Coaster Kingdom

Superman: Ride of Steel (Movie World Madrid)

As children we’ve all wanted to be a superhero, so it only seems right that at one point in your life you’re handed the opportunity to fly faster than a speeding bullet, even when your interest wanes.

The story of Superman has been made a cliché by virtue of the fact there are so many superheros now. According the comics, Superman was sent to earth to be born away from his dying planet of Krypton. He crash-landed in remote Kansas near the township of Smallville.

Overlooking the fact that he could bend steel, out-fly Concorde and cook his dinner merely by looking at it, he had a relatively normal childhood before moving to Metropolis where he became a reporter for an international rag, the Daily Planet.

With his sharp hearing (he can hear the footfall of an ant a thousand miles away), he felt obliged to help citizens in distress. Upon hearing screams for help, Clark Kent made it famous to use a conveniently placed phone box to take off his glasses, gel back his hair and don his brightly coloured skin-tight lycra suit.

We pick up the story in Madrid. The modern sugar-sweet architecture of Metropolis is familiar to all of those who follow the adventures of Superman, and the addition of the brushed-silver Superman emblem in front of the tower of the Daily Planet surrounded in fountains offers a perfect photo opportunity to those who care.

The entrance to Superman is through the offices of the Daily Planet. You first walk through the main foyer and then into the large open plan office. Visitors to Six Flags Holland will be reminded of the half-hearted and rather formulaic theming of the office with partitioned desks, each furnished with a typewriter.

Although the room is empty of reporters, the sounds of the bustle of deadlines and the clatter of typewriters fill the air with a ghostly presence as you pass the offices of Lois Lane, Perry White and of course our superhero in disguise, Clark Kent.

The inside section of the queue is somewhat more substantial than Six Flags Holland, passing not only a boardroom table, but the press too. Considering the Daily Planet is an international publication, you – like me – can muse at the fact the press is only the size of a large laser printer.

Outside. The anticipation builds you look up directly into the station. You can clearly see how the floor drops away rather sensationally before the train dips around a 180-degree bend towards the lift-hill that disappears spectacularly into the distance.

A large cattle pen queue soaks up about 45-minutes worth of queue and is littered with rolls of paper (suitably small for the pocket-sized press), drums of ink (larger than the average printer ink cartridge) and the floats that deliver the paper once it is hot off the press.

A final stretch of queue underneath the curve into the lift takes you onto a flight of stairs into the station. Seats are assigned, although not with the finesse of Disney. If you want the front seat, you simply do not have the option to wait, so it may be an idea to let others pass whilst you “do up your shoelace”.

The train is the normal B&M affair, being four across, eight cars long with comfortable seats, albeit restrictive to larger riders. If the last point has grabbed your attention, you may be assured to know that somewhere in the middle of the train one seat can accommodate larger riders.

The trains look really purdy. Seats are blue, the restraints are yellow, framework red, and the little fibreglass that is on the cars is predominantly white with blue and red stripes on the side.

Loading is slower that I’d like, and once the overhead restraint has been checked (by first pushing, then pulling) and the seatbelt fastened, the floor drops an inch before sliding out of harms’ way.

Leaving the floor behind, the train then leaves the station, and making a noise similar to a London Underground Bakerloo train on a particularly sharp turn, dips to the left, past the queue and smooooothly engages onto the lift hill.

Although I say the same in every review of a B&M, the lift hill is reassuringly swift and very quiet. Once at the top, a rather abrupt dip takes you into the first, dreamy, wistful first drop. Back seat riders will be reminded of the fun you can have on Dragon Khan, front seat riders will wonder what all the fuss is about.

The first loop probably accounts for about half of the track length due to its size. As the train defies gravity and is almost sent into orbit by this first gargantuan inversion, the thrill isn’t as you’re turned upside-down, but as you drop out of the loop back towards the ground below.

Skimming the ground gives a good sensation of speed, of course further enhanced by the supports of the next element above – the immelman.

This element starts off much like the vertical loop, and once you’re head-over-heels you swoop out to the side in a large, sweeping curve, much like the second half of a (large) corkscrew. On this scale it is utterly forceless and completely forgettable.

Another scuff with the ground is followed by a climb skywards and rolling with a precise elegance only B&M can engineer through an inline twist.

Unlike their inverted coasters that fling you around a straight twist in the track, the sit-down version simply rolls the track over at the top of a large camelback. This means that whilst it doesn’t feel like the train is going to come off the tracks like it does on their inverted coasters, it feels like you are flying, floating through the air as if you’re a leaf blowing around in the wind.

