Coaster Kingdom

Slammer, Thorpe Park
Saturday, February 24, 2007

There's a lot to be said for going round and round. As certain as day and night, you can guarantee that the world is spinning on its axis, the moon is circling around the earth, and our fair planet itself is in orbit around the sun.

And of course, we all know about the wheels on the bus. They go round and round, round and round all day long.

Indeed, it seems almost since the invention of the wheel that ride manufacturers have harnessed the qualities of going round and round in circles. The most obvious example is the carousel, but who can forget (as much as we try) the humble Fabbri Sky Flyer or Huss Ranger, both of which work their way up into sending riders orbiting in circles high above the ground?

But while going round in circles could be the be-all and end-all, spin ride manufacturers in particular have been trying to break out of this vortex and send riders not only around in circles, but in every other achievable direction possible.

Let's look at Mondial's Top Scan, surely the benchmark against which all other rides should be measured. Sure, there's the simple rotary motion of the main arm, but the good Messrs at Mondial have thrown in a couple more circles for good measure - the star-shaped gondola also goes around in circles, and of course, each row tumbles over, too. Seems Mondial like circles too, just in a less obvious way to most.

And so, while manufacturers have been tripping over themselves to get away from simple circular spin rides like Sky Flyers and Orbitrons, S&S introduces a ride that goes right back to the roots of what a circle is all about - the Sky Swat.

The Sky Swat first appeared at S&S's private playground in Utah. While many websites marvelled at the white-washed monstrosity that was the prototype, I could take it or leave it. It was tall, it was high capacity and it used fancy restraints - but it also just went around in circles. Colour me disinterested.

So Thorpe announce Slammer, the first ride of its kind outside America (the first being Swat, at Six Flags Houston). While many people punched the same sky Slammer would be 'swatting' with delight, I remained on the fence.

But while I did, I appreciated the need to look at the bigger picture. For their second season of installing spin rides, they needed to make sure it dangled the metaphorical carrot in front of the figurative donkey. It needed to be marketable, and it needed to look great on a poster.

Whatever Slammer rides like, you have to admit, it looks amazing. It is over a hundred feet tall, and is only the second of its type in the world. This raises a few eyebrows, something Submission never managed.

But of course, while I look at the big picture, it is important to look at the even bigger picture. If it looks great, but is in fact rides like a 105ft piece of rubbish, then Thorpe will be left with a white elephant - something Submission has always managed.

So, as I said, the Sky Swat looks great. Well... kinda. You see, while it looks great in terms of majesty, it is a very, very ugly ride. It consists of a central tower, four supporting legs fanning out, and a double-ended spatula-style arm supported with a complex mess of cables and struts.

However, while the Swat is a veritable eyesore, Slammer actually looks the part. While it makes no secret of the fact it is a massive machine, the predominately brown colour scheme makes it look a lot more natural and less industrial than its American counterpart.

The gold supports fanning out are a nice touch, and the two gondolas are a deep red trimmed in yellow. While S&S deserve no credit for designing a pretty ride, Thorpe have at least dressed this ugly step sister up so she can go to the ball.

Slammer opens up a new area between Lost City and Canada Creek. While most rides at Thorpe are styled as opposed to out-and-out themed, Slammer neatly forms a crossover between the two themes with the rustic colours of Canada Creek and the superlative style of Lost City.

The wooden entrance is cast under the shadows of the ride, and veers off into a wooden queue pen akin to that found on Vortex. Considering the limited space available, Thorpe have done a good job, and nevertheless, the queue is made better by the fact it affords great side views of Slammer.

As you approach the ride, the queue splits with a member of staff directing you either to the left or the right where you wait behind airgates while the ride cycles above you. Your confidence starts to erode as the rhythmic whoosh of the ride cutting through the air seems to get faster and faster, eventually slowing before the entire ride slowly lowers itself back to the ground.

Having had time to re-arrange their hair - and indeed have a haircut too - the ride levels out with the platform, the harnesses release and everyone exits to the opposite side. For a spin ride, it is good to see the coaster-style 'on one side, off the other' system which greatly refines the free-for-all found on most other theme park spin rides.

Even before the ride starts, you get a feeling for S&S's ingenuity. The plastic-moulded seats are extremely deep and comfortable with an extraordinarily large protrusion between your legs. No laughing back there. Far be it from me to tell you size is everything, though, so you'll have to take my word.

