Coaster Kingdom

Nemesis (Alton Towers)

Lets briefly reflect on the importance of Nemesis, the 1994 inverted coaster at Alton Towers, Staffordshire:

Firstly, this was the first major roller coaster that Tussauds installed at Alton Towers. The 1992 duo (Runaway Mine Train and the Haunted House) deliberately dipped their toes cautiously into the large pool that SW3 (soon to become Nemesis) dived straight into.

Nemesis was another indication of what direction Tussauds wanted to take Alton Towers. Unsurprisingly, the parks’ operators reported healthy attendance.

Furthermore, Nemesis was the catalyst of many peoples’ enthusiasm towards coasters. It shared the 1994 limelight with Blackpool’s Big One with Drayton Manor’s (7-Up) Shockwave edging in stage right. Unsurprisingly, the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain reported record enrolment into the club of enthusiasts.

At the risk of being immortalised in granite on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, John Wardley stepped forward to share kudos for a true British phenomenon.

Reported to be the “World’s most intense roller coaster experience”, it took only a couple of circuits before the ride proved too much to a super-fit Gladiator who was actually ill (much to the delight of Alton’s marketing department).

Nemesis broke the mould in many ways. Designers had to use awkward criteria set by the council to hide Nemesis from outside of the park. Extensive excavation made it possible for the ground-hugging ride to be built predominantly below ground level which unquestionably improves the sensation throughout.

The existence of Nemesis isn’t apparent until you’re virtually at the entrance. Fictionally, a large hole has been torn into the Staffordshire landscape in which the monster (station) is pinned down by hundreds of tons of steel (the ride).

Very little track is visible, but the impact is spectacular never the less as the train explodes through a tight helix disappearing deep down into the rocky abyss below.

The queue is over-rated and a shadow of it’s former self. Where it formerly took you around the precipice of the 90ft deep crater, you are now directed to the left away from the ride and through a copse under the lift.

Despite the pathway being cobbled in chewing gum and cigarette buts in the puddles in the holes torn into the wall of the graffiti-covered station, your attention is drawn to the vertical loop where track drops deep underground before exploding into an arc above your head.

The station is very small and you are left to your own devices. Walk right for the front, or left for the remainder of the train. Back right is to be highly recommended should you not want to do the front.

Nemesis is all about destroying your sense of well-being. You can imagine designers working to a checklist of terrifying effects:

1. Ensure train heads towards and over queue-line at every available opportunity. Check.
2. Use buzzwords like “fright” and “intense” in dialogue and on signs. Check
3. Compose dramatic and harrowing soundtrack. Check
4. Use a haunting shade of sepia to colour the attraction. Check

Everything is there to make new riders feel about an inch tall.

The ride gets off to a re-assuring start once you sit in the comfortable, body-hugging seat and pull down the substantial over-head restraint. The lift follows the contours of the ground below, so at the top, instead of towering over the park and plunging into a near-vertical downward spiral, a simple 90-degree turn smoothly whips you off the lift into what can only be described as a gentle ramp.

Ironically, following the ground down a shallow drop gives a great sense of speed. Instead of quickly accelerating up to 50mph, rocks, grass and the pink water below soon become a blur as you get faster – faster… before you dip sharply down over a line of ducking queuers before pulling skyward into a sky-scraping barrel roll. From following the ground to rolling high through the air is a contrast only a few rides can pull off.

The force of Nemesis soon becomes apparent as you drop from the barrel roll into a tight, highly banked downward helix. As your feet follow the fence, your arms fight the force as the ride burrows itself deep down into the ground, pulling up at the last moment and rolling clumsily through an inline twist. Riders curl up into a foetal position as the train barely misses the station building and arms and legs head in all directions towards the bloody tentacles and body of the Nemesis monster.

With heartbeats heading skywards, you follow a waterfall upstream into a stall turn. A sharp turn flattens out at the top before sharply pulling you downward again deep down into the ground. Take a breath as you head towards the mucky water below before the train is pulled away from a wall and into an incredibly forceful vertical loop dropping out past a waterfall into a tunnel the size of a rabbit hole, exploding out of the ground into a swooping turn before being tugged down faster than gravity under a bridge.

As you head towards the wreck of a Mushroom Cloud Tour bus you are pulled away at the very last moment through one of the best surprise inversions ever – a ground-hugging barrel roll that once again sends you through a dark tunnel into a final turn before snapping upright into the brakes.

Nemesis is not the most intense coaster in the world, but it does have some very extreme, G-happy elements that make the ride stand out.

Nemesis starts slowly, evolving into something that becomes a relentless thrill, continually getting faster and wilder as each foot of track is conquered. Each element becomes more and more extreme and the feeling of recklessness is quite exquisite as the ride plays with the surrounding scenery to great effect.

Although often considered a forte, should you not be familiar with the cumbersome 20-minute legend, the theming is weak and confusing.

Sole onus falls upon the station, themed as the mighty Nemesis monster, a wicked alien bent on revenge after being awoken from its slumber. To those who haven’t heard the legend, the rivers of blood look like pink lemonade, the station appears a non-descript mess of sprayed concrete and chewing gum and the scrap metal strewn throughout irrelevant.

Whilst under the ride is a comprehensive labyrinth of pathways for the ride to interact with, the messily implemented Virtual Queue has resulted in most of this being closed off and rendered impassable to those not riding - a big selling point when the ride first opened.

Focusing on the ride alone, highlights are well paced throughout and include the powerful first helix, the sharp and feisty vertical loop and finishing well with the surprise barrel roll.

Foot-choppers play an important role in the ride, which as well as making the feeling of ever-impending doom so evident, makes the ride seem twice as fast as it is.

Getting faster every year, Nemesis is really showing it’s true colours now. Whilst it never fails to deliver the inline twist has become too fast and lumbering to really have the impact it originally did.

Slowly accelerating like Zorba’s Dance and with pacing as impeccable as a seasoned line dancer, as a coaster, Nemesis will never fail to deliver. But the overly complex theming, grubby presentation of the ride and the inaccessibility of half of the pathways due to Virtual Queuing weaken the experience of what is otherwise a contemporary classic.

4/5 Marcus Sheen