I seem to always be talking about how the UK failed to spark my interest in so many aspects and today is going to be no exception. I was never particularly enthralled with any of the wooden coaster offerings we have back home as they never showed me what made this seemingly antiquated construction material so special. It was old, it bounced around a lot, it wasn’t very good.
It fell to Great Coasters International to be the first company to introduce me to what highly enjoyable wooden rollercoasters are really all about and for a good couple of years they managed to establish themselves as my favourite wooden coaster manufacturer. Today I’d say that I potentially get more excited about riding a new woodie than I do a steelie and that’s not just because they’re outnumbered by about 25 to 1 in this modern age, substantial credit goes to this lot. The company built their first layout in 1996 and quickly developed into one of the key players in modern wooden rollercoaster design. It’s a very niche market these days dominated by only 3 or 4 names and as things currently stand, GCI have remained the most traditional of the bunch – building on their signature twister style layouts and relentless pacing. Traditional is all you need sometimes and they still top my list for all-time favourite woodie, though sadly as I have travelled further and experienced more, the consistency hasn’t quite always been there. As we near the end of 2022, I’ve ridden a total of 25 coasters from GCI, with only 4 left to go that are currently operating worldwide and a couple more under construction. Hopefully the full set will not elude me forever, but for now I’d say that’s more than enough to sink my teeth into for one of these lists.
The aforementioned first build in 1996 was here in home state Pennsylvania and as this is the one that started it all I feel I can’t judge Wildcat too harshly. Plus, it’s now deceased, shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. It’s reasonably tall, fast and long, but mostly uneventful – they had to learn from something. Big swooping curves form the majority of the layout and sadly I have no recollection of any interesting transitions or airtime.
Still in the early days, this ride hasn’t yet been treated to the manufacturer’s signature rolling stock (the Millenium Flyer) and that fact, combined with style of the layout, makes Roar almost unrecognisable as one of their creations. Aside from the big swooping curves, there’s big traditional airtime hills in here, though again they don’t really do anything. I can’t think of any other GCI that’s been made since to have a hill shaped anywhere close to that, probably with good reason. Shallow and powerful is much more their forte.
I was initially very excited that after over 20 years we were going to get a modern woodie so close to home, from a manufacturer that I believed I could count on to deliver a quality experience. As the construction developed it began to look a little underwhelming and when the day finally came to ride it, I was left with nothing but mild disappointment. Most people love the Wicker Man and I wish it every success, but I’ve seen and felt what GCI can do and this does none of it. Though it certainly looks the part, there’s just no energy in this tiny layout and I stand by what I said in the introduction. Nothing wooden in this country excites me. Hopefully by the time we reach the end of the list you’ll see why. It has been improving steadily over the last couple of years as the tracking deteriorates ever so slightly, so that’s a good thing.
With the bottom 3 out of the way we now enter a large cluster of almost inseparable experiences. I will say that everything from here on is at least a decent ride worth multiple laps so try not to focus on the negatives too much, I’m just better at talking about them. Great Desert-Rally began with the promise of much greater things, taking a fast and powerful first drop similar to a certain European cousin. It then spends far too long in this bit, up high, sapping all the momentum from the ride and the remainder is a little underwhelming.
As easily one of my favourite parks in the world, oh how I wish Dollywood had even a mid tier GCI. Sadly the ride clings in desperation to a pointless claim, something along the lines of ‘most corners in the world’ and that’s about as interesting as it sounds. There really isn’t a whole lot else going on here.
Two thunders in a row and it takes a significantly powerful memory to be able to tell these apart. It took 10 years for GCI to go continental, bringing Thunderbird to Europe and I’m sure that was an amazing moment. The layout tries, tries to do more than corners. There’s that hill in the picture that acts like a second drop and a little section of straight bunny hills that don’t really deliver.
Gold Striker was aggressive, almost in the wrong sense. It gave me a headache on my first lap but I persisted and grew to respect it, to a degree. Offride I love the design of this one (Santa not included), the way the queue sits inside the intimidatingly loud starting sequence. Later on you climb some stairs towards the station where once again the train comes roaring past in very close proximity at a defeaning pace. The signature station flythrough is subverted with these moments and you get a lot more time to appreciate it while you wait. Onride it’s more of the above. I just found myself willing it to do a little more.
The ingredients of what makes GCI special are beginning to fall into place and I believe I can pinpoint this as the first ride in the list with notable kinks in the corners, something I assumed would always be a part of the manufacturers recipe. These unusual track shapings provide a satisfying moment of unexpected airtime as you either enter or exit a turn and would serve to elevate all of the aforementioned big swoopers by giving them a moment of significance. After all, that’s what you need to stand out in a list like this. Invadr was small, fun and punchy. Things are starting to get exciting.
Most notable to me for being my 200th coaster, I’ve always found this one a little underwhelming in the grand scheme of things. Take that first drop for instance – it doesn’t really go anywhere. Just a big swooping turn (here we go again) into some more swooping turns. The transitions start to liven up a little at this point in the list and Troy does have a good bit of kick to it. I just can’t tell you where or when. I find it’s a particularly good ride at providing the illusion of being more aggressive than it actually is.
Wildcat clearly wasn’t enough for Hersheypark and only 4 years later they ended up with not one, but two more GCIs. This time it was a racing coaster with two tracks intertwined in a spectacular tangle of timber. The racing element certainly enhances things for me, though I still found the layouts lacked a little definition. One side was running slightly better than the other (I couldn’t say which, but it was winning every time without fail) and my favourite moment was the surprise airtime hill in a shed. More of that please.
I can only really separate these three on theming. The two in Europe are owned by the same park chain, share the same layout (albeit mirrored) and they both rode exactly the same – a welcome change to the standard GCI styling with a lot more straights, a lot less corners and a lot more airtime hills. The one in America is the original of the design and has nothing going for it on a visual level whatsoever. They’re very good for the size, but with so little speed to play with there’s a distinct lack of aggression. Which is fine, for a family coaster. For what it’s worth I preferred the look of the one with the werewolves.
The ones that started it all for me remain a relative highlight. During my first two visits this was a real standout experience although the most recent lap we had was far from ideal. Fire breathing dragon aside (RIP), these exhilarating racing coasters throw so much at you in a short space of time and simply deliver bags of fun. The soundtrack is addictive and should be sung on any racing attraction in the world because it perfectly sums up the experience, as does the theming in the station with the cheers and jeers. A proper package.
While still comparatively a baby, this little GCI has that extra spice that defines the manufacturer for me. A relentless feel from start to finish, with a good mixture of twisty bits and bumpy hills. It’s amazing how such seemingly minor changes can make a huge difference to the overall experience.
A well above average woodie experience from GCI, again with a relentless feel, a good mixture of elements and just a little bigger than the above. The signature twisted s-bend drop was a bit of a let down, looking far better visually than it actually rode. It faced some very stiff competition in the week that it was experienced, but can’t really complain about the rest of the layout.
And here’s just one example of that competition. It was unhealthily hot on the day that we happened to experience Prowler and I could barely tell what was going on. From sticking to the seat in a semi-comatose state to the ride breaking down under the stress a few minutes later, I have fleeting memories of surprisingly intense laterals, an interesting layout and a solid all round package propping this ride up amongst the greats.
The sinister statues in the station alone should put this ride in the top half, but it’s the aggressive start and unpredictable ending that really did it for me. While the middle section loses pace for a short while, I always found myself laughing uncontrollably with joy by the time the train hit the brakes.
What a curveball, I expected very little out of this ride and it delivered on every count. It was declared a ‘top 5 GCI’ at the time of riding and that just about holds, even after the rest of the trip was done. Relentless rumbling, with a design that’s much more killer than filler, even the double-cornered first drop is unpredictably wild and puts Renegade’s attempt to shame
I went in to this one expecting something on par with the #1 in this list and subsequently left disappointed. Fortunately I have come to appreciate it a lot more looking back on the experience, it was still a monster. It had all the ingredients to be truly special – the sheer size and the location on the hillside, the queueline even has a lift to take you up to the station, so there was plenty to play with. It ended up a mixed bag though. As though paying homage to the days of Wildcat, a lot of the terrain was used for large swooping corners off the side of the hill and they didn’t really deliver. What made the ride was the straight airtime sequences, which were amongst GCIs very finest for getting me out of that seat again and again.
I went into this one thinking my better days with GCI were well behind me. Instead it was like a warm welcome home, exactly the type of stuff I enjoy most out of this type of ride. A low to the ground, wild romp through the forest with airtime all over the place. By the end of the day the train was tearing itself apart from the track and making noises not heard before, which is of course a good thing. On top of all that, the theming package gives this attraction bags of character and the shed shall forever remain a legend of the industry.
Now we enter the God tier. Stupidly huge, overgrown and built into the side of a mountain, ride location simply doesn’t get better than this. Wood Coaster goes on forever, never stops being aggressive and is just about perfect in every way. I can’t believe this ride exists, I can’t believe how much I went through to experience it and I still can’t believe how much it gave me in return.
