- Mike Boodley, Roller Coaster Designer
The nineties were not only a time of innovation and re-creation of the standard sit-down coaster, they also spawned many off-shoots, some which were nothing like the world had ever seen, while others were merely a rebirth of old designs with a modern twist.
The Wild Mouse has been one of the most popular small steel designs in roller coaster history. Although they look small, these rides can pack a brutal punch using hairpin turns that throws riders into the side of the car. The Wild Mouse at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England was a perfect example of the extreme nature these small rides had. Although was only modest height and length, the coaster was considered one of the most brutal on earth. It was created by Valerie Wright and is the only known design she created.
One of the most popular stateside was the Wild Mouse at Palisade's Park in New Jersey. It was partially designed by Joseph McKee and opened in 1963. The ride was well kept for the many years it ran near the cliffs above the Hudson. This style of ride worked well for family parks during this time because they could add a roller coaster, and even though it was not as large as its wooden counterparts, it interested visitors with the new steel track.
The small, mouse-style rides began to make a comeback in the mid-to-late 1990's because of several reasons. First and foremost they were cheaper than a large steel coaster, so parks added them without having to worry about their pocketbooks. Also, in an age where a coaster count was very important, it permitted the park to install a roller coaster that required a small ride footprint.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Wild Mouse, called the Wild Izzy, is one example of the earlier versions of the new "Wild Mouse." This Mack Wild Mouse coaster followed the tradition of wild mice in that the top level consisted of sharp s-turns while the bottom level was small hills and curving high-speed turns. Although the coaster at the Gardens has been tamed for a family audience, Hershey Park opened a Mack mouse four years later. The park let this version run wild and many considered it to be the best modern version of the classic format.
Reverchon Industries created a new "spin" on the traditional mouse when they opened the aptly named "Wild Mouse" at Dinosaur Beach in New Jersey. The ride sat like a tilt-a-whirl as the riders were seated 4-across instead of 2 by 2. It starts normally, but halfway through the ride a switch is thrown which lets the passengers pivot around a central axis on the car. Although not as brutal as older mice this new breed of mouse is some of the most fun you will have on a coaster. In 1999 the coaster was moved to the Steel Pier where it still operates. That same year Kennywood opened another version of Reverchon's creation, called the Exterminator. The ride was wonderfully themed and features a bunch of wild mice (quite the recurring idea) run amuck. It is a fun ride for the entire family and wonderfully complimented Kennywood's great coaster collection.
The hypercoaster literally stands above every other ride. Despite their cost, these coasters have been built on a regular basis since Arrow created the Magnum XL-200 in 1989. The hypercoaster style was interesting because many of today's designers attempted it and most have created coasters that top the list of many an enthusiast.
Arrow Dynamics continued to ride the waves of success created by Magnum, but many felt that their next two hypercoasters, Desperado at Buffalo Bills Resort & Casino and Pepsi Max The Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England fell short of the large expectations. Desperado stood 225-feet tall, while The Big One featured a 214-foot drop. When they opened, both drew a lot of media attention because of their sheer size. However, after the media left a growing murmur rose up among some riders, who said they were very unhappy with these rides and considered them to be badly designed coasters.
Desperado showcased how high coasters could go, but it also showed how badly Arrow handled their transitions. Some of their coasters rode rough at low speeds, but flying along at 80 mph riders really noticed how badly this coaster tracked through the transitions. Another problem people have with both of these coasters is that they are quite boring. Unlike Magnum, these coasters rode like a collection of ramps and created rides that look quite sensational, but common consensus says that they are nothing like Arrow's first hypercoaster.
Arrow went into a decline after these two coasters failed to deliver the rides promised and very few coasters have been seen from them since. Perhaps this is what led Cedar Fair to commission three hypercoasters from a relative newcomer to the industry. Morgan Manufacturing built the West Coaster at Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier in California for the 1995 season. Reviews for this ride were less than favorable, so there were some inquisitive looks when Cedar Fair announced that Morgan was chosen to build their new hypercoaster, the Wild Thing at Valleyfair! park in Minnesota.
Wild Thing stood 207-feet high and its popularity reaffirmed Cedar Fair's belief in Morgan Manufacturing, who went on to build two more roller coasters for the chain. Steel Force, a 205-foot hypercoaster, opened at Dorney Park (Allentown, Pennsylvania) for the 1997 season. A year later, Mamba was built at Worlds of Fun (Kansas City, Missouri) at the same height.
The basic layout is the same for all three coasters: two large drops, a tight helix and a return full of bunny hops. Each Morgan hyper got a little better as they continuously tweaked the design of the ride. The peaks were made more severe on each and every helix seemed a bit more intense, although the headchoppers on all three are some of the best to be found on a steel coaster. After building three hypercoasters Morgan was shoved aside by one company that is considered the king of modern coaster innovation, Bolliger & Mabillard. (Note: the tallest coaster in the world, Steel Dragon 2000, opened in August 2000 at Nagashima Spaland in Japan. Steel Dragon 2000 designed by Morgan Manufacturing stands 318-feet and features of a 306-feet drop).
