s finest.

Yeah you heard me right, El Toro has the greatest ejector airtime on Earth. While Skyrush may deliver slightly more, it almost goes too far in it’s approach and turns being ejected into a test of endurance. I still love Skyrush to pieces, mostly for said brutality, but I prefer El Toro’s slightly less aggressive but still absolutely insane approach to launching you into orbit.

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Now join me as we climb aboard the bull and discover why it’s the greatest wooden coaster ever built, just try your best not to be thrown off…

After making your way through El Toro’s rather uninspired queueline, you eventually ascend stairs into a well themed station building. This station building was recycled from Viper, a Togo Looper that used to sit where part of El Toro does today.

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It’s here where you and 35 other lucky riders board the amazing Intamin prefab train. These trains are incredibly open and feature Intamin’s fantastic T bar restraints, the perfect combination for the airtime filled madness that is coming.

Restaints locked and clear all cars. Enjoy your ride on El Toroooooooooooo…

After taking a left hand turnaround to get things pointing in the right direction, you find yourself looking up at El Toro’s massive lift hill. You won’t have long to regret your life decisions here though because soon you are hauling up the structure thanks to the always fantastic cable lift hill.

And here’s where things get really crazy…

I’m a sucker for amazing first drops on coasters and El Toro’s might just be the best in the World. Thanks to the momentum created by the cable lift hill and the insane length (you can thank the prefab tech again for that) of the trains, taking El Toro’s near 200 foot 76 degree drop in the back car almost shouldn’t be legal. You are ejected so violently into that drop that you’ll find yourself questioning if this is real life. One of the strongest elements on a coaster ever and we have only just started.

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Now for something I wasn’t expecting. Once again thanks to the wonders of the prefab, El Toro is able to hit you with seriously strong positive Gs as you bottom out at the base of the World’s greatest first drop.

Here comes the first airtime hill and Christ are you in for something special. The greatest ejector air on Earth sustained for a sickening amount of time. You’ll have enough time to turn to your neighbouring rider, exchange a look of true fear, shout something offensive, wish it was over, wish it wouldn’t end, while all 36 of you and the train are taking off and the upstop wheels are quite literally screaming.

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You liked that didn’t you? Let’s do it again then! More crushing positves at the base of the first airtime hill, followed immediately and violently by more thigh crushing sustained ejector air over the equally as insane second airtime hill.

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We’ve run out of room now, let’s turn this bull around. It’s here where El Toro calms down a bit but it’s far from boring. You’re treated to a decent blend of floater air, laterals and positives in a turnaround manoeuvre that starts and ends with large hills.

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Next up is a speed hill that provides yet another enjoyable moment of floater airtime, before things pick up again in spectacular fashion.

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If you thought El Toro was insane before, which it was was, you haven’t seen anything yet. It’s now time to experience the infamous Rolling Thunder hill. Named after the wooden coaster this element used to pass over, this airtime hill isn’t as sustained as the previous 2 but is 10 times more aggressive. If Skyrush didn’t exist this would be the strongest pop of ejector ever created, it is quite literally the definition of too much.

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There’s no time to catch your breath after that brutality though, you now enter the so-called bucking bronco portion of El Toro. This is a series of intense low to the ground turns designed to viciously throw you about. Some coaster snobs consider prefabs to not be real woodies because they are “too smooth” and “only focus on airtime”, I feel the bucking bronco section was added to El Toro to shake some sense into them, it’s fast, it’s fun and the perfect ending to a fantastic coaster.

It’s almost law for the whole train to burst into applause as you re-enter the station, on some coasters this act feels forced, on El Toro it feels earned.

Hands down my favourite sensation in the coaster World is ejector airtime and for that alone you can’t do any better than El Toro. While I’d listen to the argument that El Toro is JUST airtime and nothing else, when the moments of airtime are the best you’ll ever experience can this truly be considered such a bad thing?


Ride Review – Wood Coaster

As the most difficult to obtain rollercoaster under my belt so far (potentially ever), the pay off for finally riding this monster from GCI was huge. Something to consider about most Chinese parks is that they’ll seemingly find any excuse not to open and run certain major attractions. The reasoning for this remains a mystery, it could be anything from financial pressure to overbearing regulations but it can be very frustrating to experience first hand, particularly when you’ve also seen elsewhere in the world how it simply doesn’t have to be this way.