But if there’s one ride to beat that, it has to be the snake, just. While the views might not be as spectacular, the experience is even longer and contains more airtime moments than there are grains of sand in the universe. GCI must have thrown absolutely everything they have at these marvellous creations and it really couldn’t be more apparent. I can’t wait for the day when another park attempts something of this magnitude again.
Within a single decade, Rocky Mountain Construction have established themselves as the boys to beat when it comes to making the best rollercoasters money can buy. Their rides are seemingly tailored to what enthusiasts like myself enjoy the most – a blend of powerful airtime, interesting elements and minimal gimmicks. They began their days by converting and revitalising older wooden rollercoasters in certain parks – removing the track, leaving the structures intact and using their unique steel rails to create a brand new and vastly more experimental experience. Since then, several ‘ground up’ installations have been built, which tend to use the same system, though also having a layer of wood underneath the rails in order to replicate the classification of a wooden rollercoaster, just ones like you’ve never seen before. While they haven’t really branched out into specific ride types other than the recent single rail Raptor model, the label ‘RMC’ itself is by far the most consistently rewarding in the world right now. I believe they have also played an important role in demonstrating to more casual guests how the most fun coaster in the park doesn’t have to be the biggest and fastest. It should be something repeatedly enjoyable rather than just a scary experience to try once for a laugh, and I’ve already witnessed dedicated followings and numerous marathons first hand. As of this 2022 update I’ve now experienced 17 out of a total 23 operating RMCs, with half of the remainder being cloned layouts, so there’s only really three left out there for me now – a harrowing thought.
#17 Jersey Devil Coaster (Six Flags Great Adventure, USA) – We begin with the aforementioned Raptor model. Admittedly I’ve only done the two of these, but that does encompass both of the layouts that exist in the world right now, which is enough to know that I’m not a fan of sophomore design. The prototype was a marvel for the industry, I’d never seen anything quite like it before and it brought a completely fresh style to the table. Taking the hardware and then running with nothing but a remit of ‘taller, longer, faster’ led to a ride that lost the spirit of the single rail. There’s no reason this couldn’t just have been a regular two rail RMC other than for a bit of short term marketing. It also rode poorly and had restraint issues. It’s the worst RMC, but it’s still world class.
#16 Goliath (Six Flags Great America, USA) – More records were up for grabs here, with an early installation of the ground-up wooden coaster design. Goliath was huge, as the name suggests, but for all that height it doesn’t do a whole lot to back it up. It’s a compact and succinct layout that introduces a lot of RMCs early hits, most notably the stall element, and this makes it a quintessential experience that just doesn’t have enough going for it when stacked up against the rest.
#15 Outlaw Run (Silver Dollar City, USA) – It was on this trip that I learnt that ‘wooden coasters like you’ve never seen before’ might not stand the test of time for RMC, in their current form. The most aggressive of the bunch has already received extensive re-tracking to the point at which it can no longer be classified as a wooden rollercoaster. Outlaw Run, the very first of these, is suffering from similar issues. The wheel seats were a dud for me, due some rather headache-inducing tracking and the front of each car was definitely the place to be. There are some amazing elements in this layout and the setting is to die for, but it’s once again very short and I don’t really rate any of the inversions, particularly the final two, which are a rare miss.
#14 Wildfire (Kolmården, Sweden) – Talking of wooden rollercoasters like you’ve never seen before, how about this monster? This was the first RMC in Europe and the first one I rode (eventually). I was already aware of the hype surrounding the manufacturer at the time and though an amazing ride in its own right, it didn’t quite live up to the exceedingly high reputation. At the time of riding, I couldn’t pinpoint the spark that was missing from Wildfire but having since ridden other RMCs it’s blantantly obvious – other than the first drop it lacks any of the characteristic airtime moments that punctuate the other special elements on offer. The combination of the two is the literal definition of these rides for me and if you only have one half of that, you’re going to come up short. The other nitpick I have is though it is marketed as the greatest wooden rollercoaster in the world (and it isn’t), I didn’t think it rode like a woodie at all and I have since confirmed (further down the list) that RMC are capable of generating this feeling in a good way, and (further up the list) a bad way.
#13 Joker (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, USA) – I struggled to get the most out this comparatively baby RMC due to poor operations on the day. It has all the classic fun elements throughout along with airtime in greater quantities than Wildfire, but no definitive moments that stand out quite as much.
#12 Railblazer (California’s Great America, USA) – This (almost) unique looking attraction is nothing short of ridiculous. As we’ve already seen, the Raptor model uses just one rail and trains that straddle the track with single file seating. Railblazer takes the whole layout from start to finish at a ridiculous pace and contains several intense airtime moments. The downfall is that it’s just really short and it may have been slightly elevated for me by being both a completely fresh experience and only riding in the back row at night for every lap.
#11 Twisted Cyclone (Six Flags Over Georgia, USA) – This is where we hit RMC’s true mix of elements at its prime. What this ride does is as good as its wicked and timber brothers, only the layout feels half the length and leaves you wanting more. My favourite part is the immensely intense hill out of this magical element that you don’t even see coming from the back row.
#10 Untamed (Walibi Holland, Netherlands) – Europe’s 2nd RMC after what felt like a very long wait. I didn’t find it to be the most intense of their creations and it contains noticeably weaker sections than any of the below. Untamed still gives an amazing, lengthy ride that delivers a lot of incredible moments. My head says it’s objectively better than the next ride in the list, but my heart just won’t let that happen at this point in time. It lacked a little character.
#9 Lightning Rod(Dollywood, USA) – Aww. I wanted this ride to be the best thing ever, but it wasn’t. Expectations may have let me down slightly as I thought it was going to be one of the bigger RMCs feat. quad down, but it’s actually short and the legendary quad down is 50% of the ride. I have been led to believe that the initial launched lift has been toned down and that I may not have experienced the rod in all it’s glory. If true, I sincerely hope there comes a day where this can happen. As I found it, the first half is a little too underwhelming for what follows and then just when it gets absolutely amazing, it ends.
#8 Wicked Cyclone (Six Flags New England, USA) – This was another case of not getting as much time to appreciate the ride as I would have liked (thanks again Six Flags), so it’s harder to big it up. Contrary to the above, Wicked Cyclone feels like just the right amount of length and the way it flows and bounces between the mixture of inversions and airtime is simply beautiful. In particular, the surprise wonky hills hidden inside the structure are some of the best in the business.
#7 Storm Chaser (Kentucky Kingdom, USA) – Somehow Storm Chaser almost manages to be forgettable in such a lineup. By no means is it to be underestimated though, even with the understated grungy look, it has big bad airtime and a satisfying raw power to the other key moments of the layout. I found it to be the best of the weather related ones by the tiniest margin and that’s all down to personal preference really – more aggressive airtime.
#6 Zadra (Energylandia, Poland) – The first RMC in Europe to go over 200ft and earn classification as one of the ‘big boys’ that get rated the world over as the absolute best of the best. It’s not hard to see why, this monster has a piece of everything that makes these rides so special, is insanely fast paced and delivers amazingly throughout a satisfying length of layout.
#5 Steel Vengeance (Cedar Point, USA) – And here’s the OG ‘big boy’, literally regarded the best rollercoaster on the planet by an overwhelming majority. I agree that it’s just so damn good, but Steel Vengeance didn’t have that killer instinct I was hoping for, to tip it over the edge. Chuck in a handful of moments that try to hurt me, make the inversions more interesting and you’ve got the best in the business. For now, this is as far as it goes.
#4 Twisted Timbers (Kings Dominion, USA) – As we enter the top tier, things get truly intense. I had Twisted Timbers down as a variable performer after our first visit, but more recently it seemed to be out to prove a point and was holding absolutely nothing back. Mere days after the revelations on Steel Vengeance, this one definitively demonstrated to me that it’s just more my cup of tea. It’s insane, it hurts and it has all of that killer instinct. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for in my RMCs.
#3 Iron Gwazi (Busch Gardens Tampa, USA) – God Damn Iron Gwazi. The new American monster is so wild and full of extremities at every level. Unlike the above, and it’s biggest rival over at Cedar Point, it’s not the biggest airtime machine but it makes the best use of the fast paced approach by being packed full of killer manoeuvres. Several of these elements stepped up the manufacturer’s creativity and range of sensations another notch. As if that was even possible.
#2 Hakugei(Nagashima Spa Land, Japan) – This is nothing short of a beautiful creation. It was never quite as wild as some of those that came before, but it was a consistently incredible ride at all times of day in all parts of the train, even in the direst of situations. Hakugei has perhaps the most to offer, of all RMCs, in its combination of both length and power. The resultant layout probably has the closest to perfect mix of elements, from someone who over-analyses these things to the point of detraction. It did lack character for me and maybe has one zero-G too many so that, combined with not being the most intense, holds it back from the top spot.
