Ride Review – Twisted Colossus

My favourite RMC of the moment seems to be a rather divisive one. Due to the original wooden coaster that it ended up replacing (regular Colossus), it’s so far the only one that exists to use the duelling concept and contain two lift hills within the layout. The second lift is sometimes regarded as a pacing issue and of course if you don’t actually experience the duelling aspect in action then you’re likely going to feel a bit short changed. I know that feeling all too well. But how did I get on with it?

Well it was a very strong start. Due to the ridiculous size of Six Flags Magic Mountain, the fact that they currently own more rollercoasters than anywhere else in the world and reasonably high crowd levels (on new year’s eve no less), I didn’t actually get around to riding Twisted Colossus at all until the evening, in the dark.

Personally I think there’s a lot to be said for avoiding spoilers before you experience anything (across many other mediums as well) and this became particularly apparent for me in this instance. I had no idea what this ride did, what it’s layout contained and the resultant first lap was one of the greatest I’ve had on any coaster in recent memory. Lack of being able to see, lack of knowing what comes next and lack of anticipating each element as it comes often enhances how the sensations hit you and this was a dizzying blur of powerful airtime and delightful inversions. I still didn’t know what this ride did, but I left the park that night absolutely buzzing from it. What a way to end 2018.

As was always the plan for a park of this magnitude, I returned several days later in the trip to get further acquainted with the better attractions and dust off a couple of the more elusive ones. The bulk of the day was spent specifically back on this ride because I simply couldn’t get enough of it. Of course now seeing it in the light I can tell you what it’s really about.

The ride begins with one of RMC’s signature features, a quirky little pre-lift section of tiny lumps and bumps in the track which happen to provide far more force than you would believe possible from the size. This section alone would make many other coasters blush. (Apologies for lack/quality of photos here, I was far too overwhelmed by this park at the time)

Following the lift hill, the first drop is unnervingly sharp, steep and contains the subtlest of twists to the right. This combination provides what I’d describe as standing airtime, with most of the body being pinned up out of the seat and all the weight being supported by your feet against the floor of the train. In other words, amazing.

Without time to recover, you run into the tinest of speed hills and this is where I begin to notice that the ride is trying to cut my thighs in half. Again, almost immediately, the train is thrust up into a much larger hill, the crest of which creates such an insane and sustained lurch out of the seat that it felt like my head couldn’t keep up with the rest of my body. This actually hurt my neck as the two were seemingly pulled away from one another. In other words, amazing.

To enhance it further, that moment also has to begin turning into one of the ride’s signature elements, the high five – two opposingly banked hills, one on each side of the track that would seemingly allow the riders of two duelling trains to touch hands with each other. Things continue to move at a very fast pace and there’s another huge drop through the structure, complete with head chopping supports, another tiny speed hill, a mega airtime hill, a glorious zero G roll, a crazy double up and one final twisted pop of airtime before you hit some brakes.

If I read through that list of elements I’d think that sounds like a fantastic ride and on most other attractions it would probably now be finished. Not in this case though, we’ve hit the second lift hill and it’s only going to start all over again.

Déjà vu. The green side of the track begins in exactly the same manner, except perhaps with an even steeper first drop. The larger hill at the end of the first straight begins to turn even quicker and hits even harder before you bank the opposite way – to complete the high five and then sharply twist back to the other direction again. This is even more intense than the first half and the directional changes here are one of the standout moments across all RMCs for me, with that really out of control feeling that I just love to find on coasters.

As if that wasn’t enough, the sensation continues into a twisted double down, you just can’t keep up with the rate at which the forces are thrown at you in this portion of the ride and I couldn’t ask for more than that. As if to break this with a moment of serenity, the train negotiates the world’s only ‘top gun stall’, a wonderful RMC inversion that keeps riders upside down for much longer than feels natural, a moment that often gives a little pause for thought – wow.

Twisted ejection, crazy double up and one final burst of airtime before you hit some brakes. Now it’s over and more often than not I’d have my head in my hands by this point. I could barely process how amazing this coaster was and moments like that are almost always a powerful indication of a top ten ride.

You may have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned any duelling whilst describing the layout and that’s with good reason. It’s because I believe even without that aspect this is the greatest RMC I have ridden to date. The raw power of each element, the perfect blend of variation between each one and that particularly out of control section of the ride that I did mention all make this their best hardware package in my eyes.
So now we’ve established that, let’s talk about how you go about making a coaster of that magnitude even better!

The holy grail moment. It begins in the station. During my visit, the ride operators and attendants here were leagues ahead of any others in the park, always fighting to get the most out of the passenger throughput and with good reason. The design of the layout requires 3 trains to run optimally and with this you’ll always have one in the station and one on each of the two lift hills. They can see this coming and would often playfully announce “today you’re going to be racing… orange!” during station despatch.

