Coaster Kingdom

[Archive] Star World, German Fairs
Sunday, February 25, 2007

This article contains spoilers. If you read on, please be aware that surprises or secrets may be revealed in great depth

This is an archived review and is no longer representative of the ride that it covers. For a list of up to date reviews, please click here

If I tell you that Star World is a coaster with spinning cars, I suspect I can predict your reaction. "Whoopee-doo" you'll say, "We need another spinning coaster like a hole in the head". Such a reaction is understandable, for it already seems a long time since spinning coasters were a genuine novelty, a reminder of a golden age when holidaymakers would flock to Virginia Reel coasters. For anyone unfamiliar with the Virginia Reel, these curious rides involved a long zigzag track taken in circular spinning "tubs". Blackpool Pleasure Beach was home to the last remaining Reel, and when this was reluctantly demolished, the days of the spinning coaster came to a temporary end.

Nowadays, you almost can't move for spinning coasters. Between them, Maurer and Reverchon have flooded the market with rides that range from excellent to poor, and everything in between. Perhaps, though, as we wade through this saturated market, we should remember the ride that for so long kept the flag flying for the spinning coaster concept.

Imagine the scene. It's 1992, and we're at the legendary Munich Oktoberfest. Among the array of roller coasters, spin rides, dark rides, sideshows, and other oddities, a new sight homes into view. Presented by showman Klaus Renoldi, this behemoth consists of a truly gigantic building, bearing the name "Magic Mountain". Perched above the entrance is a giant animatronic gorilla, waving apiece of roller coaster track in his humungous hairy hand. Every minute or so, a long roller coaster train skims beneath the primate's posterior, its cars spinning wildly as they go. Clearly this is more than just a big dark ride, it is a fully enclosed and fully portable dark coaster, an ambitious project even by German fair standards.

Let's skip forward to 1998. The gorilla has been sold, and enthusiasts have been fearing that Magic Mountain was retiring. Fortunately, the coaster remained, resplendent in a whole new decor, and now bearing the name Star World. The gorilla may have been no more, but this meant that the coaster itself could take centre stage, allowing spectators a much better view of what the ride actually was. Whereas re-theming existing rides often results in fairly insipid efforts (such as Thorpe Park's Rumba Rapids, or Phantasialand's Temple of the Night Hawk), Star World revels in its new identity, and has a unique look, combining the stature of a theme park ride with the OTT glitz of the fairground, with a touch of Blackpool-esque charm for good measure.

Standing before Star World is an experience in itself. The ride is simply massive, and although it is a cliche (at Coaster Kingdom, we avoid cliches like the plague), you can't stop yourself wondering how on Earth the ride could possibly travel. As if the ride itself weren't impressive enough, a new feature has been added since the re-theme; a natural successor to Magic Mountain's gorilla in the shape of a gigantic robot/alien creature, as tall as the ride itself, who stands at the entrance and serves no purpose other than to attract the attention of passing potential-punters.

Fully animated, this gentle giant in his day-glo orange space suit spends his days inviting people inside in a variety of languages. If Star World were a theme park ride, this figure's presence would be commendable; that anyone would go to the effort of packing him into a lorry and taking him on tour is astounding.

Now, I don't know about you, but when a 100ft robo-alien tells me to do something, I don't argue, and so I head for the pay box, ready to hand over the very reasonable asking price. Ticket in hand, we pause only to chortle at the various Star Wars figures that have had their appearances hastily altered to avoid the wrath of George Lucas's lawyers, and continue to the loading platform.

As is the norm at German fairs, the staff are incredibly efficient, and know exactly what it takes to keep the crowds moving on the rare occasions when a queue manages to build up. As the gates open, you envelope yourself in the deep cocoon-like cars, lower the Break Dance-style overhead lap bar, and prepare for blast-off.

Star World is unusual in that it begins with both a lift hill and a launch. The train slowly climbs around the three inner walls of the building, allowing you plenty of time to take in the laser and lighting effects that fill the void of space. Above your head, some rather tacky Ghost Train style monsters try to intimidate you, and soon the front of the train crests the rise and begins to creep out into the open air. A countdown begins, and on "zero", the train accelerates and zips out for the crowds to see. This will be your last sighting of Earth for a while, so make sure to breathe in the atmosphere (fortunately for you, nowhere on Earth has more atmosphere than a German fair)

After this bust of daylight, the train returns to the inky blackness for the remainder of the ride. The track proceeds in a seemingly endless series of long sweeps, turns and figure-of-8s that effortlessly flow from one end of the building to the other. Every turn seems designed to encourage the cars to spin a little more, while the pace of the ride never seems to slow, keeping the excitement going until the last moment.

However, Star World is more than just a coaster in pitch darkness. Throughout the ride, laser beams and spotlights do their best to heighten the sense of disorientation, while the finale of the ride sees a large fireball erupt from the ground. Well, to be precise, 50% of riders see a fireball erupt from the ground, as the other 50% will be facing the wrong way. C'est La Vie. Even the brake run is spiced up, taking place within the kind of revolving tunnel usually reserved for dark rides and walk-throughs. Bear in mind that the car itself is likely to be still spinning, and you've got a recipe for some serious disorientation.

As we pass through the air lock and make our re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, the staff leap into action, straightening the cars ready for the next troop of space cadets. There's no quarantine procedure for returning astronauts, as the staff sent us on our way at warp-speed.

Star World is truly a one-of-a-kind ride. The sheer audacity of travelling such a gigantic structure is something that has to be applauded, and suggests that the ride should be an awful lot more famous than it actually is. It is the kind of ride that any theme park would be proud of, and the only thing that seems to stop it being revered as a true classic is the fact that it has spent its entire existence in the shadow of legendary white-knuckle portable coasters such as Eurostar, Olympia Looping, and the much-missed Thriller. This is a great injustice, as it is a truly excellent "fun" coaster that really can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Criticisms? Well, it's harsh, but it's true that the amount of spinning does vary massively from one ride to the next. If your car gathers a little momentum, you can be sent spinning and tumbling through the cosmos like a deranged asteroid.

However, if you're unlucky, you'll get a fairly moderate ride, in which case you'll find that the various lighting effects aren't enough to grab the attention on their own. It feels wrong to criticise the ride in this way, especially as there are plenty of static dark coasters that do a lot less to grab riders' attention, and plenty of spinning coasters that offer far less spinning than even a "bad" ride on Star World.

There are plenty of dark coasters in the world, but very few have the panache to really explore the potential of the concept. Star World takes an unusual approach to spicing things up, and as a result is not only one of Europe's better dark coasters, but is also probably Europe's top spinning coaster. Do as the giant robot says, and sign up for a voyage into Star World. It's cosmic.

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:

  • Incredible presentation, both inside and out
  • Unusual twist on a tried and tested formula
  • Excellent family coaster

Bad points:

  • Spinning can often be erratic
  • Can be slightly rough when cars spin unexpectedly

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