#1 Twisted Colossus (Six Flags Magic Mountain, USA) – Still the king and I’m as much surprised as you probably are. Using pain as the measure for intensity (in a good way), no other RMC has come close to hurting my legs (and neck?!) with airtime as much as Twisted Colossus did. The out of control feeling exiting the high-five element hasnt been matched either, in a ride type that starts to feel a little calculated and clinical the more you delve into it. In a list where several coasters suffer from the feeling of hitting the brakes and wanting more, you hit the brakes on this ride, then you get more. The easy way. In a list where several coasters just didn’t quite hit the mark with everything they could throw at me, every single moment counts on this ride, to the point of physical duress. The simple knowledge that there’s more fun to come while creeping up the second lift hill is easily enough to keep me happy, but the interaction between the two trains during the layout adds an extra special layer to this mind blowing experience, truly setting it apart from the rest.
Bolliger & Mabillard are great at gifting me list topics. With a narrow portfolio of ride types that almost all happen to be large thrill coasters they become instantly relatable, comparable and it’s easy to know where you stand with them. I’d better pace myself before I run out of posts on such things.
Characterised in their own words by ‘the straight vertical drop with riders facing down’, the Dive Coaster has had an interesting presence in the industry over the years. It began life at Alton Towers in 1998 with the highly famous Oblivion and has since taken form in various different shapes and sizes, both larger and smaller. Within a couple of years a mirrored clone of the original was bizarrely built on the side of a cliff in Taiwan, but it took a full 7 years for the product to start shifting more seriously when the Busch Gardens parks decided to change the style somewhat – from intimidating and mysterious to imposing crowdpleasers with inversions, splashdowns and even bigger track and trains.
China, much as I love it, wasn’t one for setting any industry trends in those days and soon said “we’ll have a couple of those cloned as well”, but the 2010s found new ground in the birth of the mini version. Europe put fear and theming back on the agenda in conjunction with tighter manoeuvres and the smaller trains, suddenly the order book for Dive Coasters was more full than it had ever been. It felt like Cedar Point marked a turning point in how enthusiasts (or perhaps just me) viewed these creations, with Valravn making silly boasts about the tallest, fastest and longest (of a specific manufacturer and model), only breaking those statistics by miniscule amounts and clearly just for the sake of easy marketing, while not doing anything more interesting with the design or layout. Suddenly the attitude became “oh no, not another dive” and though the last 5 years has seen the population of these double, the spark of excitement for them seems to be fizzling out.
Again that could just be me, I’m up to 12 out of 16 on the checklist with only 3 unique layouts left to try and feel like I’ve already seen everything that they have to offer. Hopefully Cedar Fair can still surprise me, but in the meantime let’s have a look at how the rest stack up.
And here we are, the turning point itself. Valravn was a massive let down in all regards. The cars being a narrower eight-across rather than the usual ten for a Dive coaster that’s well in excess of 200ft tall had me believing, for a brief moment, that it would be nippier than other North American brethren. It was not, combining all of the worst aspects of the relative sluggishness that comes with a coaster of such scale with a jarringly unpleasant rattle that also made it the roughest and least entertaining of it’s type.
Hmmm.. apologies to all the Oblivion fans still out there, the original just doesn’t do it for me any more. Part of the blame can be laid on the park, who have managed to strip the attraction of all its atmosphere over the years. We can’t play the audio any more, we can’t show the queueline videos any more and we can’t use the holding brake as much. All that’s left is a big drop, which is admittedly still one of the best for doing what it does, and then the brake run. I like it enough, but it’s almost at flat ride status.
While I admire the aesthetic here, the layout leaves a lot to be desired. It borrows nearly all the features from the bigger brothers including the mid-course brake run, but this in particular seems entirely unjustified against both the pacing and the reduction in height (plus Happy Valley one train operations) to then just enter some uninteresting corners, the not overly spectator friendly water feature and end.
Similar issues on a different scale. I absolutely love the theming, preshow and presentation package of this coaster and I would have thought the short layout would lend itself to being potent and pacy. It somehow doesn’t though (space saving helix?) and the actual ride just isn’t punchy enough to seal the deal for me.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (the predictability of the ride type is beginning to kick in), the forces weren’t strong enough on this mid-sized installation. The theming didn’t land very well with me either, but overall it looks great, the views were spectacular and I admire the attempted airtime hill.
The first of the giants in the list. Truth be told there’s very little separating these few, and even the ones that came before. If there’s one word I’d use for these Dive Coasters it’s ‘solid’. As a Happy Valley resident this one was again plagued with operational issues that bothered me. The big drop is serious business, but the mid-course brakes were biting a little too hard (on the only train on track) for the second half to deliver in equal measure. Hold that thought.
It’s fine, absolutely fine. Nothing more than that though. I think the only thing that puts this one above the previous clone in the list is the presentation of the splashdown area, which is particularly gorgeous. It’s amazing how much the Chinese park missed the mark on that feature when plonking it down in their own space and a true testament to how lazy cloning attractions can be.
It’s fine, absolutely fine. Nothing more than that though. I think the only thing that puts this one below the following clone in the list is the fact that the restraint put grease on my jeans. A mark that still remains today as a memory of better times.
Oh, and the queue. This Korean cousin had a really nice exterior buliding, queueline and even a bit of storyline. It was also an absolute mission to get a ride on this one at all, making the reward feel all the greater.
Still holding that thought? Good. My original experience with the big boy edition remains my favourite. It didn’t stop at all on the mid course brakes and therefore had a much more powerful second drop, which was further enhanced by a tunnel and misters. Chimelong did a really good job of integrating this layout into the surroundings and operate it surprisingly well, two things I can’t say for that other Chinese one with the lazy name.
This sea monster taught me that these rides could have pace. While the larger versions have an impressive sustain in their drops, that’s the only real trick up their sleeve and they spend the rest of the time wandering around in a cumbersome fashion. Even with the risky use of an early splashdown, this one still delivers effectively in each subsequent element (however few there may be) and that airtime hill is the best of the bunch. Even though it’s amongst the smallest, Krake was also another long overdue masterclass in intimidation factor – just look at it (granted, that sky helps). Heide Park surpassed all my expections with this one and raised the standard by which I measured the genre. Oh, and it has a great soundtrack too.
This marked the second time the Dive Coaster game changed for me. With a much more significant layout (and no pause for thought on any brake runs) Valkyria absolutely blasts its way through the course, providing several forces along the way that I previously believed these rides weren’t even capable of producing. Construction began at the aforementioned time when I thought I was over them and foolishly I didn’t even have faith in my own favourite park to pull off anything special with the hardware. They did of course, in spectacular fashion. I now love Liseberg even more for it. And no, I won’t hear a word against the vests. We can save that discussion for the Wing Coasters.
The deeper I dive into this hobby, the more appealing the aspect of collecting certain categories becomes. What with all these ranking lists I throw around, it can feel much more satisfying to provide insight into the most definitive set possible, ones without the various gaps in experience that inevitably come with having not been absolutely everywhere (yet).
Some collections are obviously easier than others, which comes down to factors such as proximity, location and of course sheer numbers. There’s a fundamental sense of achievement in being able to say ‘I’ve done them all’ (gotta catch ’em all), though this is also laced with a more depressing undertone at the same time – there aren’t any more to have fun chasing down. Luckily a good majority of them will remain as moving goalposts, an endless source of entertainment to pursue and maintain in future.
The most recent collection I managed to complete was that of riding all the Gerstlauer Bobsleds to have ever been built. This particular achievement wasn’t planned out at all and was only noticed by chance, a passing thought during a road trip that happened to contain the last of the set. How many of these are left to try? RCDB says just Tiki Waka and you’re done. Well isn’t that something.
We’ve covered a couple ofother lists from German manufacturer Gerstlauer up to now, but what is this particular model all about? It was in fact the first ever rollercoaster they tried their hand at, back in 1998 when one of their nearby potential customers Erlebnispark Tripsdrill were looking to up their coaster game. As a park steeped in local folklore and the various histories of traditional workmanship, the queueline theme ended up looking at the construction and use of various sleds for the transportation of goods. The cars for the ride itself resemble such sleds, or sleighs, which in the modern era are something you’d only really expect to see around Christmas time.
This inaugural design appears to be how the coaster model took on its name, although it has led to some confusion amongst enthusiasts over the years. Bobsleds with a rather different design are of course featured in the Olympic winter games and there just so happens to be a coaster product that was once offered by both Intamin and Mack Rides back as far as the ’80s. Unlike those two, the Gerstlauer runs on traditional steel rails throughout the layout, mainly capitalising on the four-seater single cars to provide a ‘family-thrill’ experience packed with a combination of hairpin turns, twisted drops and airtime hills.
There was a time when I considered the majority of these as nothing more than a slight enhancement on the common Wild Mouse coaster, but having ridden a significant number of custom layouts, this year in particular, I have developed a new found appreciation for what they have to offer. Like most of the coaster world, if anything the designs are just getting better and better, what with over 20 years of refinement behind them now. So let’s take a look.
