Coaster Kingdom

Goliath, Walibi World
Saturday, February 24, 2007

Imagine if The Louvre inherited a long-lost priceless painting by Picasso that had been discovered by chance in storage. Critics hail it as simply the finest ever work of art cast onto canvass, and this single painting quickly becomes the new Mona Lisa, synonymous with the art of expression through a paintbrush.

Of course, as any discerning gallery would do, The Louvre put this masterpiece on display... by dumping it in the broom cupboard and giving someone the key.

Intamin are very much the Picasso of the moment in terms of roller coasters. Not only are their works of art eye catching and bold, more often than not, they're quite unlike anything else seen before.

In terms of Mega Coasters, their first work of art in Europe was put proudly on display at Holiday Park in Germany. Their anthology of rides had much to be desired, but Expedition Ge-Force did more than tip the balance back in their favour as it has taken root at the top of many polls and top tens ever since its 2001 debut.

Weaving throughout the park like the Bayeux Tapestry, this is a masterpiece they're clearly proud of with the orange track threading its way through the wooded park and soaring over the labyrinth of pathways and the park's river rapids ride.

Walibi's presentation of Goliath, meanwhile, is comparably bizarre. If Walibi World was a trophy cupboard, Goliath would undoubtedly be the biggest, shiniest trophy of all. However, as it rewards the holder for being Plank of the Month, it takes its rightful place right at the back, where people can still stare in wonderment, yet maintaining an irritating sense of anonymity. Like putting a Picasso in a broom cupboard, Goliath's presentation does strike me as an opportunity lost.

While the placid landscapes of the Netherlands do little to allay the ever-present threat of flooding, it certainly helps when it comes to giving short coasters a spectacular presence on the horizon. The grassy green track is held 150ft aloft with the slender deep purple supports - which, for a mega coaster, is nothing to brag about - and sprawls along the lakeside to the left hand side of the park.

Despite my criticisms of this 'mega' coaster being such a recluse, from parts of the car park it forms a remarkable landscape of serpentine track gracefully rising high into the sky before dropping out of view behind the tree line.

Goliath is at the end of a wooded pathway with the brash industrial-style station nestled amongst the trees with the electric green track contrasting the grey hues of the station and soaring into the sky above. The rest of the ride is completely hidden from view until you walk through the mainly cattlepen-style queue line against which the final furlong of bunny hops run.

The station is small, but gives budding heroes the chance to take on Goliath from whatever seat they want - whether front or back. With two trains and a moderate ride time, Goliath deals well with the queues, especially when compared to an almost identical set-up on Expedition Ge-Force where it takes staff almost ten minutes to push restraints down until they hear the crack of bone.

The rolling stock on Goliath is fairly comfortable, especially in comparison to Expedition Ge-Force where you cannot move your entire lower body due to the design of the floor.

The trains are stripped down to the bare fundamentals - a seat and a restraint. If you like the cosy feeling of sitting inside the train, well, you're out of luck as Goliath's trains are like driving a go-kart in a high chair.

With bums on seats, the train starts the climb up the lift before Goliath does everything in his power to keep your bum off the seat. Swiftly climbing the lift, the ride suddenly becomes much less candid with the entire layout mapped out beneath you.

Suddenly, as you climb, the realisation dawns that this has the potential to be a wonderful, wonderful ride. Every element the discerning mega coaster fan could want is there in front of you; a massive 135ft camelback hill, an over-banked dive, helixes, sharp changes in direction, swooping dives and ground hugging S-turns - surely this ride has what it takes to fulfil the criteria to be simply one of the best rides in the world?

Time to find out.

With absolutely no hesitation whatsoever, the train drops out from under you, curling into a straight first drop tugging you down towards the ground before climbing up into a massive straight camelback hill.

The forces of the ride pull you not only skywards, but forwards too as the train hovers in the sky before dropping into a ground-hugging turn. As your eyes adjust to the speed, Goliath makes another bid for the sky, this time tipping the train up onto its side and over into almost an inversion before curling out and dropping into a sprawling ground-level helix.

The train peels out from this turn, rolls around to the right and smoothly flicks back down to the left before going into a clockwise 380-degree helix. With the train tipped to the right above the lake below, the helix spirals upwards into another right-to-left flick into a swooping dive into the first of three bunny hops.

Under the shadow of the lift hill, the tracks warps 40ft skywards through a neat parabolic hill, the second repeating the gesture as you pass the main queue line, and the third as you soar past the station building.

After this ungainly assault on your body the train hugs the ground as it sweeps around to the left, before recoiling back to the right through a final S-turn and smoothly stopping on the short brake run.

There is simply so much that works to Goliaths' favour - the lakeside setting, the powerful bouts of negative G-force and the potpourri mix of a layout.

But, ironically, these things also represent the mighty Goliath's achilles heel. The lakeside setting, while great, is very aloof. There is no sense of getting a taste of the coaster before you commit yourself to a ride. While it's wrong to expect the entire ride to be open to analysis, it seems a shame that it is a ride only enjoyed when you're ready to take on Goliath's might.

The powerful bouts of negative Gs are quite extraordinary. There is no feeling of this being a natural force as there is on Silver Star - this is a very artificial and manufactured force.

And this is in no way a bad thing.

Between them, Ge-Force and Goliath boast just about the best airtime that there's to be had in Europe. Even the front seat isn't immune from the wonderful sensation of what must be the closest to space exploration without donning a space suit.

But, of course, these massively obvious forces show up the lack of power in other elements, most notably the helixes. The twisting turns in and out of the helixes show how nimble, commanding - yet smooth Goliath can be without having to use powerful bouts of airtime, and while the swoop into the second helix is particularly forceful, neither of the helixes are as exciting as by rights they should be.

But what is good about Goliath is good - really good. The straight first drop removes all need for comparison between this and Expedition Ge-Force, and the camelback following is a nice nod to the similar element found on Goliath's German counterpart.

The over-banked turn, nicknamed the Stengal Dive, is absolutely wonderful. It is worth sacrificing the sublime airtime that this hill could have provided for the obscure sensation of having your head tipped below your feet on what is unanimously classed as a non-looping coaster.

What makes the Stengal Dive yet more interesting, is that for all intents and purposes, it isn't really an over-banked turn as such. This is another example of a very forced manoeuvre, much like Ge-Force's first drop or the sharp turns found elsewhere on Goliath, yet it feels so natural it would feel wrong without it.

The helixes are forgettable, but the ending isn't. The first bunny hop sets you up for the remaining two which seem to do all the hard work, before a ground hugging S-turn highlights the remaining speed before last orders are called.

Overall, Goliath is a cannily apt name - to some, it is an all-conquering giant, but of course that doesn't necessarily guarantee victory in any showdown. Goliath is a wonderful coaster, but there is fleeting promise of better things, which generally go unrealised.

Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.

Good points:

  • A decent length ride, powerful until the end
  • Great mixture of elements including drops, turns and helices
  • Tons of airtime and the unique and highly effective Stengal dive

Bad points:

  • The helices don't deliver
  • The setting of the ride is hidden away to all but the riders

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