As you surge through the wacky prelift section you see, up ahead on the green lift hill, an orange train working its way to the top, every rider turned round in their seat to look back at you and shout “COME ON!” The green chain lift slows to a crawl and your own blue chain lift pushes on to bring the two trains level with each other. Everyone cheers and cries “YES!!!” and subsequently begin to physically try and thrust their own train forwards using their bodies. The race is on. And it’s all planned that way, it’s simply glorious.

The roles are reversed once your own train hits the green lift hill. There’s nothing there? What’s going on? You turn round and see another collection of riders being delightfully bounced across the prelift section. They’ll have to hurry up. Your chain lift slows. “HURRY UP!”
I probably sound like a 6 year old at this point but it’s that level of basal joy that makes it so special for me.

Déjà vu again. To me there are very few things better than moments of interaction with other attractions riding rollercoasters. Focusing on other moving objects is a distraction from your own experience, in this case from one of the most intense coasters on the planet, and just like with riding it in the dark or not knowing what’s coming next on that extra special first lap, it enhances what you feel during the ride.

The side by side racing at the start is only the beginning as of course there’s the high five still to come. The greatest moment for me however is the ‘mega airtime hill’ I described on the blue side interacting with the top gun stall on the green side. On one hand you’re being violently ejected out of your seat up towards another train of riders gleefully dangling above your head. On the other you’re bizarrely floating upside down over another train of riders getting violently ejected, screaming and shouting as they go. It simply doesn’t get much better than that.

I’ve officially run out of photos now but I haven’t run out of things about this ride that make me happy.
One final point I feel needs mentioning again relates to an earlier comment about the restraints trying to cut my legs in half. This was again far more noticeable on Twisted Colossus over any other RMC and a true indicator of its overall intensity to me. There’s a very exclusive selection of coasters that are physically exhausting (even damaging) to ride but also earn it – the reward of having a marathon and not worrying about the consequences of bruised thighs until later is fully justified. This ride falls firmly into that category and that has since become a staple feature of any good US coaster road trip for us. I rode it ’til it hurt and then I just kept on going. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Ride Review – Wildfire

Europe’s first RMC coaster was a particularly exciting addition that seemingly came out of nowhere. Who would have thought that a zoo in rural Sweden would be the first to fork out for one? We had already been hearing stories from over the Atlantic about how this manufacturer were changing the game in rollercoaster design and after some early teething problems I was finally able to check it out for myself.

While often specialising in hybrid creations, several of RMC’s ground up installations so far, including Wildfire, have been classified as wooden coasters by virtue of having their distinctive and highly manoeuvrable rails laid directly on top of layers of wood. Most of the support structure was also crafted out of timbers in this case with the exception of the striking lift hill section with it’s contrasting steel.

The ride begins with a relatively sharp ascent up this and with a little kick at the top, the train runs round a 270° flat turnaround. The landscape around Kolmården is breathtaking, particularly within the coaster scene and this well planned moment gives you a little extra time to appreciate that.

While distracted, the train has guests ducking directly under the top of the lift hill before being thrust into this wonderfully steep and sustained first drop that just falls out from under your feet. The sensation of being pinned out of your seat for several seconds is always a welcome one.

The pull out adjusts into a turn which then lifts you up and into one of the most magical elements in the coaster world. Wildfire’s stall creates a highly unnatural feeling of floating upside down, neither in or out of your seat for what seems like an age. Enough time for me to throw my hands out and exclaim ‘what is this?’ every time, at a minimum.

The next part puts the ‘wild’ into the name as you whip round into an outwardly banked sideways airtime hill, get dragged through a shed full smoke (I guess the ‘fire’ from the name) and hit a speed hump with some decent ferociousness.

As the train traverses around the back of some rockwork the second inversion flips you over it and down into the remainder of the layout which was sadly a little underwhelming. A sequence of attempted airtime hills and turns amongst the landscape that didn’t quite deliver, punctuated by a graceful zero-G roll which I simply adored. The speed gradually gets sapped away, with the pacing issue becoming really noticeable just before the brake run.

A very strong start that fizzles out to a weaker end, that was my overall impression of Wildfire and I didn’t really know where I stood on the RMC situation. Having heard a lot of superlatives (even from the park, claiming it to be the world’s greatest wooden rollercoaster before it had even opened) we immediately said of course well no, it’s not the best thing ever.
It was really, really good, a unique experience and at the time a contender for my personal top ten, but if this is meant to be one of the stronger examples from the manufacturer, perhaps they aren’t the world beaters they’re being made out to be.

Unorthodox elements like the sideways hill are very few and far between throughout most coaster designs but I had already experienced something similar on an S&S launch coaster earlier in the year so I wasn’t quite as taken with this as I might have otherwise been. As this was the most unusual feature of the ride other than the stall, I didn’t feel that I got a true sense of what separated RMCs from the crowd at this early stage.