The list begins with clones, of course. Much as I berate them, there’s actually nothing to stop a cloned layout being fantastic in it’s own right, but these particular ones (the 390/4 model) just don’t offer enough of the good stuff I’ve come to expect from the ride type. Gold Rusher in particular is an even more undecorated version of the under-decorated ride that follows it, complete with out-of-place tyre-driven section next to some wood, and so is about as copy and paste as you can get.
And here’s the original. For the fantastic park that is Motiongate, Green Hornet is underwhelmingly themed for a ride based on a movie franchise. Looks aside, there’s something about the more compact layout design that doesn’t sell it well. It comes with lots more twisting and turning which all leans on the repetetive side and gives of an air of certain common fairground coasters. Given that there isn’t actually much separating a lot of these, the single bunny hop just can’t compete with those that have multiple.
Aside from the wonderful aspect of interaction that’s inherent with a rollercoaster at Gröna Lund I just don’t remember Vilda Musen riding that well. The layout is certainly inventive and unique, but it simply can’t do much with it’s height differential and relies a lot on Wild Mouse style laterals and sharp transitions. Which fits the name perfectly I suppose.
I took the same sort of impression away from Tiki-Waka once I could actually tell what was going on amidst the rainstorm. It looks fantastic for starters, though with so much track located directly above pathway it’s a little meandering and lacks a bit of dynamic range even though it tries to be far more inventive than earlier examples with wacky track shaping and the like.
Straight back into the highly similar designs, Cobra is quite formulaic but rather enjoyable for it. Twisty section. Lateral section. Twisty section. Airtime section. Twisty Section. You know where you stand with it – in a field.
Essentially the same ride as the above, just with more accentuated hills and drops (plus a bonus helix) at the end, along with a nicer Norse vibe and the partial setting over water.
And the original is the same as that, except much more nicely themed again, integrated deeper into the landscape, efficiently operated and has a hilarious German question on a sign that appears out of nowhere, mid castle.
Though suspiciously reminiscent of the 390/4, the 380/4 came many years beforehand and has that certain spark that was missing on the later attempts. Again the interaction with theming and setting help things along nicely, but overall it had more vigour and purpose for whatever reason.
Though the almighty RCDB lists it as fully custom, as far as I can tell and recall this is a mirror image of the original (or the 480/4), with some slight tweaks to profiling here and there. The last drop under the bridge there is stretched out for instance, to go with yet more genius interaction with the surroundings. Once again I specifically remember this one riding just that bit harder and faster on the day we happened to experience it and sometimes that’s all you get to judge it from.
I rode all of this top 5 within the space of a few weeks on our most recent roadtrip through Europe and though they contain the most variety amongst everything we’ve seen so far, they’re also the hardest to separate in terms of enjoyment. Aside from having completed the set, the fact that they were all a cut above the rest was the inspiration for spotlighting them in a list like this in the first place. In trying new things with quirky designs, there’s a much greater range of forces to be found and that’s something I’m all about when it comes to ride layouts. Speed Rockets does that perfectly with strange double downs, whippy overbanked turns and a twisted approach to those bunny hills.
There’s charm by the bucketload to be found here with Rattenmühle, we’d bigged it up amongst ourselves for years (based on name alone) and it didn’t disappoint. The car design alone is worthy of the top half, yet there’s a station full of mischievous rats and a mischievous layout to match it. Even little details like the pre-lift drop and the slightly odd top hat-style element show us again that there’s so much more to be done than just helices.
While leaning back on the much more traditional Wild Mouse approach again in terms of fairgroundness and compact-icity, the modern Gesengte Sau is vertically huge in comparison to all the other layouts and finally makes proper use of that extra height differential with some rather cool bigger drops. With more block sections than ever (ones that it just happened to be ploughing straight through when we rode it, to the point of causing the ride system safely shut down on more than one occasion), there’s plenty of ride length to be had to and it’s all rather above average from start to finish. Which means I loved it and Austria has a strong Gerstlauer Bobsled game.
I have a confession to make regarding this ride, one that I never mustered the courage to bring up in the recent trip report about it. I lost my hat on it. It feels like such an embarassing rookie error that should never have been made by someone who has travelled the world riding four figures of this type of thing and I am rather traumatised by the mere thought of the whole ordeal. All I can put it down to is how unexpectedly amazing Heiße Fahrt was, a disaster that’s testament to the coaster’s power. In believing I was fully prepared for whatever it could throw at me, the fact that does absolutely everything that’s great about the rides above, but better, caught me off guard. I was so distracted by how much I enjoyed it that I forgot about the simple things like worldly posessions jammed between my knees.
If we’ve learnt anything from this list it’s how well the ride type lends itself to theming and integration with the surroundings. Small punchy layouts with compact manouevers fit perfectly around any feature you want, unlike those big hulking hyper coasters. And so the standout of this particular category took it all a stage further and constructed the ride entirely indoors. Themed to the vampire hunting film franchise, this building is densely packed with scary setpieces and moments of interaction that simply bring the overall experience to another level. With all the visual spectacle going on, it puts the hardware to fantastic use by means of hidden surprises in those violent drops and turns and the end result is a quality themed attraction of the highest order.
The Intamin Mega Coaster first hit the scene in 1999, as the manufacturer’s first foray into ‘hyper coaster’ territory, contrary to what the name would suggest. The world of 200ft+ rollercoasters (with an actuallayout) was dominated at the time by team Arrow and Morgan who, in conjunction with Cedar Point, had coined the use of the ‘hyper’ label some 10 years prior. By the turn of the Millennium several other manufacturers were trying their hand at the concept and of course, as one of the big innovators, Intamin played their part well.
Marketing remains at odds with enthusiasm as always. Though Intamin would go on to set the trend over the next few years, again with Cedar Point, for the naming of both >300ft and >400ft coasters ‘giga’ and ‘strata’ respectively, the product name for what the company currently defines as anything exceeding 61m in height (200ft) perhaps defiantly remains as the Mega Coaster. The term giga lives on in their product lineup, while the likes of 400ft monsters Top Thrill Dragster and Kingda Ka have been snuck away into the LSM launch category despite using an entirely different launch system.
We’re not done yet on definition though, as I’m going to throw my own spanner in the works for fun. A fairly recent rebrand on their website brought the Ultra Coaster into being, specifically a little ride we like to call the Mega-Lite around here, and they’re going on this list anyway. One supposed difference is that these are well under 200ft in height, but what I’m choosing to focus on in the comparisons today is more relevant to what Intamin aptly describe as both ‘Speed and airtime combinations’ or ‘Speed and airtime fascination’ between the two products and you could definitely say I have a fascination with airtime.
I suppose this is the paragraph for the usual spiel about how many there are and if I’m even qualified to speak about such things (most likely not). I was hoping to hold off on this particular topic until Kondaa (actually it turns out over half of these aren’t >60m despite… no, that’s enough of that discussion, I’ll be going round in circles all day) happened to me, but following the news of the flooding disaster and the continuing uncertainty around foreign travel in general it’s clear that nothing is going to happen in that department for a good while yet. With that in mind the new Belgian beast made for 9 unique layouts across the world and without it I’m on 8, which is not too shabby. Let’s begin.
With the ’99 classic, or rather the mirrored clone of that original, situated just 2 states over. The mega coaster model started out with good intentions, leaning heavily on the speed side of the equation. An entertaining ride for sure, though perhaps for the wrong reasons – namely the amusingly over exaggerated straight sections and momentum sapping helices. Should put a smile on anyone’s face at the very least.
The crown for amusing sections goes to central Tokyo’s finest however, with that slow wobbly bit over the top of some buildings and a spectacularly enthusiastic dive straight into a final brake run. Things don’t get more ridiculous than Thunder Dolphin when it comes to big, impressive hardware in a knockout setting such as this, but there inevitably has to be a lot of comprimise along the way. The creative layout that fills the perimeter of the park and follows in the footsteps of 2 Way Coaster just doesn’t do this ride type justice, although it’s still a ton of fun.
Fellow Superman, another 2 states over, was the sequel to the design and went down as one of the all time greats in the world of online coaster polls, living near the top for a good many years. I wasn’t that bowled over by it personally, almost 20 years later, it feels a little sluggish and uneventful for what should have been a gamechanger at the time. It’s definitely a more accomplished and refined layout and sure tries harder in that signature bunny hill finale though, setting things up for some real magic in the not too distant future. Maybe it’s those altered trains that let it down a bit, and it did look much more attractive in purple.
I’m putting what I’ve found to be the weakest of the Mega-Lites here. Knowing what the design is capable of, they were honestly let downs, ones that I just couldn’t get into for what I can only assume to be circumstantial reasons. It’s a fickle business this ranking game when you only get a snapshot of something and it’s one of the reasons clones irk me so much. The head tells me there shouldn’t be so much disparity between identical creations and yet the heart says otherwise.
Currently sporting a fetching coat of deep blue paint, this ride has been under my coasting belt for what feels like forever. It was my first true encounter with airtime fascination and for that reason alone, easily one of the best things I had ever done. A landmark attraction in Europe that, like many of these, has faded a little over time. The coaster lineup of the park has done well to outdo it ever since, after a long stint at the top, though it still has a lot to offer and what it does it does very well.
