Coaster Kingdom

our review

Shockwave, Drayton Manor

It wasn't all that long ago that most British parks relied solely on off-the-shelf model coasters. With the exception of the seaside parks, nobody had a coaster that couldn't be found in an identical form elsewhere.

That was all to change in 1994. Blackpool Pleasure Beach had been proudly telling anyone who would listen that they were to build the world's tallest and fastest coaster, The Pepsi Max Big One. Meanwhile, Alton Towers was preparing to excavate a large chunk of land, ready for Europe's first inverted coaster, Nemesis.

This was all very well, but it meant potential disaster for smaller parks, and particularly Drayton Manor. Being close to Alton Towers had always meant that the park had played second fiddle in the mind of the public, and with their rivals now spending vast fortunes on unique new rides, something had to be done to show people that Drayton Manor wasn't about to give in to Tussaud's financial might.

Eventually a contract was signed with Intamin, the Swiss firm well known for being able to build practically any type of ride a park could possibly want. Not only would the park get a new and unique coaster, but also an Intamin rapids ride, "Splash Canyon". Splash Canyon would open in 1993, and would be designed in such a way as to allow part of the coaster to be built directly above it. Very neat. Very Swiss.

But what would make the coaster marketable? Blackpool had the gimmick of their ride's sheer size. Alton had the fact that Nemesis would be the first inverter the UK public would have seen (in fact it's a tribute to the quality of B&M's rides that we no longer think of an inverted coaster as a gimmick). Drayton's novelty would be the use of stand-up trains. With startling unoriginality, the ride was christened Shockwave (or "7up Shockwave" to be precise - later changed to "Npower Shockwave"), and Drayton Manor were justifiably proud at the prospect of taking on the richer, big name parks at their own game.

The idea of the stand-up coaster was hardly new. Japanese manufacturer Togo had been building them in the Far East and the USA a decade earlier, but with little success. Their notoriously rough rides, with their uncomfortable restraints, had such a bad reputation that riding them would often be compared to taking part in Japan's most infamous cultural export, Endurance. As Drayton Manor opened their doors for the 1994 season, they could only hope that Intamin's version would not be seen in the same light. 

As visitors enter Drayton Manor and drive around to the car parks, it can't be denied that Shockwave looks magnificent. Viewed across the lake, the lift hill and first drop tower majestically above the tree line, while a gap in the greenery proudly displays the first inversion, the vertical loop. In terms of visual impact, the park has played a blinder here, and it's easy to imagine the inspirational effect this view has on the hordes of visitors as they stream into the park. In a nice little twist, the stream of cars will soon find themselves on the other side of the lake, and heading straight under the final inversion, the corkscrew. First impressions of the ride really are tremendous.

As you go through the gates and head toward the ride, things start to turn a little odd. Rather than an inviting entrance plaza, you are confronted with an expanse of wooden fencing, with Splash Canyon's entrance to the left, and Shockwave's to the right. For first time visitors, neither entrance is exactly obvious. Stranger still, above you sits probably the least impressive piece of coaster track in the world - as straight a Roman road, and as flat as a Dutch snooker table. If first impressions were outstanding, second impressions are distinctly ... unusual.

One thing you may well notice is that the ride has a very different look to Intamin's later coasters, and could easily be mistaken for a B&M ride. Why? Well, Shockwave predates the firm's adoption of the very fluid track system used to create rides like Thorpe Park's Colossus and Holiday Park's Expedition Ge-Force. Back in 1994, Intamin was using track from Giovanola, who also supplied the track for B&M's rides. In a way, this is a shame, as having an Intamin rapids and a B&M-looking coaster does not help the park very much in their quest to prove that they can provide something completely separate from their illustrious neighbour.

As with any roller coaster, if you want to ride, you have to negotiate the queue. I hate to say it, but the queue for Shockwave is truly abysmal. It starts with a long outdoor zigzag, marked out by nothing more poles joined by chains, allowing Tamworth's tearaways every opportunity to queue jump. Think it can't get any worse? Oh dear, don't be so optimistic...

Next, the queue ventures into a wooden building. It's dark, it's very claustrophobic, and if it's warm day outside, it is unbearably hot inside. In fact, it's not unknown for the queue to be held outside and admitted to the building in groups, due to the risk of people passing out from the heat. Worse still, the queue STILL zigzags along, never going more than a few feet without turning back on itself. Frankly, given that Drayton Manor is home to one of the best queue lines around (Storm  Force 10), Shockwave's is... er... shocking.

Finally, the path leads into the large station. The Front row queue is to the left, the other five rows to the right. The front is always worth trying once, although as with most coasters that use 4-abreast trains, the best places to go are the outside "seats" of the back row.

Compared to the stand-up cars on Apocalypse, the restraint system is positively archaic. Rather than the usual "U" shaped overhead restraints, Shockwave riders must put one arm through a fixed bar, before pulling down an "L" shaped restraint. Before this, riders must straddle a highly uncomfortable saddle, pulling the entire heavy mechanism downward to adjust it to their height.   

Without warning, the restraints lock, invariably leaving some people squatting too low down, and others with at least one foot dangling in mid-air, leading to the restraints often being locked and unlocked several times. As the staff check the individual restraints, they inform everyone that they MUST have their feet on the floor, and not the myriad of ledges that the cars have scattered around. Frankly, the cars are in desperate needed of updating. Across the park, Apocalypse demonstrates that Intamin have now mastered the art of making stand-up restraints comfortable, and makes a total mockery of Shockwave's overly-complicated and highly uncomfortable system.

