Coaster Kingdom

Star World (German Fairs)

The following review will go into explicit detail regarding the attraction and the surprises it may conceal. If you choose to read on, be warned that it may detract from your first ride on the attraction.

In the first half of the twentieth century, one of the most popular types of roller coaster was the Virginia Reel. These rides had a fairly simple zigzag track, but provided their thrills through the use of circular cars which spun freely throughout the ride. Blackpool Pleasure Beach was home to the last remaining Reel, but reluctantly demolished the ride in 1982. Although the Reel has always been remembered with great affection, the concept remained unused for years. Arrow attempted to create their own version, and got as far as building a test-track, but the ride never got anywhere near to opening at a park.

Nowadays, spinning cars are very much in vogue. Maurer has won rave reviews for its portable spinning coasters, while Reverchon seems to have flooded the UK with its rather less impressive Crazy Mouse. With these coasters appearing all over the place, it is easy to that the real pioneer of this spinning coaster renaissance actually appeared several years earlier.

It was at the 1992 Munich Oktoberfest that German showman Klaus Renoldi first showed up with a unique new ride called Magic Mountain. Even by German fair standards, this huge, heavily themed, enclosed spinning coaster was quite staggering. Even more amazingly, the ride was effectively home made - the whole thing was designed and built in-house.

Magic Mountain had a general fantasy theme, with the front resembling a cave, covered in waterfalls and various faces and figures, all guarded by a gigantic animatronic gorilla(!). In 1997, rumours got around suggesting that the ride was in danger of being sold or scrapped at the end of the year. Fortunately, 1998 saw the coaster operate just as before, except that it now boasted a new sci-fi / space-travel theme, and went by a new name - Star World.

News of the re-theme came as a slight disappointment to some enthusiasts, as it has always been rare to find a dark coaster themed around anything other than space travel. Ultimately, though, everyone was just glad that the ride was safe, while reservations about new theme were soon forgotten thanks to the sheer quality of the new look.

Standing in front of Star World defies belief. It is a colossal ride, easily dwarfing many parks' dark coasters. Even when viewed from the side or the back, you cannot believe that it is not a permanent building, let alone the fact that it may well be operating in another city in a week's time. It has become a cliché to say that when visiting a German fair, you cannot help endlessly repeating the phrase "How can these things travel?", but I defy anyone to stand in front of Star World without the thought crossing your mind.

Before riding, make sure you set aside a few moments to appreciate the exterior, as it really is a show in itself. While Alton's Black Hole sits in a plain black tent, Star World goes for the sensory bombardment approach with lights flashing, animatronic figures beckoning, music blaring, even the odd blast of flame bursting out above the entrance. The latest addition to the show is a massive alien / robot creature who stands proudly at the entrance, calling people in. In terms of presentation, the ride uses every trick in the book to grab your attention and entice you in.

With so much going on outside, it could be easy to forget there's a coaster in there waiting for you, so by way of a reminder, trains blast across the front of the ride every 30 seconds or so, cars all spinning madly. The whole thing is obviously a labour of love, and you can see how well looked after the ride is - even after several years it still looks impeccable. The only minor criticism of the ride's appearance is that, were I the owner, I would want the public to see more of the coaster itself. Still, if Mr Renoldi wants to give us a show, I'm certainly not complaining!

Theme park fans could say the ride's appearance is extravagant and tacky. Well, it's certainly a little OTT, but to criticise the ride for this would be a total misunderstanding of what fairs, and particularly German fairs, are about. While the rides like the Black Hole assume a muted, understated appearance, Star World is big, brash, and proud of it. It bursts with glitz, glamour and showbiz razzmatazz, pulling it off with plenty of Blackpool-style charm. The overall effect is just magnificent.

After taking in the spectacle, it's time to head for the pay boxes, which are buried somewhere amongst all the theming. The ride is reasonably priced, especially in comparison to UK fairs and pay-as-you-go parks, and thankfully doesn't seem to use the annoying UK fair ploy of hiking the prices when the fair is busy.

Once through the gate, you will soon notice that, as with all large German travelling rides, the staff are amazingly efficient, and keep the queue moving much more quickly than anything you'll see at a normal theme park. Once in your seat, the lap bars are lowered, and you are off almost immediately. The seats are comfortable, but do have the effect of making you feel buried deep inside the car. This seems a little unnecessary, but does not really matter as much as it would on an open-air coaster.

Once inside, the tyre-driven lift hill winds its way along the walls of the building. There's no first drop as such, but the lift ends with a tyre-boost that rapidly gets the train up to speed. The first part of the ride is the blast across the front of the building, which providing a spectacular, if disorientating, view of the surrounding fair. On Magic Mountain, the train would rocket right under the feet of the giant gorilla, but Star World makes sure that it's you that is the star of the show, so to speak.

The rest of the ride is a blur of sweeping turns and figure-of-8s flowing from one end of the building to the other. Many of the turns are banked, which helps the cars spin a little more, and the whole ride is taken at speeds which keep the thrill going to the end.

Visually the ride is relatively sparse, with just a few beams of light, smoke, and animatronic figures. It is true to say that this is a bit of a disappointment compared to the amazing display outside, but it should be remembered that most parks' dark coasters are similarly lacking. The reason for this is simply that it is packed with track, structure, and even parked trucks housing the controls governing the ride and effects, so there's not a lot of room for anything more. The biggest effect comes at the end, as the train begins to curl around the final helix, a huge and spectacular fireball explodes in the centre. Spectacular, that is, assuming that your car is facing the right way to see it!

The brake run takes place in a revolving tunnel, which is particularly disorientating given that the car will usually still be spinning at quite a rate. As you emerge back into the station, the staff frantically turn the cars to face forward, and the on-board photo is taken. The lap bars release, and almost before you know it, the train is off again with a fresh load of wannabe-Gagarins.

So many rides claim to be "fun for all the family", but Star World really does live up to that oft-misused phrase. I simply cannot imagine anyone leaving the ride without a smile on their face. The cars spin enough to be fun, but not so much as to make the ride unpleasant for those who don't like Waltzers and the like. In other words, the spinning is fun, but the ride still feels more roller coaster than spinning ride.

What is particularly impressive about the ride is that, like most German fair rides, absolutely no concession is made to the fact that it travels, either in terms of presentation or ride quality. No matter how hard you look, Star World has the appearance of a permanent coaster, and rides like a permanent coaster. Or to be more precise, it actually looks and rides BETTER than the dark coasters offered by most parks.

It is unfortunate that Star World is a ride that so often seems to get overlooked. This seems to be largely because the German fair circuit is home to several of the best coasters in the world. It's hard for any other ride to hold its own against truly extreme coasters like Euro Star or Olympia Looping. Star World tends to turn up at the same fairs as these rides and therefore is rarely the ride that visitors think of when they remember their visit. Star World isn't extreme or intense, but was never meant to be. It's just fun - lots of fun. You can't help but smile when you're riding Star World, and that can't be a bad thing.

I'm quite sure that any park in the world would benefit enormously from having a ride like Star World in its line-up, because it is one of those coasters that all ages can ride, and all ages can really enjoy time and time again. Dark coasters are very popular with riders throughout the world, and Star World is best dark coaster I know.

4/5 John Phillips