It’s back again. Unlike the previous ones I actively wanted to marathon this edition of the Mega-Lite and that’s not a statement against the rest of the park lineup because, well, Tobu Zoo. It’s instead because Light Speed was riding well, close to what I remember from my personal glory days of riding this coaster layout, but not quite there. And for reasons we’ll see in a minute, I’d rather ride the almost version than any of the other slightly less potent custom designs.
Far more than any others of its era I’d say, GeForce has stood the test of time. This ride really feels like it would have been another level back in 2001 when it took the scene by storm, because it still feels like another level today when it comes to raw airtime. The violently twisted first drop brought brand new sensations to the design and those hills are quite often obscene. But, let’s talk about pacing…
Because for all the majesty of the larger designs, the one thing I can’t look past is the downtime – the moments between those signature airtime hills that generally are all this ride type has to offer in its raw form. The Mega-Lite design (or more specifically, Piraten) can hit you just as hard with those hills, but they also come at you so much thicker and faster to the point where it can be hard to even process. Add to that the additional sensations of some properly twisted bunny hills in there, which are an experience like little else, and I believe this little Ultra puts the majority of the Megas to shame.
After a 13 year drought of Intamin Mega Coasters, China decided it was time to resurrect an old legend and break some records along the way. The tallest and fastest coaster in the country is striking, perhaps in the wrong way. That big flat turnaround at a mere 240ft in the air always felt rather ugly and counter-intuitive, like something you’d build in a game rather than real life. Looks can’t take away from that staggering drop though and once it actually gets going this thing flies like no other on the list. The leaning has once more returned towards speed, but that combination is still going strong as at least two of the airtime moments here are out of this world and I think like the Mega-Lites it has even more to give under the right conditions. Too bad there’s only one of them (stop that).
And as time goes on, we just get better at these things. It feels like a bit of a cheat to have Hyperion come in and steal the show with how different it feels – those wing-esque trains with superior seating and an inversion to boot. The ride is still the poster boy for Mega Coasters according to Intamin themselves though and it’s easy to see why. It counts though and frankly the wing seats add nothing like I would have wanted them too when compared to other, actualwing coasters from the manufacturer, but that’s about the only negative thing I have to say about this ride. Everything else is sublime. That first drop, that first camelback, that dive loop. A killer combination that shows the modern age has brought the ride type to another level so, you know, hopefully, <insert Kondaa here>
We’ve recently covered the subject of their world renowned spinning coasters, but there’s one more significant type of coaster attraction from German manufacturer Maurer Rides that’s worth a spotlight (in some ways at least, bit of a mixed bag as you’ll soon see). Sadly they don’t seem to be pushing the X-Car as a product these days, though the builds of the past are still featured on the company website they aren’t marketing it alongside recent other, morequestionable ideas.
The Maurer X-Car can broadly be split into two categories:
1) The Sky Loop – a widely cloned thrill coaster with a purely two dimensional design and a tiny footprint.
10 Sky Loops were built in as many years, beginning back in 2004, with half of all these being sold to China. A certain Chinese manufacturer decided to take matters into their own hands towards the end of this run and have built another 9 of their own version since (it’s awful, in case you were wondering), just as orders coincidentally appear to have dried up for the Germans.
2) The rest – a handful of far more interesting designs that use the same rolling stock alongside other innovations, to a greater or lesser effect.
8 of ‘The rest’ hit the market across a similar time frame since 2005, although only 5 of these are truly their own unique design. As a sampling exercise I’m now short of just one of those five by being silly and never having visited ‘theme park capital of the world’ Florida. There hasn’t been an attempt by anyone else to replicate one of these more complicated efforts, that we know of, though the interest from the market seems to have faded all the same.
Which is a shame and, while it might take us some time to actually see it, let’s look at why.
We begin with the first of ‘The rest’ and a design described as the Vertical. I’m not exactly sure why, the only vertical aspect being the beyond-vertical lift hill which is, in a word, unpleasant. The adverse effects of being slowly dragged upside down in excruciating anticipation of what’s to come never really get the chance to fade throughout the rest of the layout. There’s some clunky airtime and a couple of quick inversions in there, but you can quite easily miss all that whilst the blood is returning to the rest of your body. Sadly(?) G Force is no longer in operation, though fear not, there’s still one available to try in Iraq.
Sky Loop time. I hope you like the unusual look of these things because there’s many more to come. I’ve decided to separate them all out in the interests of padding the list due to some circumstantial factors that do in fact distinguish the experiences for me somewhat beyond the general… unpleasantness. It’s that word again. This particular one had a bit of a nasty rattle by the time we got round to riding it and simply reminded me how much I’m over them.
This one comes with the story of the most ridiculous operational procedures I’ve ever witnessed while in this fine nation (and I’ve seen far too much of their nonsense by now). I spent way too long waiting for the unaptly named Clouds of Fairyland to open, then subsequently for it to actually operate, before being forced to uncomfortably ‘hold on to the hoops’ awkwardly installed (only on this version, to my knowledge) in the headrests behind the riders. Full disclosure here.
I haven’t even said what these things do yet. Well the basic premise is a vertical lift hill (more vertical than the Vertical) that slowly leads into a beyond vertical section of track before mercifully twisting you back upright, for the briefest moments of relief, then rolling you over again and plummeting back down into the station at speed for a couple of shuttled back and forth swings in the U-shaped section of the layout.
And in case I haven’t mentioned yet, it’s an unpleasant ordeal to sit through, mainly for the prolonged length of time in which you’re held either completely on your back, or worse yet, head over heels, while it feels like your very life force is being sucked out of you. With no redeeming follow up.
So it’s one of my least favourite sensations in the whole of this game, and yet we’re still going strong. This one gets bonus points for having an extremely friendly ride host (in stark contrast to the Joyland lot) who sang to me while rounding up enough nearby victims guests for me to actually be able to suffer this one for my art.
Sky Wheel was the first one ever built and also the first version I happened to experience. I distinctly remember dreading it due to my general fear of prolonged upside-downness, and yet coming off this one I ended up remarking that it actually wasn’t so bad. The pace at which it moved through the sequence at the top of the lift was ‘just about bearable’ and, for good measure, this is the only version of the model I’ve ridden which takes you across the top for a second lap upon catching the car again, as opposed to just gently lowering you down backwards and putting you out of your misery.
You’d think we’d be free of these by the time we hit #4 in the list, but there’s just one more to get through and it’s a special type at last. The only extended Sky Loop in the world bottoms out into some semblance of an actual layout after the usual starting sequence and, though far from ideal, this makes it all rather more interesting. Something I haven’t touched upon yet, amongst all this intense praise, is the design of the large lap bars which fold across and in from the side and can often come down a little too high for comfort on some riders, meaning that the effects of the return of the clunky airtime to the list have the potential to be delivered directly to the lungs. Marvellous.
Finally it gets exciting. There’s an actual, proper layout to be had here, following on from a punchy LSM launch out of the station (a welcome change for sure). Freischütz is an entirely different beast that’s packed full of tight inversions and intense turns that totally take your breath away for completely independent reasons to the above. It’s so efficiently spaced that the same LSM launch is also used as the brake run, allowing the train to roll gently back into the station in a far more dignified manner than anything we’ve seen so far today. After an onslaught of ‘one and dones’, I’d happily do this one all day long.
This is a fabulous little design with a similar approach. Single solitary versions (first time we’ve come across those) of the same old X-Car car are propelled along a quick launch track into a fun filled mixture of decent (not clunky) airtime and interesting inversions – exactly what you should be doing with this style of attraction. Following directly on from the misfortune of the first entry in this list, Formule X was an early glimmer of hope for a new Maurer revolution, if only things had continued in this fashion.
Maurer appear to have reached the pinnacle of the design in 2011 with this amazing coaster that stands as the centrepiece of a seemingly undervisited Italian park. Perhaps that’s a factor in why these weren’t destined to live on, there’s just not enough rave reviews about Shock out there, but here’s mine. It’s an eclectic mixture of brutal airtime, crushing positive forces and floaty upside-downness that shows off these cars and lapbars at their absolute best and it always had me skipping back round for more. This attraction is definitive proof that the world needs more of the Launched X-Car – let the Chinese manufacturers have their silly Sky Loops and focus on what matters.
Of the several manufacturers on the market that offer spinning coasters, Maurer were perhaps the most dominating force of the early 2000s. To me it remains their signature product, the one they truly excelled at in some cases, though they did progress onto some other impressive feats that we’ll likely look at another day.
While the order book has remained fairly consistent since the models inception in 2000, it seems they are no longer the go to guys for creativity and custom layouts, particularly as companies like Mack have moved back into the market, eventually being the ones to go on and take it several steps further again.
