You don't need to be a master architect to work out towers are great attention grabbers. Think Paris, and you think of the Eiffel Tower; think Blackpool ,and you think of Blackpool Tower - despite the best efforts of the Pleasure Beach. Ride manufacturers, ever eager to provide parks with their own landmarks, latched into the tower idea decades ago and built rides to take advantage. Invariably, these were observation towers, gentle rides which took passengers up into the sky to enjoy a few minutes of looking around the park from a new perspective. Blackpool Pleasure Beach was home to one for years until construction of the Big One called for its removal.
Since the mid-1990s, attitudes to tower rides have changed. Towers are now used as the basis major thrill rides, shooting riders up and down the sides of the tower at high speed. The bandwagon was started by Intamin who came up with the "Giant Drop", the simple premise being to take riders to the top of the tower and let them free-fall back to the ground. By providing a thrilling and spectacular attraction which required very little ground space, Intamin had a real winner on its hands, and began selling models to parks all over the world.
As is usual in the ride industry, as soon as other ride manufacturers realised how successful the Giant Drop had become, they started work on their own versions of the ride. Among the first was S&S Sports of Utah, who figured that the ride would be more spectacular if riders could blast riders up the tower, rather than having to slowly winch them up. The firm called the ride the "Space Shot", and managed to guarantee itself plenty of publicity for the ride's debut by placing the first model at the top of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas, where at its highest point, riders would be 1,000 feet above the ground! Although superficially similar to the Giant Drop, the accent here is firmly on the blast up the tower, not the drop down. Later, Huss, Zamperla and S&S themselves would design towers intended to deliver both the blast-off and free-fall sensations in the same ride to varying degrees of success.
At the time, it seemed unlikely that any UK park would be able to build such rides. As has been well documented, most UK parks are unable to get planning permission for tall rides, due to local authorities insisting that theme parks should be hidden away, as if they were something to be ashamed of. Although parks like Drayton Manor and Oakwood did eventually find ways around these restrictions, Blackpool Pleasure Beach had the opposite problem. They could build rides as tall as they liked, but had virtually no ground space to play with. Previous new rides, such as the Avalanche and Big One, were effectively built straight over the top of existing rides, giving some idea of how bad the problem was. A tower ride was the perfect choice, but even this meant juggling rides about.
Although BPB don't have to worry about planning permission, the park is very near to Blackpool Airport, meaning that plans to build tall structures require approval from the Civil Aviation Authority. When the news leaked out that clearance had been sought for a 180ft ride at the Northern end of the park, enthusiasts soon worked out that a tower ride was on the agenda. Finally, the park announced that 1997 would see the opening of the UK's first Space Shot, and now claimed the ride to stand at 210ft, continuing the park's curious habit of measuring rides from sea level.
The ride would be placed in a circular mini-garden, which had previously been occupied by the Monster, an aging Octopus style ride. Since the Monster's removal, the site had played host to the Egg Scrambler, a rather shabby and old-fashioned Twister ride, which had been moved to make way for the Big One's station. With the arrival of the Space Shot, the Egg Scrambler found another temporary home inside the turnaround of the Big Dipper, only for a new Go-Kart track to oust the ride to BPB's sister park, Southport Pleasureland. This gives you some idea of the chaotic chain reaction caused every time BPB install a new ride! As an amusing note, the moving of the Egg Scrambler to Southport co-incided with BPB integrating the Tagada and Haunted Hotel to form Trauma Towers. When the Egg Scrambler arrived in Southport, it was bizarrely renamed "Tagada" simply so that they could use BPB's discarded signs!
During construction, the ride was referred to as "The Ejector", a name which was scrapped shortly before opening. At the time, he park was in the early stages of its current obsession with chasing advertising revenue at every opportunity, and a sponsorship deal was signed with the Sony corporation. Enthusiasts cringed at the prospect of another lousy ride name, and sure enough, the new name would set a new low in pandering to the sponsor's wishes. Dispensing even with the usual formula of "The 'sponsor's name' 'ride name'" (eg "The Pepsi Max Big One"), "PlayStation: The Ride" will surely go down in history as easily the worst name ever invented. The infrastructure of the Monster would remain (same queue line, same control box etc), but the sponsorship deal meant that all buildings would soon be painted black and covered in PlayStation logos, with similar treatment being dished out to the ride car and tower-top. In 2000, Sony's sponsorship deal ran out, and many expected the ride to take on Viking theming to fit in with Valhalla. The new name would be "Ice Blast", which would seem to fit the Viking idea, until you realise that it is merely the name of a drink which is now advertised on the ride and sold around the park. The area was hastily rebranded, rather half-heartedly it has to be said.