I had visited the city of Shenzhen twice before with the intention of riding Wood Coaster and on both occasions it just wasn’t meant to be. On the very first, which also happened to be my inaugural visit to China, we made it all the way to the park to be told by the ticket office that their one and only rollercoaster was ‘closed for maintenance’. It was a painful experience.
A couple of years later, the second time around, I had learnt a lot more about when not to waste time by happening on such disappointments in person and we phoned ahead to be told yet again their one and only rollercoaster was ‘closed for maintenance’.

A further 18 months later I was out in Asia again and increasingly desperate to finally ride this thing. Research had finally become easier and the park actually had a relatively informative website by this point. On it they actually listed these ‘maintenance’ schedules (I keep putting that word in quotation marks because it is usually just a word they use to cover any other reason for closure) and I now knew to avoid Mondays, every third Thursday of the month and April (plus unofficially January, the month of my previous two spites). None of that mattered of course if there was going to be any rain and as the trip approached the weather forecast looked bad, very bad.

Thankfully the stars aligned and it was third time lucky. After the most stressful build up to a ride ever, I was finally able to experience it for myself. So beyond all that exclusivity, what makes this coaster so special?

Location, location, location. Just look at that ridiculousness. But it comes at a price. The lift hill terrified me, as the train slowly drags you up, just above the tree line of the forest. With the subtropical climate, this particular area is home to a variety of giant, flapping creepy crawlies and they were swarming this section of the ride, landing on the cars and guests in front of me. I’m so far out of my comfort zone now and this really isn’t selling it, is it?

Mercifully as we reached the summit, the threat seemed to die down, we’re clearly too far up now. At the crest of the lift hill, the train takes a flat 270° turn, a manoeuvre that allows riders to fully appreciate the jaw-droppingly stunning and incomprehensible views this coaster has to offer. This feature endears the ride to me for a secondary reason, in some sort of hipster fashion that I simply cannot avoid. Wood Coaster did this trick before it was cool, before rides like Wildfire made it popular. I like that.

After that moment of serenity, things take a sudden turn. The momentum starts to build throughout something GCI pull off very well on their terrain coasters – a surging, multi-stage drop that just keeps on giving, more than a single straight top to bottom first drop ever could. Desperately trying to keep my mouth shut in case of stray bugs, while simultaneously squealing with excitement as the ride attempts to throw me out of my seat multiple times, we hit the unprecedented large airtime hill over the lift. Something GCI never do. I have no idea why that is, but it’s amazing.

Full momentum still hasn’t been reached by this point and we now dive into an area completely hidden from regular view, a valley with a great headchopper moment from some future track crossing over. This part of the ride is where I noticed that this thing is rough. Not a bad rough though. Highly aggressive, very impactful and all the better for it as far as my own personal tastes go. Right on the limit of making a wooden coaster that extra bit special without detracting from the experience.

That sensation is important for another reason, because it stops what could otherwise be seen as uneventful elements, such as the following extended banked curve from being uninteresting. If I’m getting my ass kicked by the ride then I’m not going to pause and have time to complain about that. Just how it works for me.

Not that I would dream of doing that anyway, because even these corners are packed with GCI’s signature weird transitions, lumps and bumps that give surprise airtime in all the wrong places. Other rides they’ve made don’t have these at all. Why? With some further diving, turning and a wicked little twisted moment, the train heads back towards the station, with far too much momentum to stop of course.

Another GCI signature in the form of a station flythrough. Sadly due to questionable Chinese operations, this one never gets appreciated by guests waiting to board, as unlike the rest of the world (and contradicting the very reason they created this element in the first place) they choose keep the station area entirely vacant while the ride is in motion. It’s fantastic on-ride though, with a wonderfully unnatural lurch upon entry and exit to this flat piece of sheltered track.