This is a shame, because I’d love to see them have a go at some more ambitious projects. When the theme (and park) of this latest one was announced I became unusually excited, seeing the potential for something quite special, but from what we know up to yet I’m no longer holding my breath in anticipation of something overly special – I do hope it comes back and surprises me.
There have been (or will soon be) around 25 builds so far and while I’ve only got as far as riding 12 of those myself, they can be split into just 4 model categories, 3 of which are intended to be cloned and the last being the custom set, of which I’m missing just the one that’s currently operating (gutted about the premature loss of Twister – just look at that view). There’s no specific desire to go chasing down the remaining clones just yet, or to start ranking those individually as well, not that that has stopped me from such nonsense before!
Not a fan, as you can surely tell by neither of these even having a photo to their names (that warehouse on the bottom left is the best I could muster). These ‘Compact’ models are largely inspired by the traditional wild mouse layout, particularly in the first half, with a maze of tight unbanked turns and minimal drops. The execution is rather clunky as a result, with jarring increases and decreases in the level of spinning that don’t really suit the design very well. It just so happens that I’ve ridden both an outdoor and indoor version of this one and I think not being able to see helps, a little, but the mirror maze in the queue for Insider was more fun than the attraction.
Here’s another pair I’ve come across both outdoors and indoors. The high up banked turns at the start of the SC2000 layout appear to be attempting to counter the issues I take with the compact layout, though not with a great deal of success as far as I’ve experienced. Again, some added visual disorientation provides a bit of an edge, but there’s so much more untapped potential in this model that we’re about to uncover.
I’d call it an off day, but I’ve had more than one of those as well as heard accounts from others that this ride just doesn’t deliver. Somehow they’ve managed to engineer a layout that counteracts most of the cars attempts to spin, resulting in a leisurely family style sit down not dissimilar to a couple of other attractions in the park. It’s a shame this one fails to stand out more.
A well presented attraction on the outside might lead you to think that there are some wild antics going on within, though the result turned out to be a little underwhelming. The first lift leads to this tiniest of outdoor interactions before heading back into the dark for… I’m not sure what. Some things happen, not a huge amount, and then unusually there’s another lift to get back to the station.
Time wasn’t on our side in this park and everything ended up as a one and done, so the one lap we did get on this was a little lackluster and I don’t know whether to chalk that one up to bad luck or bad design. It certainly looks the part, and is reasonably large, but I expected more.
Another victim of circumstance I fear, having such poor capacity for a Disney resort also made this a one time only attraction for us and mr predominant memory of the experience is that like many of the others it didn’t really spin or get going much. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for the obvious top notch theming and dark ride aspects, but really it highlights the fact I’d love to get a little more acquainted with some of these.
The only existing SC2200, which appears to have been intended to become a stock model, yet has never surfaced anywhere else. Unlike the previous two I’m almost overly familiar with Spinball and it seems rather more well tailored to the spinning design, with multiple twisted drops and exciting elements such as the immelman (not to be confused with the inversion equivalent). It’s a little unpredictable, as most spinners are, but we’ve definitely had some good times on this one over the years.
#3 Salama – Linnanmäki(Finland) In the shadows of something truly world class I managed to gloss over this one a little bit. It’s an ambitious and impressive layout for the positioining over the top of the rapids, though it perhaps doesn’t capitalise on that potential for interaction as well as it could have. The elements are stronger and well suited though and overall it’s a solid package.
Now we’re in the big leagues, with the type of attraction that really set Maurer apart from the competition of its time. There’s a lot going on in this pair of indoor spinners that you just wouldn’t expect, from elevator lifts to tilting, turning and bouncing trick track which gets nothing but top marks for creativity. While good for capacity and the visual aspect, having two rides does have the slightest of downsides in that one layout is just plain better than the other and, on the subject of the layouts, I find them just a little too haphazard with those hairpins in the middle to give the Winjas the number one spot here today.
Which means that spot goes to my local which I’ve neglected for oh so long. I finally got back on it just recently and it’s held up incredibly well over the years against the onslaught of competition that I’ve experienced both in spinners and in general. There’s something about that wild first drop that always kicks up a good spin – that’s the whole point of these rides existing and I don’t see why it should be anything but a guarantee. From there it’s a highly unusual and spread out layout which I believe works in entirely in this types favour, they’ve almost been hampered by the demand for a compact product when sprawling airtime hills, large helices and weird multiple S-bends work far more wonders than a wild mouse layout ever could.
I’ve already covered the (mostly) wonderful Gerstlauer Infinities on here, but what about the ride type that thrust this company into the thrill coaster market in the first place?
The Eurofighter originally came onto the scene in 2003, 5 years after the coaster debut of Gerstlauer Amusement Rides. The main innovation and selling point of the design was the vertical lift hill and subsequent beyond vertical drop that usually marked the start of the attraction, though this went on to appear in the most surprising of places in the layouts of certain future installations.
They began with a humble 97°, setting the world record for steepest coaster drop and holding onto it over the next 5 years. The S&S El Loco threatened and then smashed this in 2008 before continuing to gradually increase the angle of descent until Gerstlauer edged into the lead again in 2011 with an unnerving 121°. This has since stood the test of time, until perhaps a slightly controversial reported gain of 0.5° on a 2019 equivalent of their very same design.
It’s not just the drops that make these attractions highly marketable though, the style lends itself to tight, compact, high thrill coasters at what I assume to be competitive prices and the size and shape led to several designs that translated well into narrative driven semi-dark rides with intricate theming packages, making the product even more versatile.
As of today, there are 24 Eurofighters across the furthestreaches of the world. I’m clearly slacking here, having only ridden 10 of them myself up until now. However, aside from the 8 custom ones, the ride type can be catchily categorised into various model numbers based on the track length in metres (I can’t wait to ride that ‘500/8’) and each of these groups share the same layout. This then leaves, according to my calculations, only 3 remaining unique designs for me to get out there and try. Here’s some impressions on the 10 so far.
This one looks rather aesthetically pleasing and has a particulaly large and ambitious inversion filled layout, perhaps inspired by that of a B&M looper. Unfortunately I found it quite far from physically pleasing in comparison. Huracan uses the less commonly seen 6 person cars with seats in a slight V-shape, I assume for extra visibility, and these negotiated the circuit somewhat poorly from the very first moment over the top of the lift. It was one to endure rather than enjoy on the day I arrived, though I believe it has received a bit of a spruce up more recently to improve things.
My impressions here can best be summed up by the fact that I didn’t even take a photo to mark the original occasion and then entirely skipped over this attraction on a revisit to the park for their new, vastly superior Gerstlauer. As the second ever attempt at the model, Typhoon takes a rather unorthodox approach with an oval criss-cross layout reminiscent of many fairground style coasters. The high up inversions are interesting, but the whole thing lacks a little finesse, something which may come up a lot more as we go on.
Here we have yet another unique design that this time contains a rather legendary airtime hill after the first drop, something which these models don’t tend to go for, or even suit particularly well for that matter. The tight application of the shoulder restraints in all dimensions hamper the effects of this moment somewhat, and the sensations that follow in the rest of the layout rarely leave me wanting more.
The obligatory controversial pick comes next in the list – it’s no secret that I’m no fan of Novgorod. Yes, this one has perhaps the strongest of all the aforementioned theming packages and dark ride sections, but for me there’s just no hiding the fact of how hideously uninspired the actual coaster layout is. The outdoor section, aside from another of those questionably enjoyable airtime hills is more than 50% comprised of this janky turnaround. Perhaps even more disappointing is the use of the vertical lift and drop in the second half which, after much theatrics, simply leads straight into the final brake run.
In spite of a lot of these earlier installations simply not riding that well, I’ve warmed to Rage quite a lot over the years. It’s far from the greatest attraction out there, even amongst my often lamented local scene, but it’s a hard hitting thrill package in the smallest of footprints and I respect the variety that it manages to dish out, from the slightly floaty vertical loop to the forceful turns.
Rage is, however, the most prolific of the cloned layouts – the ‘320’(+), with or without bonus helix. And that means that this mirrored version of the same design takes the situational edge for me simply by having an incredible ambience, one which is found throughout this entire park. Predator has a particularly ominous presence with the uninviting environment and ungenerous lighting package and, with a name like that, deservedly so.
Lap bars, it’s about time we had lap bars. This one has yet another impressive looking design and that wild first drop can be appreciated far better with some freedom of movement in the upper half of the body. Looks aren’t everything though and the remainder of the layout here is good, not great, rather unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. Will the curse of the Eurofighter continue all the way to the top?
What Mystery Mine lacks in build quality it more than makes up for in presentation. In true Dollywood fashion there’s a lot of joy to be found on this attraction and to me the climactic indoor vertical lift scene and subsequent set of elements is absolutely everything Novgorod isn’t. I secretly love this attraction and didn’t think I’d ever be saying that about one of these.
Something else I didn’t think I’d be saying is how good Saw: The Ride can be. I can see from experience how easy it is to catch it on an off day and I even once said ‘never again’ myself after a particularly rough experience but, as with Rage, familiarity has fared it well. Although the whole Saw theming shtick has got a bit tiring, I just can’t deny that as a piece of hardware this layout is up there with the best of this list. The outdoor section is fast paced and reckless, particularly when the mid course block section doesn’t do anything and flies out the other side with some vicious ejection.