The ride looks reasonably impressive, a grey-white (PlayStation colour) lattice structure with a large red column inside housing the air cylinders used to blast the car upwards. Spectator walkways lead all around the ride and form a coliseum-like arena for people to watch the ride. The queue passes through a dreary cattle grid queue line before splitting into two, one being a "single rider" line for busier days. The queue moves quite slowly due to the ride taking a quite dismal 12 riders at a time. Originally, riders were arranged in a 3-per-side formation, but has since switched to 4-2-4-2. The old formation caused problems in that people rarely ride in groups of 3 and don't want to be split up, thus the ride rarely ran to capacity. The seats are comfortable enough, as are the overhead restraints, secured by a B&M style seat belt. The staff usually clamp the restraints down, killing the prospects of airtime. While these preparations are made, riders will often hear a load blast of discharged air coming from the tower, which many will mistake for a special effect.
The car is raised slightly and weighed, in order that the computer can decide on the amount of power required. At this point, the pre-recorded spiel begins "Welcome to 'CLICK' the ride", the click being where the word "PlayStation" was hastily edited out. After momentarily creeping upward, the car accelerates very smoothly up the tower. Ironically, this is almost too smooth to have the kind of impact that onlookers would expect, although it is still good fun. At the top, the ride used to give a sensational moment of airtime, really throwing you out of your seat, to be caught by the overheads. This was the highlight of the ride, and was infinitely more enjoyable than the launch. From a spectator's point of view, this whole sequence appears very impressive, partly because the sound of ride gives it a strange sense of drama, with the clicking of the pulleys, and the deep "thud" of air as the car reaches the top acting almost like a drum-roll and crescendo. Unfortunately, in recent years, the ride has started to hit the top with all the force of Thora Hird's stair-lift, and is a massive anti-climax as you aren't subjected to anything like the forces requires to lift you out of the seat. This is a huge shame, and is really quite pitiful compared to how the ride ran in its heyday.
From this point, the marketing blurb (as reproduced wholesale by countless lazy travel journalists) promises "An amazing free-fall back to Earth". The ride does not deliver this, never did deliver this, and wasn't even designed to deliver this. For anyone who has experienced true free-fall towers, Ice Blast's drop will disappoint grossly. I don't criticise the ride for this exactly, more the marketing people who lead people to expect something the ride wasn't meant to deliver. After the drop, the car bounces up and down the tower, not with the powerful change of direction of the Huss Shot 'n' Drop (such as Oakwood's "The Bounce"), but with a fairly lamentable motion which serves only to burn off whatever energy remains. Soon, the car grinds to a halt around half way up the tower and is pulled to the ground, ready for its next load of passengers. A the exit is a nasty bottleneck, designed to force you past the photo-booth, where Joe Public is encouraged to gawp at your expression during the blast off.
When the ride opened, it was immensely enjoyable. The airtime was more intense than any coaster could deliver, and as long as you didn't expect too much from it, it was a great ride. It was always going to be a one trick ride, but as long as it performed that trick well, that was fine with me. The fact that BPB tends not to get the gigantic queues of parks like Alton Towers meant that it was usually worth riding. The downfall of the ride seemed to co-incide roughly with the rebranding from PlayStation to Ice Blast, and also seems to have signalled a marked decrease in popularity among the public. Strangely, I suspect that the PlayStation sponsorship actually boosted the ride's popularity, as people associated the hi-tech nature of the product with that of the ride. On more than one occasion I overheard people who appeared to be under the impression that Sony were somehow involved in the design of the ride, oblivious to the fact that Sony had merely done exactly what Pepsi did three years earlier with the Big One - pay BPB at the last minute to mention their product in the ride name and slap the logo all over the ride.
Nowadays, sadly the ride is a pale shadow of its former self. Whereas once upon a time I would ride and re-ride time and time again, I now almost ignore it even when there is no queue, despite the fact that the new age of the BPB wristband means that I wouldn't be wasting my precious tickets on the ride. The ride was always going to be a short lived novelty, but the park seem intent on shortening its life further by not allowing it to fulfil its potential. Whether it is lack of maintenance or a deliberate piece of ride-taming, it has done the ride no favours at all and has reduced it to becoming little more than an observation tower, albeit one which doesn't last long enough for anyone to observe anything.
In a very odd turn of events, Southport Pleasureland announced that they were to install a Space Shot for the 2002 season. This was interpreted by many enthusiasts as BPB admitting the ride was past its best and off-loading the ride to its sister park to make way for something new. Pleasureland is, after all, home to many rides which were squeezed out of BPB over the years. Amazingly, this turned out to be wrong, and Southport now has its own version of the ride as well as Blackpool's. This seems a rather curious decision on a commercial level , as there can't be much prestige for Pleasureland in opening a simple copy of a ride that can already be found at their parent park just up the coast, but is also a great shame, as there is a huge number of rides which could make better use of what is a relatively large amount of space by BPB's standards.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is a fantastic park, full of wonderful unique attractions. It's just a shame that the high-profile rides (in both senses) just happen to be the most disappointing rides on the park. "Ice Blast - Feel the Frozen Fizz" say the signs - well, it certainly leaves me feeling cold.
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.
- Ice Blast is a ride with a lot of impact
- A fun ride to watch, fantastic views from the top
- Has a dull launch and a lacklustre drop meaning that its bark is worse than its bite
- The tower ride is now common place and Ice Blast compares poorly
Labels: PleasureBeachBlackpool, SandS, SpinRide