The twists and turns just keep on coming and this ride doesn’t know how to slow down at all. After another banked curve that points us back towards the station we enter my favourite part of the entire layout. There’s another legendary element out there that was popularised by RMC on Lightning Rod – the quad down. Well once again, Wood Coaster did it first. I hadn’t dreamed that it was going to be this wild and I just can’t describe how much joy I take from both innovative and out of control moments like this. The train hurtles down airtime moment after airtime moment, both straight and banked, and passes directly through the station yet again, right in between the platform and the brake run in one of the most triumphant pieces of layout design I can think of.

This weird forest tunnel is next as we finally turn towards that piece of track that created our headchopper so long ago – I was wondering when that was coming back. There’s still room for an airtime hill perpendicular to the station this time before a final dive and turn into the brakes. Wow. Head in hands, what just happened, top ten ride? Yes. Twister layouts simply don’t get better than this. I still can’t believe how much this ride throws at you, or how they managed to make it all work in such a seemingly unforgiving landscape.

And that’s the core of what makes this attraction so spectacular to me. Putting a huge wooden rollercoaster on the side of a mountain is the stuff of enthusiast dreams and just not something we would expect to actually exist in real life. The fact that GCI pulled this one off and also held absolutely nothing back in terms of layout and sheer thrill is nothing short of masterful. When it comes to pushing the limits of coaster engineering, there’s almost always something that has to work against the riders’ experience and yet the only thing holding this ride back is the way the park choose to run it, i.e. not well.

Everything about Wood Coaster exhausts me, from the journey to get to it, through being thrown around like a rag doll while on it and then even to sitting down and writing about it, and yet after all my misgivings in the introduction, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a fairytale experience for a fairytale attraction.

Score Card

Ride Review – Eejanaika

4th Dimension coasters. Ridiculous contraptions – huge, complicated and expensive, there’s a reason why only 3 have been built across the world. The prototype, X at Six Flags Magic Mountain may well have contributed to the demise of Arrow Dynamics, the company responsible for creating the concept as in the same year of its opening they were bought out by S&S, who manufactured the remaining two over in Japan and China.

Eejanaika was the first time S&S put the design back into action and in doing so they decided to go even taller and faster, while simultaneously setting a world record for the most ‘inversions’ on a rollercoaster. I use quotation marks here because these are not counted in the traditional sense, although they added an extra physical inversion to the layout in the form of a Zero-G Roll (bringing it up to 3), the remaining number of times riders are inverted is due to the rotation of the vehicles rather than the track design.

Having since tried both designs myself, this makes a massive difference to the experience, though I didn’t know it at the time of riding Eejanaika. In fact it wasn’t just this coaster that was an overwhelming typhoon of sensations, the entire day at the park did that to us. Before we talk any more about the ride, it’s probably best to mention our day at Fuji-Q as whole – we are in top ten territory here and it’s often the little extraneous details that tip these coasters over the edge for me.

Fuji-Q Highland is an absolute legend of a park to the industry, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Over the space of 15 years they built 4 consecutive monster coasters, all big named, record breaking, headline attractions that permeated the minds of every enthusiast, something I’d argue no other park in the world has achieved with such focus.

The challenge comes however in managing to ride them all in a single visit. Countless reports come in over the years about how terrible the place is, the pain of missing out on at least one of these coasters clouding judgment on the experience as a whole, I know the feeling. The fact the big 4 are all so intriguing makes the loss even harder to bear, particularly if it comes through experiencing the way the Japanese parks handle rainy days, of which they have a huge amount. We actually won out though, I still can’t believe it to this day, but the success story is here.

Even if everything is open, the queues are monumental, though they may not look it. Capacity is not on your side. That focus on high intensity thrill rides and little else comes at a price in that there’s very few other attractions to keep guests occupied and spread the load. It’s a popular park obviously, a massive name in Japan, so when they all come for the same thing, you can expect to wait in excess of 2 hours for each and every headline coaster. If one closes? That’s another 40 minutes of people to add to the other 3. If 2 close? You get the picture.

We experienced all of this, and more. Standing in the longest queue of my career (Fujiyama), the only 1 of 4 open at that precise moment, looking out at Eejanaika which hadn’t yet moved for the day. I can’t think of a single other park that does this, and it perfectly summarises all that I’ve said above about Fuji-Q, they play parkwide announcements to say “attention guests, Eejanaika is now open.” People know what they want, they know what they came for, they want to spread the queues around and actually get on something today!