The company that contributed new ideas and styles of rides to the amusement park industry, B&M lent their hand to the world of hypercoasters in 1999. One difference between their coasters and others were the unique coaches that the company used. They featured seats that were raised above the floor so that rider's feet did not touch it. The cars also had a comfortable lap bar that securely held the riders in, but was not so obtrusive that it prevented the guests from enjoying the great airtime that these coasters offered. In a day where coasters are ever-launching and ever looping, the designs that B&M premiered were very reminiscent of the wooden rides of their coaster forefathers.
Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Raging Bull at Six Flags Great America in Illinois were two hypercoasters that did very different things. Apollo's Chariot was 210-feet tall, 4,882-feet long and had an out and back layout that featured hills upon hills of steep drops as it roared through the lush greenery of Williamsburg. The ride has been a favorite of almost everyone who has enjoyed the coaster since it opened. One famous rider, Fabio, had a bad flight because on his (and the ride's) inaugural journey the famous model was struck by a local duck, causing him to hit the brake run with a bloody nose. Despite this unfortunate first day, the coaster has run without incident and given thousands of people rides full of airtime. Raging Bull used another style of traditional coaster design- the twister. The coaster and its bright orange track undulated around its course, sped through a tunnel on the first drop, featured several curves with great lateral G's and a figure-eight ended the ride with an intense finish.
The same year as the B&M beauties opened, another company some had pushed to the background stepped forward. Intamin, who had a hit with Superman The Escape, tried their hand with the hypercoaster. It opened in 1999 with the name Superman Ride of Steel. Built at Six Flags Darien Lake, this was yet another coaster that combined intensity, setting and pure speed. Located next to a lake, the coaster looked absolutely beautiful and gave a ride that was both smooth and intense. Intamin's cars for their hypercoasters were also different as some featured "stadium seating," and had a very unique look. Some have described the cars as four lawn chairs grafted onto a platform. But despite the look, the cars tracked great, were very open, and allowed for good airtime while making passengers feel quite secure.
The year 2000 brought with it two more Superman hypercoasters. The first was at Six Flags America and is a mirror image of Darien Lake's, but the biggest news was a couple hours north at the newly renovated Six Flags New England. The Superman coaster here was a natural extension of the coasters found at the other two parks and quickly rose to the top of many enthusiasts' list. Instead of following the traditional three-part hypercoaster layout, it had a twisted layout and many negative-g hills. Enthusiasts raved about the ride and compared it coaster to a larger version of the century's greatest wooden coasters. It had amazing airtime, vicious laterals and some great positive G's that were powerful enough to make some riders see a touch of gray. Superman Ride of Steel at Six Flags New England was considered by many to be one of the best hypercoasters in existence because it has almost everything that riders want in a steel coaster.
Two other coasters of note that opened during 2000 were firsts for both companies. Giovanola's Goliath opened at Six Flags Magic Mountain in the spring and held the tallest drop record for a few months. The cars and track went back to the traditional style two-abreast seating, but that was the only thing traditional about this coaster. It reached 85 mph and flew through a tunnel on the first drop. The layout was large, intense and very similar to Raging Bull, but there is one difference-the amazing helix. Although this may appear to be a simple circle of track, many have said it is one of the single most intense moments on a coaster since the days of Schwarzkopf. The spiral was simple, but the coaster attacked it at such a speed that riders were shoved down in their seat and to the side at the same time. Just try to hold your hands up during this element!
Intamin has been very busy the last few years creating hypercoasters, but in 2000 they unveiled their newest way to create terror, the gigacoaster. Millennium Force opened in May and was the world's first full-circuit roller coaster to exceed 300-feet. Standing 310-feet, Millennium Force featured a first drop of 300-feet at an incredible steep 80-degree angle.
It used to be that the Cedar Point had a very rich skyline with Magnum XL-200, Raptor, Mantis, Power Tower, Mean Streak and Gemini all blended together to create the look of heaven for roller coaster fans. Now there is only one place to look, because no matter if guests were in the park or on the causeway, their eyes were always drawn to the blue structure of Millennium Force that appeared to plunge straight to the ground.
Although the coaster looks evil, it is one of those where its bark is less than its bite and gives a fun ride, not a scary one. Unlike its hyper cousin, Millennium force is full of turns with only a handful of airtime hills and as John Allen said, "curves don't make a coaster." But there is one thing that people coming always talk about "that drop" that is taken at 92 mph. Yes, the first drop is amazing, so if you want to be awed by height and power (and doesn't everyone?) go experience the Force. What a fitting way to open a new century of coasting.
Roller Coaster History written by Adam Sandy. All rights reserved.
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