The king for me though is the big one, the record breaker, even though it’s about as unfamiliar to me as it can be. We only managed a single lap on the ride during the most hectic (and amazing) of days and the one thing that really stood out to me is how different it feels to all the other Eurofighters. There wasn’t a single thing offensive about this one, no jarring moments, no poor tracking, the restraints are somehow more comfortable and even the spacing between the seats themselves appeared to be more hospitable – a gripe I often have with this whole design is how much unnecessary shoulder rubbing there can be with your fellow rider. The most important thing is that it was actually good fun, a disorientating blur of ridiculously huge, crazy inversions, much like you’d find on an Infinity coaster these days and it likely paved the way for their introduction just two years later. Takabisha was always a bit of a legend of the industry to me, though I was never sure quite whether it would live up to the name. I think it did.
Quick, let’s end it there before I’m forced to complain about the clone in a mall.
As we enter the top half things get a lot more interesting, for me at least. It’s out with the world records and in with the exciting bits in between. I’m a firm believer that by no means does a launch coaster have to be all about the launch – where in the earlier days it may have been the main selling point, draw or appeal on an attraction, with the sheer volume of these installations that now exist it has since become just another means of dynamic propulsion to add a degree of excitement to the core of what actually makes a rollercoaster fun for me: the layout.
I’m rather conflicted on this one. The ride suits and visually compliments the whole vibe of the Pixar Pier (formerly Paradise Pier) area it encompasses and it’s a great spectator attraction. I wasn’t impressed, for Disney, at the retheme of the ride itself and the onboard experience is also rather mixed. The unusual layout, pacing and flow is all in good fun, with the launched first half and lift hill/drop combo in the second half, I do like a bit of variety to keep me guessing. It’s also really long ride time, but that’s not to say it’s particularly well used.
I had a change of heart and bumped this one just over the halfway point because it’s more fundamentally interesting than anything in the previous list. I thoroughly enjoyed my very first lap in the front of this ridiculous machine (goggles and all). The unmatched speed is physically exhausting, totally admirable and there’s even decent airtime to be found on all the parts of the layout that aren’t just ‘bigger Rita.’ Watching the water cooling system kick into action on the brake run was a highly satisfying moment in my own world of enthusiasm. You could go as far as to say I loved Formula Rossa, for a couple of hours… I then ruined the ride for myself with a subsequent lap in the back where I discovered a jarringly violent, headache inducing vibration throughout the fast bits – namely all of it. Though I declared that physical discomfort was behind us in the last post, it reared its ugly head for 50% of my time spent on the world’s fastest rollercoaster and therefore I just can’t say that it deserves any better than this position without a return visit to try and skew that percentage in its favour. As a wise ride host on Dæmonen once said to me – ‘front row 4 life.’
As Intamin’s only fully winged coaster to date, it’s fair to say there have been some issues with this one. It’s often regarded as rough and unpleasant due to the stresses involved on the outside seats that really shake and bounce up and down as the train traverses the short but effective layout – a physical issue that has carried over to many of the B&M successors of the ride type, only with far less extreme speed involved. Personally I found this sensation (in what should be the worst seat) unintentionally hilarious and right on the edge of tolerable. After an amusing onboard preshow (the whole ride looks gorgeous by the way), the hydraulic launch catapults riders over an airtime hill to land with a real crunch before absolutely tearing around the rest of the track which, other than the wonderfully executed inversion, feels like exactly what it needed to do.
I remember following the announcements of Ferrari Land and being highly skeptical about the whole thing. Already being unenthralled by this over-simplified style of Intamin coaster and firmly believing that no longer using the hydraulic launch to execute it would further sap it of any real impact, expectations were set very low. While the sheer ugliness and corporate unpleasantness delivered exactly as promised, the ride itself was a decent surprise, with a great lurch of shock factor in the initial LSM acceleration and far superior lap bar restraints to finally provide a sense of openness and spectacle on board a ride of such massive scale. Even the weird lumpy brake run at the end managed to be a success.
More points for the dark ride section than the layout itself for me here. The attraction begins with a long indoor section of kicker wheels transporting the train around various themed set pieces to provide a bit of context as to why Superman himself is glued to the back of the train. An amusing launch sequence follows and the catch car hurls riders out into the blinding sunlight over this airtime filled top hat. The restraints do hamper this effect somewhat and the remainder of the track is nothing we haven’t seen before – yet another Rita variant, but each of the twisty hills are at least hit with a greater momentum.
There’s been a lot of praise around this attraction over the years and at a glance it seemed to me to finally be an upgrade over the earlier concepts of top hat + more like we’ve already seen with Xcelerator. Whilst I do appreciate what it was going for, the execution fell rather short for me, with the trains still being detrimental to the experience there just wasn’t enough else to make it stand out from the pack. Riding iSpeed 10 years after opening just made it seem like the glory days were far behind it, sadly.
With a long string of extreme thrill coasters preceding us it feels a little unusual to suddenly start talking about family rides again, but I honestly think a lot of what we’ve seen so far has been a bit too focused on the inital launch over the whole package, which you may well have noticed by now just isn’t my cup of tea. Jet Rescue feels like the perfect blend of thrilling and fun, with the main focus being on tight, forceful and twisty turns around a nicely landscaped area. The design never even leaves the ground by more than a few feet, there are no hills to speak of but, perhaps most importantly of all, it contains a second, rolling tyre launch – the first we’ve seen in the topic so far. While standing launches rarely get me going any more, I find the sensation of an extra burst of acceleration part way through an attraction you’re already enjoying to be infinitely more appetising.
The bigger brother of the above model does try for some hills, maybe even some airtime, though there’s little of it to write home about. Aside from that the longer ride time is more satisfying, more forceful in certain places and the second tyre launch is surprisingly vigorous, always catching me off guard, particularly in the back as it whips you into the subsequent corner.
Although exactly the same ride, the original version of the previous entry is more highly themed, including a superior preshow before the launch track and much better detailed landscaping around the bulk of the layout that leads to some great near miss moments in such satisfyingly open seated trains. This ride made me fall for the type and it hasn’t let me down since.
It seems like it took me forever to fully appreciate an Intamin hydraulic launch coaster as a complete package and Speed Monster was the first one to pull it off. Aside from the gorgeous location and landscape that it lives in, I finally felt that the sequence of elements that follow the launch were specifically designed to overpower the speed and acceleration itself (contrary to the name). I just love the flow from that incredible norwegian loop into the rest of the layout – it was born on this ride (hence the name) and is one of my favourite inversions around. Every moment is potent and full of purpose and I highly suspect that Helix drew some significant inspiration from this relatively nearby neighbour, for which I will be eternally grateful.
With my faith in the type finally restored, the very next example I rode took it one step further. Storm Runner shocked me with how much intensity and variety of force it packed into the layout. The lopsided top hat into the first inversion took the air from my lungs, the flying snake dive remains one of a kind and the final uphill slither is brutally well delivered – the whole experience from start to finish is just such a refreshingly satisfied approach to what was seeming like such a tired old one trick pony concept and it really stands out for me.
A legend in the industry for having such an unusual quirk – the unique selling point for the Aquatrax is the availability of ‘interactive water features’ which, in the case of the only example to exist in the world, means a few jets of spray aimed towards the rails of the track in certain places. I’ve been twice and never experienced this in person so what are we actually left with? The short 8 person cars share the same seating as the earlier family coasters with a simple lap bar in a quadbike style position and this massively amplifies the impact of the punchy and dynamic layout, which begins with a powerful LSM launch into a violent twisted indoor top hat. Due to the special location and styling in play there are some glaring pacing issues throughout the rest of the experience, including the return of the strange mid course lift hill, but I simply adore this totally unorthodox approach to making conventional water coasters seem even more blundering and boring than they already are.
Let’s not spend too long talking about the operational issues that still haunt me to this day and the fact that I only got to experience one half of this otherwise mind-blowing spectacle of an attraction. It took nearly 20 years for Intamin to have another attempt at a full scale inverted coaster with any layout to speak of and the main advantage of the long wait is that this one uses their now much coveted lap bar restraint. With this comes an awesome sense of freedom and terror never before felt on this style of coaster – from the unnerving airtime in the reverse spike of the triple launch to the glorious suspense in the huge loop. It lacks the grace, flow and forcefulness from the best of current invert kings B&M, but I’d love to see more of this style and believe they could easily take that crown with another design.
The first of the huge Intamin triple launch pseudo shuttle coasters made a real impact on the scene with its striking appearance of massive elements, insane theming statue and gorgeous trains. I really admired the overbearing presence of this ride over its surroundings, with the roaring sound of the LSM launches audibly intimidating would be riders throughout the closing stages of the queueline. Each onboard moment that Soaring with Dragon delivers is excellent and it’s just a shame there are so few of them. My only real criticism is that it always left me wanting more.