Have you ever run for a rollercoaster? I have, many times, but never in this way. Usually it’s only that initial surge at the start of the day, if you’re present when they open the gates, otherwise there’s no point right? Yet here we are, several hours in to our visit, having not ridden a single thing, sprinting like madmen towards the biggest and scariest of the lot.
It didn’t work, they had already opened the queue well before the ride itself and we were faced with exactly what we had just abandoned – a multiple hour line of people in front of us. Desperation kicked in and there was a fastrack machine directly outside the entrance. We’ve come this far, we’ll have to pay our way through the day.

Why am I recounting this magnificent tale again? The fastrack ticket took us straight into the station without pause for breath and when I say these rides are legends, that’s not a guarantee that they’re good. They get mixed reviews – lots of love, just as much hate. They push engineering limits to the extreme, they could easily murder you (not literally) and for those reasons they’re downright terrifying. There was no time to mentally prepare for what was about to unfold, being batched directly into one of the holding pens to remove our shoes (also not reassuring) and then climbing into a contraption straight out of a nightmare.

The trains for this ride do nothing to instil you with any confidence. The restraints are completely unintuitive, requiring a staff member to come and strap you down in some complicated manner, fold in what can only be described as a waistcoat around your arms, across your chest and that’s it. Legs wildly dangling out the front, total freedom of movement in the lower half of your body, lap included. This does not feel right. Can you recheck this for me please? Oh, the’re playing the dispatch music and the staff are shouting “Eejanaika!” Too late, I’m going to die.

As soon as the train leaves the station it teases riders by tilting them right up onto their backs as it traverses the turn before the lift hill. Immediately I’m out of my comfort zone and that’s saying something because I’m not exactly new to this game, I’d ridden one before and had somehow suppressed almost every memory of the experience. The lift hill itself is, of course, backwards, with 240ft of steady ascent, desperately trying to work out what part of this restraint to hold onto (almost impossible), looking out at the mountains, trying and failing to calm down, not knowing when the ride will actually begin.

It begins by tilting you on your back again, as you feel the train behind you begin to accelerate and drag you toward your doom. This acceleration is paused briefly, as the seats now rotate you in the opposite direction, in perhaps the most calculated stroke of evil genius about the whole ride, you turn to face the floor just as it plummets towards the ground. This seat rotation is not refined or smooth, it bumps and jerks around with the most unusual and unnerving sensation. I’d like to say there was time to think ‘should it be doing that?’, but there’s no time to process thought at all throughout this ride and that’s what makes it so special to me.

I can’t really describe any of the rest of the layout with any form of conviction, because it’s all a wonderful blur of disorientation and pure, instinctive survival. I found myself holding on to whatever I could, as tight as I could as the train mercilessly threw me around like a rag doll. Not only are you travelling at ridiculous speeds and soaring through the air, like on any other major coaster, you’re also rotating this way and that with the accompanying bounce and wobble that comes as part of the package. True to the product name, there are 4 dimensions of sensation going on at the same time and that’s very hard for the mind to quantify.

Though you may think I’m mad for saying it, all of that which I just described is one of the best things ever. I love it. The more rollercoasters I experience over time, the more I get the feel for what each of them are going to do to me. In the most basic cases, having that visual cue in front of you of ‘oh, there’s an airtime hill coming next’ diminishes that very moment because your body expects it before it happens. I like to not see what’s coming, I like an unpredictable experience and I like a ride that feels out of control.

Eejanaika does ALL of that and then leaves me questioning what sensations I even like about it. It’s not an airtime machine – you can’t say I love those thigh bruising hills. It’s not intense in the traditional sense – you can’t say I love that head crushing helix. It’s not a visual masterpiece or heavily themed – you can’t say I love looking at the surroundings (once it begins). It has no moments. It is a moment. From start to finish.
There are very few other rides in the world that are in any way like that (2 to be precise, maybe the Freespins to a much lesser extent) and I can personally confirm that this version takes it to the greatest intensity of any of them. That killer combination of unique and extreme is why this coaster holds a top ten spot in my heart. It’s almost impossible to compare to everything else around it, but I just know that it has to be there, somewhere.

And then we rode it at night.

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