The other thing that bugged me about the greatest wooden rollercoaster claim, particularly when the ride began topping wooden coaster polls is that to me Wildfire didn’t provide any physical indication that you were riding a wooden rollercoaster. It had none of the shake, rattle and roll, none of the character that the material usually provides and therefore making that statement, only for it to fall flat, gave the ride a bit of a cold and clinical vibe to me.

For some reason while evaluating the experience in my mind during the day I decided to declare that this ride had made me appreciate Kärnan a lot more (and that’s always a good thing). I have since coined this Wildfire syndrome – a character trait of a coaster that indirectly improves your feelings on another, especially one that’s entirely unrelated.

4 years later, knowing what I know now, I can pinpoint exactly why I didn’t fall head over heels for Wildfire (other than physically of course). I know they are capable of making wood feel like wood as the legendary Lightning Rod did specifically provide the sensations I would associate with the material and was even enhanced by that fact.

Most significantly though was the airtime during the layout, other than the first drop, this Swedish monster just doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of hard hitting impact as every other RMC I have tried since. The spark that the manufacturer brings to the game for me is the way they blend all the weird and wonderful elements and inversions with some of the most powerful and intense airtime in the business – creating the real and complete package that my dreams are often made of.
Wildfire just doesn’t behave in the same manner and is therefore the weakest example of its type for me, while still being amazing as a standalone coaster.

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Ride Review – Taiga

This bird crept up on me real fast, seemingly out of nowhere. I don’t recall paying much attention to the fact that Finland were getting an Intamin multi-launch on the side of a hill, either through spoiler avoision or lack of interest. And then suddenly we were booked to go!

The more I learned, the more I discovered how excited I perhaps should have been. This ain’t no Taron layout, it has much more of an ‘Intamin trying to make Helix’ kinda vibe. For me, that’s huge. But did it work?

I admired the styling of the ride, from entrance to station. Very subtle theming, nothing outlandish, following the tracks of the big bird along the pathway. It stares at you intensely from several screens throughout the indoor switchbacks, judging you. As you approach the station there’s a very average ride theme playing and statements like ‘ride the wings of Taiga’ coming over the audio, teaching us that we’d been pronouncing it wrong (still do). A large mural decorates the far wall in an otherwise unassuming loading area.

Intamin’s best rolling stock greets the riders with a stern look. I just love the seriousness of this beast. Like it’s on a mission, got a point to prove.
Open seating, dangling feet, a cushy lap bar from above, this is how most coasters should be experienced. As we pulled forward onto the first launch track (not pictured), I had no idea what to expect.

A brief punchy launch carries the train into this first element, which provided a wonderful surprise in the form of many unusual forces. It twists seemingly in the wrong direction, hanging you out to the right side before tugging away and under to the left, like a zero-G that decides to turn a corner halfway through. Fantastic start, I’m a sucker for inventive inversions.

This moment leads you down into the lowest section of all, with a satisfyingly strong burst of positive force, before twisting and turning into the second launch. This leads to my biggest (slight) criticism of the ride. Very little has been traversed so far and so the pace is slightly off as we hit the next burst of LSM acceleration. Even the way it enters this launch felt slighly clunky somehow, it doesn’t dive into it with the grace of Taron, just awkwardly adjusts some banking and you’re off, rattling away with a slightly muted sense of power.

Into this huge, oddly-shaped top hat. And now things kick up a gear. When located in the back of the train, the drop out of this hill provides some excellent sideways ejection, reminiscent of distant cousins like the Intamin wing coasters and this makes me very happy.

Before there’s time to recover from that particularly special moment, my biggest surprise of the whole experience hits. It turns out Intamin are making stall inversions like RMC now. The execution of this floaty feeling, with the visuals of neighbouring ride Tulireki directly underneath and what we affectionately dubbed ‘Karnan’s tower’ just off to the left (right?) is simply glorious.

Before there’s time to recover from that second special moment, a violent speed hill is squeezed in before the next big inversion, the one that wraps itself around the starter element. This one provides yet another satisfying mix of forces and ensures all the upside-downy moments are wonderfully varied, just how I like it.

With that already world class sequence of elements behind us, the bulk of the twists and turns of the layout begin and importantly these are punctuated by several very strong bursts of airtime. This slither over the station has a particularly forceful exit, lurching down the side of a warehouse with a surprisingly out of control feeling.

This section alone puts Taiga in a league of it’s own when it comes to this ride type for me, with so much more contrast in the forces, even if there’s less theming to dodge. It goes on for an age and then ends with a final standout inversion, slowly rolling guests over one last time just to mess with their heads.

There’s some nice little extra touches on the way out of the ride like the ceiling height observation window in the exit shop from which I could just watch the train zipping about all day. The bird footprints follow you back out again here too. Straight back round for another lap.
Overall I absolutely adored Taiga, so much so that we came back for a second morning marathon. It was clearly a top ten ride for me, but where would it sit in the almighty list, amongst all that fierce competition?