And what better attraction to give you more than the legendary multi launch with its endless entanglement of twisted track. Taron kickstarted the golden age of coasters we’re seeing at the climax of this list and never has the sensation I described earlier of being relentlessly wrenched into a second half of a ride you’re already loving, with even more speed than before, been more satisfying than in the depths of Klugheim.
But while some believe the creature above to still be the pinnacle of this Intamin design, for me the smug bird has swooped in and destroyed all notions of that idea. Though Taiga doesn’t deliver the glorious second launch with as much impact, it does absolutely everything else far better than anything in these lists and we’ve come full circle on the notion that it simply isn’t the sensation of acceleration that make these rides special for me – it’s what you do with it afterwards. With countless standout moments in this layout, some way beyond what we’ve seen from the manufacturer before, this coaster is the one and only from Intamin that makes me even consider that they could ever best the best of the Mack launch coasters with a future design of this ride type. I can’t wait for the day that happens.
Whilst they currently manufacturer almost any theme park hardware you can think of, Intamin have become particularly renowned for their record breaking and often world beating launch coasters. They began using LSM technology back in 1997 in order to immediately smash both the height and speed world records for a rollercoaster with back to back installations of the Reverse Freefall model on either side of the planet.
By 1998, they had switched over to the subtly different LIM system for their suspended coaster range, creating both a one of a kind ride in Volcano, The Blast Coaster (R.I.P.) – an early pioneer of the full circuit multi-launch concept, along with their relatively popular compact shuttle rides known as Impulse coasters.
In 2002, an alternative engineering solution for train propulsion was developed for Knott’s Berry Farm, giving birth to their range of Hydraulic launch coasters which, throughout the same decade ended up repeatedly pushing the boundaries yet again. This type of launch enabled Intamin to continually surpass their own record for tallest coaster, holding it ever since they first took the title, and culminated in 2010 with what remains to this day as the all time fastest out in the UAE.
As technologies have grown and changed, the Hydraulic launch appears to have been phased out again in favour of the more energy efficient LSM technique. 2007 saw the start of this uprising with the ride type now commonly labelled by enthusiasts as the Blitz coaster. As the race for raw statistics began to tail off, the drive for more fundamentally well rounded experiences took over and this revised launch model became the foundation of their now highly regarded multi launch coasters we both know and anticipate today.
In that very same year, the family market was also tapped into using yet another system of tyre propelled launches. Although a shaky start (I’ll soon tell you why), this simpler concept also remains active to this day, complementing the available lineup with rides from the smaller end of the scale.
Outside of all this we’ve seen any number of innovations from Intamin that also happen to involve launches. From Half Pipes to Wing Coasters and from the legendary Aqua Trax to an exciting upcoming single rail project in Australia, it seems there’s nothing they can’t do with them. But records and engineering aside, which ones are the best to ride? Yes, it’s time for another ranking list and, as I’ve opened this field up to absolutely anything with a launch, there’s quite a lot to sift through. “Heads back, face forward, hold on tight and brace yourself.”
Though there is more than one of these on the list, this one gets a special dishonourable mention for either doing it wrong or me doing it wrong. The entire experience can be summed up by being launched sideways in a jerky fashion on every single pass, with an unforgiving shoulder restraint just to the side of your head/neck ready to absorb the impact. The live band out front was a nice touch at least.
Displaying the aforementioned beginnings of tyre propelled launches on smaller coasters, this early motorbike design is awkward and uncomfortable in almost every way. The parts of the ‘seating’ on which your knees press against for the riding position used to have a layer of padding which, at the time of my riding, had partially worn away, leaving a knobbly mess of remains and hard plastic to grind away at your flesh and bone through every vibration from the train. It also actively made children cry around us – is this what you want from a family coaster?
The surprise at finding this Impulse coaster didn’t share the layout of all the others was not enough to overlook the fact that I also found it surprisingly rough and shaky for a ride of this nature. Like the Half Pipe it’s a bit of a gimmick to be bouncing back and forth between two spikes as your entire layout and if there’s discomfort involved then there’s very little merit to the experience.
We now leave the realm of physical discomfort and enter one of simple monotony and disinterest. These look like Half Pipes again, tamed down without the added rotation of the seats and yet the whole seating setup feels oversized, clunky and unnecessarily claustrophobic for what you would imagine the target demographic to be on a Toy Story ride. It bothers me more however that this is becoming a stable product of Disneyland parks – a lazy, small footprint ‘coaster’ (barely) that doesn’t even tie into the ‘theme’ (barely) very well.
With pain removed from the equation, these are actually alright, but still not great. I appreciate the more open seating with dangling legs for the effect they’re trying to go for, particularly against the example just above us. It’s all just semantics at this stage though, it’s nice to stick these on the list and call them a +1, but do they even feel like rollercoasters?
The same can be applied here – a big straight line and not even two spikes, just one. This one sits directly behind the following entry as the queueline, theming and atmosphere was all very tired, dated and neglected giving absolutely no impact to what was once a highly significant attraction in the coaster world. Glad to have got it, shan’t miss it.
Slightly taller, slightly faster and in a better physical location – jutting out of the hillside for a bit of extra perceived height. This one just about edges it for me, though you honestly can’t tell the difference in stats to ride it. As perhaps the worst of any coaster to bear the name ‘Superman’, this one manages to make 100Mph feel surprisingly unremarkable – quite the feat.
You’d think this one would have a bit more going for it with what looks like an airtime hill, the opportunity to face in either direction and lap bar restraints, even just some more modern techonology. After suffering through far too much pre-show for a ride of this length, the result was entirely a non-event for me. The spike exiting the building to pop outside and give you some cool views even falls flat on its face by not going high enough to matter. When will this string of shuttle coasters end?
Right here. We can actually start saying I like these rides moving forward, so that’s a plus. Baby Kanonen was the smallest of the hydraulic launch coasters to be built and ended up with a certain awkwardness about it. The stunted top speed with the size and scale of the track, trains and layout just didn’t add up to a good sense of pacing and flow. It wasn’t anything special (and the park clearly knew it too, giving it only 10 years before selling it on and buying something far better), but entertaining nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the non-chalance of the station announcement – “place your head… against the headrest.”
If you want an equally disinterested piece of audio on a ride, there’s still Rita. Ever since it got consumed by the Dark Forest of Thirteen and lost the subtitle – Queen of Speed, a man quietly declares that “you must escape” before uttering in the same tone “go, go… go…” It’s just so amusingly anticlimactic for what is admittedly a decently powerful burst of acceleration to start this ride. Crank up the beans on these hydraulics and things get more impressive for sure, particularly if you’re a big fan of launches.
I’m not that bothered about the sensation of launches any more though (my loss) and so it’s time to start focusing on the layouts that come after it. I didn’t finish what I was going to say about Rita because Desert Race is exactly the same ride. I’ve always been of the opinion that this one rides noticeably smoother, slightly showing off those twisted hills that break up the almost unending fast banked turns. The layout made sense for Alton Towers as they had to stay below the tree line, but in reality I’d just call it a compromise in performance compared to their past projects that faced the same restrictions and not quite exciting enough for my tastes.
So with that in mind, enter the one up, one down product range that was used to surpass the world records of the big ol’ spikes we talked about earlier. Zaturn opened one month after Stealth at Thorpe Park, is exactly the same and, standing at a massive 205ft tall, is only ‘medium-sized’ for what this ride type has achieved. There’s very little to the layout obviously, but the sensations of an even faster launch, along with the entry and exit of the top hat, plus the violent burnout of all the wasted potential energy into the brake run is always decent fun. I just can’t get overly jubilant about a ride that’s over almost as soon as it begins and this one had no soul.
The tallest coaster in the world had no soul either, and that disappointed me. I expected the park to play up the fear factor, on this of all rides, but all we got was this parking lot coaster, some generic disco vibes and guests (including ourselves) having distracted conversations while sitting on the launch track about to experience 128Mph to the face and see the world from 456ft in the air. How can you possibly turn this hardware into a non-event, a one and done? A Six Flags way was found.
Whilst the hydraulic coaster started out with more than just a top hat element, I’m not sure Xcelerator had the right approach either. Fast turns and a sensation of speed are all well and good but it even lacks any further key moments after the starting sequence and even misses that extra bit of fun over the brake fin humps found on later models. Solid ride, but ended up a little forgettable outside of the history for me.
More of the same of course but this one stands out from the pack due to a solid theme and great sense of fun throughout the zone it resides in. Having grown up with the park I do have a bit more of a sentimental attachment as well and at one point in the past the whole concept was absolutely terrifying and intimidating to me, feelings that had long since faded by the time I reached any of the others in this list.
Whilst we’ve already seen some impressive hardware here today, I’d say none of these rides really show off what the mad lads at Intamin can do to a full extent. The technology and the ideas are there, but the layouts and standout moments that keep me coming back for more are not. Join me in the top half where we’ll at least have some context into how much better things get compared to this motley crew.