The lift hill gives a great view of Staffordshire's countryside (the hills, the fields, the Sutton Coldfield television transmitter), while riders on the left side of the train will be able to look over their shoulders and get a good view of the park and the array of other Intamin rides that followed in Shockwave's wake. Slowly the train turns downward into the first drop, consisting of two small straight drops joined by a 180-degree turn. This is a nice start to the ride, helped by the fact that you are directly over the rapids, leaving riders with a rather odd view. 

Skimming over the Splash Canyon river, the train pulls up into the large vertical loop. This is the very loop that looked so stunning as you drove into the park, but looks can be deceiving, and this loop hides a nasty surprise in the form a vicious rough spot that causes a bout of ear-bashing as you begin to turn upwards.

Thankfully, the ride improves greatly at this point. The rest of the loop is great, particularly during early morning rides when the train seemingly spends an eternity hanging upside down. Back on terra firma, the train immediately charges up into the in-line twist, the undoubted highlight of the ride.

Again, the in-line twist is more in the B&M style (a la Dragon Khan) than the modern Intamin rides (Colossus, Lethal Weapon). After skimming across the rapids once more, the train rises and spins 360 degrees sideways. Riders on the ends of each row are in for a treat as they are thrown through the inversion, limbs flailing as they go. Surprisingly, this inversion is fairly smooth and highly enjoyable. It's certainly no surprise that B&M seem to use this element on practically every multi-looper they ever build.

No longer overlapping the rapids, the train bursts out over the entrance "plaza", where riders are given a few seconds respite along the straight, flat track. This section is truly bizarre. If it were at least bent into a bit of a curve, or a rise and drop, it would be fine, but it seems quite baffling that the piece of track that runs across the ride's entrance, and should therefore be the most spectacular section of the ride, in fact offers as much action and excitement as the first round of the World Chess Championship.

Passing the crossover point of the ride's figure-of-8 design, the track curls to the left and into a large double corkscrew. Again this is done reasonably smoothly and is very enjoyable. As with most of the ride, the only discomfort is caused by the train, which by now seems to be slowly digesting your clothes.

With four inversions done and dusted, the train climbs through a long sweeping turn back to the station, hitting the brakes right under the first corkscrew. If two trains are in operation, the chances are that the other train will still be going through the laborious loading process, so there'll be a wait before you can enjoy the moment when the restraints are released and you can stand normally again.

I'm going to split my opinion of Shockwave into three sections. The track, the trains, and the presentation. The track only has one real bad spot, the moment of ear-bashing roughness as you enter the loop, other than that it is more than up to scratch. The only other niggles are the facts that the first drop is not as thrilling as it really could have been, and that it is simply too short. With the station so high in the air, the ride needs to end while there is still enough energy in the train to do a few nice twists or helices, which seems a shame. Other than that, there are very few complaints.

As for the trains, where do I start? The restraints are clumsy, heavy, and downright horrible affairs, contorting your body into the kind of posture only ever adopted by the cast of Thunderbirds. Frankly, whoever came up with the idea that one side of the overhead restraint should be fixed into place while the rest should really have known better. Worse still, the ledges and ridges mean that riders could easily trip as they board or leave the train. Tut tut, Intamin.

Moving onto the presentation of the ride, I find it odd that a ride that looks so stunning as you enter the park should shepherd people through one of the most unpleasant queue lines imaginable. While Nemesis pioneered the art of letting queue lines drift all around the ride, Shockwave's policy of shutting people into a dark, dingy, hot wooden building with only one or two porthole sized windows, is way beyond anything I would consider acceptable, never mind pleasant.

Merchandise for the ride has ranged from minimal (at the time of opening) to zero (now), while the souvenir photo system seems to use a rather cynical ploy to relieve riders of more money. Want a nice picture to remember the time you ride Shockwave with your three best friends? Tough. You'll have to buy one photo depicting the two on the left-hand side of the train, and one for the two on the right. Never mind the fact that it would be easy to get all four riders in one shot simply by having a higher camera position

Shockwave, overall, is a thoroughly respectable coaster let down by a few too many niggles. The prospect of having to wait in such an uncomfortable environment would put me off the idea of queuing for the ride, while the trains can often turn what should be a fun coaster into an uncomfortable ordeal that only gets worse as the ride goes on. In all honesty, the ride would be far better off if the trains ditched the stand up idea and adopted some nice comfy sit down trains, or at least fitted with stand-up restraints more like those on Apocalypse.

What is unfortunate is that Shockwave should open in the same year as Nemesis and The Big One. While the other two succeeded brilliantly in capturing the public's imagination, Shockwave never really managed to achieve such nation-wide fame and prestige. Stand in the Shockwave queue and you will often hear people brag that they've ridden The Big One - a compliment seldom returned by those in The Big One queue. 

So, we can add Shockwave to the list of coasters that are pretty good, but not spectacularly so. It lacks Nemesis' ability to create drama, or The Big One's ability to make people feel (rightly or wrongly) that riding it is some sort of milestone in their life. Taken for what it is, Shockwave is a decent ride, but it is difficult to shake off the feeling that it could be revamped into a much better one.

JP 6 February 2004

Good points:

▪ Even today, the Shockwave is a fairly original format
▪ Fairly decent inversions
▪ Good visuals
▪ Excellent location over Splash Canyon rapids

Bad points:

▪ The trains are terrible
▪ The queueline is terrible
▪ Only a short ride time
▪ Several dead spots mar the ride



Top Top | Add page to favourites Add page to favourites | Print this page Print this page | Graphic-free review

Graphic-free review