The two important questions for a multi launch obsessive like myself, particularly out here in Europe where we seem to hold the monopoly right now: ‘is it better than Taron?’ Yes, by miles. It does so many more interesting things and there’s barely a comparison in it for me. I’m not in it for just the launches, I’m in it for everything else on offer, namely airtime and cool inversions.
‘Is it better than Helix?’ No, of course not. The pacing between the two launches alone stopped that from happening for me. It also doesn’t have the airtime moments and aside from that it’s just not as sprawling or ambitious as a true terrain layout. The location and interactions are great, but not in the same league.

What it did do is remind me how truly special these multi launch coasters can be. I still can’t get enough of that sensation of regaining momentum, with a ride having so much more to give halfway (or perhaps a little early) through the layout, rather than being all downhill (ha) from the first drop.
Keep at it Intamin, you’re definitely onto something here.

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Ride Review – Celestial Gauntlet

Celestial Gauntlet is a Vekoma looping coaster situated at Oriental Heritage Changsha. This new generation of rides from Vekoma has been exciting enthusiasts for a few years now, showing off a new age in their manufacturing skills after being stuck in the rut of their much lamented legacy of Suspended Looping Coasters and Boomerangs.
While obviously a massive improvement by comparison, I’m yet to be truly convinced by their journey into the big leagues.

This particular layout has been titled the Hyper Space Warp, named after the original inspiration of Formuła at Energylandia, with the key difference here being the use of a conventional lift hill rather than an LSM launch. Guess what? There’s already another one of these at another Fantawild park, I’ll add it to the to do list.

Having now ridden both this one and it’s Polish Uncle, they are more dissimilar than I originally anticipated. Being a sucker for a lack of spoilers I hadn’t really studied them past the first inversion. While they do follow an identical layout for the most part, where Formuła hits the brakes, Celestial Gauntlet keeps the momentum going for several more hills at the end. Good.

The other significant enhancement you may have already noticed is the theming. The entrance plaza for this ride was stunning and being beckoned by a staff member in a fur cape to slip between the cracks of some magical looking rocks was a great beginning to the experience.

As is often the case in China I was greeted with an entirely empty train once in the station, with more staff members eager to actually run the ride and keep themselves entertained. Vekoma’s latest sit-down trains follow the modern trends of comfy seating with a lap bar that comes over from behind the head.
There’s an unfortunate addition to this system in the form of vests however, something I was always sceptical about. Freedom of movement is very important to me on a ride and previous experiences with a similar setup on certain B&M creations had shown me that certain coasters can be inhibited by restraints of this nature.

I’m not sure what the theme to Celestial Gauntlet actually is, but as you crest the lift hill there’s an unusual sound bite that plays from some speakers that involves a lot of people screaming. Are we fighting with the Gods or is it just a cue for what to do on the ride? Who knows.
The first drop has a certain punch to it, trying to kick you out of your seat briefly and then being marred by the restraint somewhat.

The following inversion is particularly glorious, giving a satisfyingly sustained moment of hanging riders upside down. I’ve developed a real appreciation for elements like this that actually try to create interesting sensations as opposed to the traditional loops and corkscrews of old, which were just for show really, something to grin and bear with.

This opening sequence is actually the strongest part of the layout and to keep the contrast of forces going, there’s some good positives into a tight banked turn before the most signficant moment of airtime in the layout. Again this hill is good, but could have been better if the human body was able to respond more naturally to it.
From this point onwards the ride started to feel a little safe and clinical rather than the out of control nature I was hoping for.

The train bounces between both twisted and banked airtime hills, a couple more inversions and some sharp turns with an impressive flow and pace. It seems well designed and even while on ride, visually, it looks like everything should really deliver. The results were varied though. There seemed to be a bit more style than substance and I found many of the forces just weren’t quite hard hitting enough for my liking. This remains my general impression for all the new generation Vekomas I have experienced. Don’t go expecting game changers just yet.

The end result is a very fun and rerideable attraction, particularly with the interaction in the last part, diving in and out of caves with some very modern and unorthodox transitions. I’d struggle to take it anywhere beyond that word however, good clean fun.
It’s not amazing and I didn’t quite think it fits the bill as a star attraction for a park of this magnitude. It would make a lovely complimentary coaster to something bigger and badder. Hmm… what else do Fantawild do

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Ride Review – Jungle Trailblazer (Jinan)

One more Jungle Trailblazer, just one more, then I swear I’m done (for now). The star attraction of Oriental Heritage Jinan was copy pasted from the original in Ningbo – a ride which I had collapsed in despair at the foot of because apparently 15°C wasn’t warm enough to open it for me. The only JT to elude me to this day (grumble grumble). The important thing is that at least I’ve tried all the layouts.

My first experience with the ride was arriving at the station to see the train coming in and that a Chinese man had been sick all over his restraint. That’s a solid sign that this will be intense then. Once that mess was cleared up I sat at the opposite end of the lovely Timberliner trains (back row is king again) and smiled to myself. Amateurs.