The restraints come in two halves - a lap bar hinges down from the side over your waist, while what looks like an overhead restraint with the bottom sawn off pulls down to touch your shoulders. Yes, Schwarzkopf fans, I can hear you groaning - it is almost identical to their famous - or more to the point - infamous accordion restraints. Don't let this worry you, though. None of the forces on Slammer will be doing anything to push the restraints down. Anything but, infact.

While preparing yourself for battle, you may note there is precious little to hold on to. Frankly, the single handle on the lap bar and handles at shoulder height do little to reassure you in the same way something in front at waist height or even where there would normally be a restraint. This all batters the subconscious into thinking that there's nothing you can do to take the edge off everything Slammer has to offer.

With the restraints checked, the dramatic chords of the orchestral soundtrack explode as an intimidating spiel welcomes you to Europe's first spinning freefall sensation as the 100ft long ride slowly rises to the top of the tower. Using S&S's fandangled prowess with air, the climb is like floating on the back of a cloud. It is sublimely smooth, but the hiss of the air towards the top is thunderously loud.

50ft above the ground below, the ride slowly begins its first of six rotations. While one side will momentarily be staring at the ground 105ft above the air, the other side will be swooping smoothly down towards the ground.

In but one revolution, we're at top speed soaring through the air before plunging towards the ground. As you climb towards the stratosphere, there is a liberating feeling flying before the ride unleashes its other extremity of long and sustained G-forces as you skim past the ground.

As you become accustomed to the ride, it quickly slows, levelling out in the position you started at before switching directions. With this brief respite over, once again you enjoy the contrasts of soaring through heaven before plunging into the fiery depths of hell below.

The ride slows and levels out remarkably quickly. The sound of air crescendos as your fray with Slammer slowly, but surely comes to an end. You are soon unhurriedly lowered back down to the safety of terra firma, before the restraints release and your confrontation with the true warlord of Thorpe's spin ride arsenal comes to an end.

So it is a good ride? Let's first look the criteria that was set for Slammer. This needed to be a flagship spin ride, it needed to come at a good price, but it needed to be a draw, not only in terms of marketing, but it had to look like it - like the park - means business.

Chalk that up as a success. This is the first ride of its type in Europe, and it looks absolutely remarkable. My point earlier, though, was that if didn't deliver, then it would ultimately fail by virtue of the fact people would eventually lose interest which would have been a very short term investment for Thorpe Park.

But, for its sins, Slammer is a pretty decent ride. Considering that it is a machine programmed to go around in circles, it does a very good job of keeping the rider entertained.

What struck me was how different every revolution felt. There is no building up - even though the first spin is slower than the rest, it is still incredibly intense and isn't a waste of a turn as I honestly feared. My first ride sent me towards the ground first, and I simply wasn't prepared for the sensation of being pinned to the back of my seat before being pulled away and being pushed skywards by my shoulders.

You have a full speed revolution after this, before the ride slows and goes into reverse. The change here is subtle, but again, it's there. Instead of heading head first towards the ground, your upturned cranium is being torn away and thrust into the sky - or vice versa.

But, there are a few problems.

The first is a matter of taste, but the ride finishes by leaving riders in the air before slowly lowering them down. While Colossus saves the best for last, and the same for Detonator, there is a long wait between the end of the ride and the moment you leave the ride, which means much of the spring in your step is left up in the sky.

Another problem is that even by Thorpe's standards, the ride is so chronically unreliable. As a marketing tool, Slammer has the potential to do wonders for the park, yet due to chronic unreliability, it has rendered itself unmarketable as the park are too scared to advertise for fear of disappointing guests.

And the final problem is that it just doesn't seem to be popular. Despite my expectations, Slammer appears to be struggling to fill seats. On the rare occasion that Slammer works reliably, for a ride with such prominence in the park, it is suspiciously devoid of interest.

This isn't to say nobody is riding it, moreover people aren't enjoying it, but for a new ride that was always anticipated to be a big draw for the park with Rush being the supporting act, it seems that it has infact been Rush tickling guests' fancies.

So, is Slammer everything we could possibly want from a spin ride? Definitely not. It is better than you'd expect from a looping machine, and a meaty addition to Thorpe's line up, but we will have to see whether or not it maintains popularity.

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:

  • An imposing ride, both in terms of stature and to ride
  • For a theme park ride, Slammer is incredibly intense with powerful and sustained G-forces creating a huge head rush
  • The visuals are incredible as at the highest point you face towards the ground

Bad points:

  • The restraints are OK, although not the most comfortable in the world
  • Slammer doesn't seem to be a popular ride with the public with short queues.
  • Although it has the potential to be a high capacity ride, it is now run poorly with very slow moving queues

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