The start of the ride is reminiscent of the earlier build Fjord Flying Dragon (also now a JT) with a powerful straight drop, speed hill and bigger hill leading into a turnaround.

Where this one begins to lose out is in the inversion that follows – I don’t really get the appeal of these other than a good visual/selling point. Corkscrews just aren’t very good in general (Helix holding the only exception that springs to mind) and rattling around one on an aggressive woodie ended up giving me a bit of a headache. Great, now I’m the amateur.

It’s a shame that moment took me out of it a bit because other parts of the ride are as incredible as these should be. 4 quick, successive out of the seat moments hit hard before an overbank, forming the clear highlight of the ride. There’s an outbound leg of larger hills that are still satisfying and it loses purpose and direction at the end with another drawn out turn into an anticlimax of a final hill.
After the morning headache had cleared and we had done the rest of the park I came back to find it riding a lot better, it had clearly ‘warmed up’ as they say and I did really enjoy it overall.

It might have one of the nicest vibes surrounding any of these, with the leafy lake (what the Wuhu one should have had, as Wuhu = leafy lake). The park was particularly gorgeous for a Fantawild and getting on the ride itself was probably the least faffy of any – no waiting areas or lazy staff, just a vanilla queueline.

This layout sits squarely in 4th for the optimistic, 2nd last for the pessimists. With competition that strong, that’s just how it had to be. Fantastic woodie as a standalone – you could do better though.
Here’s a handy guide of where you can try it yourself, or better.

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Ride Review – Jungle Trailblazer (Wuhu)

Oh no, not another Jungle Trailblazer. This one located at Oriental Heritage Wuhu was the final one in the collection for me (of unique layouts at least – damn Ningbo) and it was also a pain to make that happen (damn Wuhu).
The first time I arrived in the city it was chucking it down and everything was closed – no surprises there. This meant that on the return visit anxiety was king and I did it all wrong.

Well not so much wrong as less than ideal. There’s a habit for most guests in these parks to follow a specific order of attractions as per the ‘recommended route’ on the park map, moving in a clockwise/anti-clockwise direction, experiencing everything once, tick, move on. Like sheep, or me on a cred run.
In my desperation to not be let down again (I never trust the weather, or Fantawild, to not try and ruin my day at some point) I ended up following the sheep into the queue, making this the only Jungle Trailblazer I’ve ever actually queued for. How novel.

You don’t ever want to queue for one of these. A train that seats 24 can take upwards of an hour to serve 100 guests. The queueline areas are specifically designed like a waiting room, with benches stretching along the pathways. There’s never any hustle in proceedings, a train’s worth of people are batched in an area well outside the station and are not sent off on the ~2 minute walk to the station stairs until it has been cleared of the previous guests. I try to just zone it out these days and accept it as a part of the culture but when you’re so on edge about being able to actually ride these things, as the sky darkens above your head and everything moves at a snails pace, having tried so hard and come so far, it’s nothing short of agonising.
I ended up in that for nearing 90 minutes, which would have been a new record by far in China for me had it not been for Happy Valley Shanghai the previous day.

It was worth it though. Love this ride. Middle of the road as a Jungle Trailblazer but as a woodie in it’s own right, pure world class, as I’ve come to expect (demand) from my boys at Gravity Group these days. First drops are always bliss in the back, they’ve perfected the punch. It’s an unconventional start for one of these in that you hit a big drawn out hill first. This is good, but not quite as impactful as their signature.

Before there’s been much time to process that, you’re turning into a vicious double down into the inversion. I love the out of control aspect of this section, though the corkscrew itself on a woodie never really does much for me.

Twisty, bouncy, overbanky. Pure Gravity bliss comes next and reminds me exactly why I rate these things so highly. Sadly it then enters a high up turn that saps the pace somewhat and is the sole reason this one came 3rd, the competition is that tight. Once that part is out of the way, normal service resumes again. 1, 2, 3, 4! pops into the brakes. Fantastic. I think I even had a Chinese man turn and say that to me with a thumbs up on the brakes.
Yes mate.

Why was I ranting about queue times? Well we went off to finish the rest of the park and then of course I needed a lot more time with this bad boy. Every other lap was walk on from about midday onwards because everyone else in the place had one and doned it (how rude). From rammed to empty in a single sitting, it was literally just the worst timing, but I couldn’t have allowed myself to do it any other way.

This layout remains unique for now and I hope it stays that way – the world (I) needs as many new versions of these as physically possible.
Here’s a handy guide as to where you can track it down.

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Ride Review – Fjord Flying Dragon

Fjord Flying Dragon made its debut at Happy Valley Tianjin and 3 years later a second ride with the same layout (sadly) was constructed as one of the numerous and infamous Jungle Trailblazers, at the Fantawild Resort in Zhuzhou.
This is the ride that began my love affair with wooden coasters designed by the Gravity Group and the first of theirs I had ridden outside of baby Twister at Gröna Lund.

It was a memorable day not least for being the hottest I have ever experienced in China, peaking at around 40°C. Hot enough for the bus to break down on the way in. Hot enough for me to not want to stay in the sun for more than a few seconds. Hot enough for the ride to be on top form, in theory.

The ride of course is situated in the outdoor section of the park, in a Viking area with a nice vibe, tying in with the fjord in the name. It’s probably the coolest named woodie in the country. I remember sheltering in the station for significant periods of time and the front row of the train while parked was always bathed in intense sunlight, forcing me to only ever sit in the back while the ~10 minute loading procedures synonymous with Happy Valley took place. There was one minor incident in which the ride was e-stopped at the bottom of the lift for a short while (empty restraint not down? oops) and it felt like I was going to catch fire. Good thing it had no queue.

The back was the best place to be anyway. The first drop doesn’t look much on paper at 90ft, 60°, the world has done far crazier things. This didn’t matter at all as it was still one of the most pronounced and powerful straight drops I have ever encountered. The rolling stock on this ride predates the dawn of the signature Gravity Group Timberliners in China, instead using classic PTC trains. The bars on these are very minimal and exposing, I find there’s a lot of cushy freedom in the seating, both lateral and vertical. Being dragged over the top of this hill at full pelt never failed to produce noises of sheer terror from me and for someone who does this sort of thing a lot, it still felt downright dangerous. I like that.

By the time the very first little hill came along I had definitely realised that this is no ride to be toyed with. The track is negotiated with the perfect amount of violence for my personal tastes. The wood roars beneath you, the whole structure and everything on it rattles with enough noise and energy to keep things interesting from start to finish, even if the layout had decided not to do a whole lot.

But it does do a lot. Alot a lot. Big straight hills, intertwined twisty hills, speed hills, tiny little bouncy hills – the ones in between the supports of the ride are absolutely amazing. All glorious moments. The corners are wild and full of laterals and it took me until my very last lap to summon the courage to even put my hands up. I just love the variety and unpredictability this type of ride has to offer, particularly over certain other woodies like the Intamins.

It always amazes me how much potential energy this manufacturer can generate out of such comparatively little height. Fjord is 4000ft long, which is huge, but perhaps in this case it’s slightly too much. My only tiny criticism of the ride is that it feels like it runs out of steam a little towards the end, on the home stretch. It doesn’t quite maintain that consistently relentless edge from start to finish, something I found had been perfected a couple of days later in the trip. Still, to get so much out of so little here is an amazing feat of design.

I said that heat was only a theory because the conditions in which I rode the Jungle Trailblazer version of this ride couldn’t have been more different (other than the lack of guests again). There was a drizzle in the air and it couldn’t have been more than 5°C, so cold in fact that I was hugely surprised and relieved to find they even opened it for me at all.

Luckily the experience was largely the same, perhaps a bit less characterful, confirming that this is easily one of the best wooden coasters in the world for me.
The word Fantawild came up in this post so we can consider this one a slightly dirtier spin off from the guide, here’s a handy list of where you can find their version of this ride, even if it’s the wrong version in my head canon.

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Ride Review – Jungle Trailblazer (Xiamen)

I generally try to avoid spoilers as much as possible for rides that I haven’t experienced, even as far as simple layout features in order to ensure the greatest element of surprise on a first ride. However, the nature of these Jungle Trailblazers all sharing the same name (and sometimes a lot more than that) required me to at least look at the layout to determine whether it was unique or a copy of another in the country.

What I saw in this one at a glance really excited me. It shared the same starting sequence as my current favourite Gravity Group woodie (drop, tiny hill, sideways banked hill) and then appeared to stay nice and low to the ground for the entirety of the remaining layout. Airtime galore I said to myself, if there’s one to beat Zhengzhou, it’ll be this one. Dangerous thoughts.

Of course this excitement spurred me into taking the necessary steps to experience it for myself and it’s not exactly the most conveniently located park within China. Xiamen sits on the coast of China about a third of the way up from Hong Kong to Shanghai. This is a particularly sparse region of the country, at least for a theme park enthusiast – I can’t speak for the rest of what might be on offer, and there’s no particularly sensible way to make it en route to anywhere for a trip of this nature.

We daytripped it from Shenzhen in the end (the nearest city with other significant rides), ending up with at least a 4 hour journey, each way, which as I had already experienced every other Fantawild attraction on resort, I consider to be dedication of the highest order. For this reason it was also one of the most nerve wracking journeys I have ever made for the hobby. The weather was hit and miss and the chain have a habit of being unreliable with ride availability – what if the one thing I need out of all this is closed? Even more dangerous thoughts.

Whilst I’ll always happily maintain that it was worth the effort just to try out a unique layout and to aid me in eventually completing the full set of Jungle Trailblazers, the ride itself didn’t quite hit the mark. But why?

To this day I don’t really know, all I can say is a certain spark was missing. The shaping of the entrance to the first drop is subtly different to my original comparison and gave nowhere near the same result. The following two hills were just as I would have expected them to be and were easily the highlight of the ride.

From there the train just ran out of steam unnaturally quickly. It’s like all the hills were put up right, but in the wrong order. What looked on paper to be the usual amazing sequence of unexpected airtime bouncing riders all over the place just didn’t deliver with the same magnitude.
The overbanked corner came too late in the layout to have any effect, the taller hill over the station came too late in the layout to do anything and it was almost struggling to reach the brake run by the end. Nothing added up and it never gave the relentless performance it deserved.

Eventually, due to the mostly useless and unusually unfriendly staff it became a bit of a chore to keep trying and we left it alone far earlier than we had hoped. It remains to this day the weakest of the Jungle Trailblazers, but, a Gravity woodie is still a top notch creation and I don’t wish to belittle it too much. I’d still rate this ride as entertaining and significant in the grand scheme of things, the competition within its own field is just too amazingly fierce.

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Ride Review – Jungle Trailblazer (Zhengzhou & Nanning)

Ugh, that title. This is why I hate clones. Can we just, stop it here?

No, let’s press on. It is my third favourite ride in the world ride right now so it obviously needs a bit of love. If the topic ever arises people are often perplexed as to why I think this unassuming wooden coaster in China is better than so many well known greats. Put simply, I’d call it the most intense woodie I’ve done and it holds a really strong memory in my hobby, sitting in the back row for the first time. Let me take you back to that day.

I was recovering from a bad mood. The admissions staff to the resort were frustratingly useless and unhelpful and I had been lugging around luggage all day. We had just visited the Fantawild Adventure park next door, done some terrible rides and, for cred anxiety reasons skipped a few more terrible rides.

Not being able to stand the wait any longer (for let’s be honest, the one reason why I was out here) I powered straight to the back seat of Jungle Trailblazer where I sat for ages. There were some old Chinese people in the middle of the train who didn’t understand what the ride even was and had just wandered on (cos they’re silly folks like that). The staff were chatting with them and basically recommending not to ride it cos it was ‘that intense’.

They got off after much faff, leaving me completely alone on the ride, looking out at this perfectly framed and rather intimidating first drop from the station.
A really timid staff girl comes up to me, bowing and blushing, and mimes that I specifically have to hold on to the restraint at all times. It’s a common Chinese thing to enforce weird rules like this but I smile back and oblige, somewhat bemused, thinking in my head ‘don’t be silly, I know what I’m doing.’
There isn’t really much to hold onto on a Timberliner train, it’s just sort of resting your hands on top of the hooped restraint, but I maintained the charade up until the drop thinking I can put them up now, show them how it’s done.

The drop came up on me much faster than expected and tried to eject me both upwards and sideways in equal measure – in a way that I hadn’t really experienced before (no Intamin wings to my name). There’s not many rides in the world that instinctively force me to hold on (to whatever I could), but this was one of those moments.

With nothing else to do, the staff are all watching me from the station at this point, smiling and waving at me as it flies past them at full speed over what is essentially a 5ft hill. My mind says I want to wave back, but my body says no, I will die. The whole ride is super aggressive and exactly how I like these to be.

From there it’s just the best paced and most vicious ride from the Gravity Group that I’ve done, and they are my favourite manufacturer. The anti-social high five elements as I call them are taken at ridiculous speed and feel rather dangerous, whipping you like you’re gonna hit your head off the wood to the side of the track. There’s the signature bouncing you around through the structure, completely out of control section that you can never anticipate and it hits the brakes hot. I feel like I want to say it should go on a little longer, but it would come at the cost of any subsequent moment being less intense than the rest of the ride, so I guess it must be perfect.

Of course they’ve built another one the same now, but hey, yellow trains! I was so nervous about the potential impact of me riding this version, even slightly tempted to skip past one of the best parks in the world because of it. Clones always leave doubt in my mind and expectations are set far too high. It has to immediately ride as well as the previous installation or both are ruined forever, you were wrong – that one wasn’t as good as you remember.

Mercifully the experience was soooo close, so close, that I could let sleeping dogs lie. It didn’t have the personal setup that I’ll always prefer the Zhengzhou version for, but I can still comfortably say that this hardware gives me a consistently better experience than anything below it in my top ten.

I was then left with the conundrum I spoke about in my trip report for this day. How do I rank the second one in a list? I think it’s a fascinating subject but so far it looks like I’m entirely alone in the experience and haven’t spoken to anyone with a similar outlook.
I eventually settled on B. It’s exactly the same and option 2. Pick one that has the slightest circumstantial edge to represent and relegate the other one to just outside the numbered list – so even though I love it to pieces, you won’t see the Nanning version come up anywhere else in lists. Feels harsh, but it’s the cleaner option and it’s the industry’s fault. Bah.

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Ride Review – Skyrush

I had just finished writing up the Flying Aces review when it truly struck me how similar my whole fairytale experiences with Intamin Wing Coasters were. By the time I made it to Hersheypark I already knew it could happen this way and yet, for whatever reason, I didn’t expect everything to repeat itself in quite the same manner.

We spent so much time on this ride rather than underneath it and it was surrounded by Candymonium construction during the visit so apologies for the lack of quality pictures. All you need to know is it’s big, yellow and deceiving.

The morning laps began as soon as the ride opened and the first was more memorable to me due to the other guests in our row than from the onboard experience itself. Clearly local enthusiasts, they had managed to fit both Dorney Park and Knoebels into the first sentence uttered and as the train raced up the ridiculous fast lifthill, leaving me totally unprepared, there were loud hoots, hollers and screams of “Phoenix 1958!”

For whatever reason this had me in fits of laughter over the drop, which punished me for not paying attention by violently throwing me forward in my seat. I had forgotten the most commonly criticised aspect of this ride in that the sheer lack of substance on the lap bars is far less forgiving than what I was used to on the subsequent creation, perhaps even any ride ever.

The traditional hills were manageable, with the famliar dig into the thigh that can leave you bruised after a good coaster marathon, but when the train hit a couple of sharp transitions and the winged seat I had chosen flew up or down in response, I was taking all the weight directly to one leg and it was rather uncomfortable to say the least. There’s absolutely nothing to hold onto with this train design, no way to brace as you’re going along and that made it both exhilarating and excruciating.

I can see why this becomes a dealbreaker to some, and it’s very unfortunate if you do fall victim to this because, quite simply, you’ll be missing out on something spectacular. Personally, I attempted to rectify the situation on our second lap by sliding forward and taking the bar into the hip joint as opposed to bare leg bone. This fixed everything about it 100%. I was able to fully immerse myself in the remainder of the experience following this minor revelation.

And once again, for whatever reason, I liked Skyrush in the morning but thought it wasn’t all that. I came off thinking there’s some good airtime in there but nothing special. Over lunch I said it’s probably no better than something like Piraten’s airtime pound for pound and by 14:30 that day we were sat on a ferris wheel having completed the park, coming up with some stupid plans to leave and go elsewhere.
Yet again I could have left too soon and never really got to know the ride properly. I didn’t believe lightning could strike twice and that we’d be having the Flying Aces situation again but thankfully, THANKFULLY, the late opening of Storm Runner shot down our other plans.

So we returned to the lair of the beast with an hour left on the clock. Darkness shrouded the layout and there may well have been a full moon in effect causing this sudden change. How is it that different, why is it now creating all of these sensations that simply were not there earlier?
Alright, the first drop was probably the same. I always loved that bit, the wild momentum of the super fast cable lift just chucking you over the edge without a second thought and then the totally unique shaping of the track – with the tiniest of almost vertical kinks halfway down deciding to almost have you out of the train head over hills.

It really is a struggle to keep your hands (and legs) up throughout the whole layout, to not instinctively just reach out and try and grab hold of something, anything to stop you either feeling like you’re falling out or to reduce the numbing pain being inflicted on your body by a thin metal bar and nothing else.

But it wasn’t just the airtime hills, which are truly outstanding in their own right. It’s the unsuspecting moments that really make Skyrush stand out for me. The entrance to a corner, that should be boring right? Nope. The train decides it’s just going to try and lose a couple of riders out the side there with a vicious lateral snap. A slight change of direction? Nah, that won’t do mu-BAM, I’ve just been ragdolled vertically down 10ft before I can think. These moments don’t happen on any other ride type and for that reason alone it’s so gorgeously refreshing to experience these extremes.

It’s no exaggeration to say that we were struggling to walk as the night went on. The lure of another ride was so compelling that even though the body might be saying no, the mind just kept on plodding down the stairs, round the station, back up the other stairs, straight into the back row, no questions asked. Again, and again, and again.
If anything, that short walk provided some momentary relief and so, as if to top it all off, as the last train of the day pulled back into the station the staff decided to offer everyone a second consecutive lap just for the hell of it. The bars had just been lifted as this announcement was made and I had already instantly stood up, as we instinctively had to in order to stop our legs falling off. “No… I just can’t go round again… please, no…” The words came out, but there was no attempt to leave and the ride host was already there, we had fallen back in our seats, the bar was down. What have we done?

There’s a very exclusive club of rides that provide me with a truly magical moment, where the stars align and all you feel inside is pure joy at what you’re doing right here, right now. It happened again on Skyrush as we were sent round to our deaths one more time, against our will. A brief moment of contemplation looking out at the lights of the Pennsylvania night – this is perfection and there’s no place I’d rather be.
And then it kills you.

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