Another appointment with the ground is honoured before you climb up into a so-called cobra roll, my least favourite inversion(s) on coasters. They look an absolute spectacle appearing to be like the enraged head of a cobra and boasting not only one, but two inversions in quick succession.

Even the thought of a cobra roll is exciting, starting off as a vertical loop, pulling out to the side, before doing exactly the same in reverse. It doesn’t deliver though, and in sit-down form rarely does.

With the absence of a floor, though, the cobra roll really makes use of the feeling that you’re going to be picking your feet up from lost property later in the day, so bearing this in mind, the floorless aspect really makes a dull element fun, if only from the front seat.

Enough of these aerial acrobatics. The ride now takes on a different form as you bounce from the ground into a powerful airtime hill that is essentially there for the sake of it. As the train screams with excitement you duck under more track and go into a sharp and snappy corkscrew which sends you through a remarkably fun turn around, swooping into another corkscrew, threading the first.

At ground level, you pitch to the right as your head appears to nearly hit a row of supports as you go through a tight clockwise helix. The climb out levels out with the final brake-run as you are pulled down again in another moment of airtime that has riders writhing with excitement. The icing on the cake is offered in the form of another tight, highly banked helix that almost has those on the left of the train dragging their feet in the long grass below before you climb back up into the final smooth brakes.

Superman and Batman are a match made in heaven. Opposites attract, after all. One half of this relationship is Batman; small, sharp and astute. Further to this, pedestrians’ eyebrows are raised as it veritably flaunts all it has to offer.

Superman on the other hand is another creature. Graceful curves, seductive but enigmatic, hiding the best of what it offers.

You can look at the first half of Superman with two frames of mind: Firstly, the large swooping inversions are forceless, bland and uninspiring. Have your eyes shut and you probably would not realise you’ve left the station.

Or, on the other hand, the first half is a flamboyant aerobatic display, majestically swooping over the baron land below as if a bird in flight.

I prefer to look at it as the latter. Put it this way – soaring hundreds of feet above the ground in various states of inverted-ness offers a far more refined sensation of flight than any flying coaster.

As common with B&M looping rides, once the repertoire of large inversions has been exhausted, barrel rolls are used basically burn off a few MPH before the ride concludes. Superman of course adheres to this tried and tested formula, and it would of course be frankly untidy for B&M not to have these intertwining, which of course looks great from the ground (ironically wasted, as the ride is hidden away) but add little once you’re riding the rails.

As far as I’m concerned, two points make this ride stand out from ‘any other’ multi-looping coaster.

1. Airtime. Of course, although a straight drop is very much appreciated (thank you), it is wasted should you be towards the stern. The absence of a mid-course brake run is also appreciated (thanks again) and the airtime hill replacing it offers astronomical amounts of airtime which is frankly befitting of a hyper coaster. If it wasn’t for the inline twist earlier in the ride I would order the overhead restraints removed with no hesitation.

This young whippersnapper of a superhero also tricks us into thinking we’re heading onto the brake run before revealing yet another moment of airtime, launching ones rear-end higher than even the man of steel manages when in full flight.

2. Helixes. Yes, almost every change in direction on Superman (bar one) involves tipping you up-and-over, the cobra roll of course being one of the worst culprits. Almost as if someone was embarrassed by this, Superman doesn’t offer a punchy little inversion to finish, but a tight, highly banked figure-eight helix. It really is fun, and something you don’t get enough on sit down rides. The proximity to the ground on both occasions also works in their favour.

To be honest, everything that is wrong with Superman really helps it stand out from Batman in a strange kind of way. It would be a shame to have two directly comparable coasters, and the very fact that the first half verges on forceless and the whole ride takes place over a field really make it stand out. Come night time you’ll thank who-ever stuck it out in the middle of nowhere as it is like piloting a space shuttle through the cosmos.

It is easy to forget that Superman is a floorless coaster. It only takes a few rides to take the lack of car for granted – it is something we’ve all got used to thanks to inverted coasters, so it really doesn’t offer much in that respect. The continuous foot-chopper effect for the entire duration of the ride is surprisingly quirky and whilst staring at the track, newer riders will have little sense of direction.

Further back the floorless aspect goes unnoticed. The trains are really good, but the floorless concept was never going to be a winner as far as I’m concerned. Floorless coasters are a worthwhile investment if you’ve been ripped off in the past by Arrow or Vekoma loopers, but not if you’ve got something smooth with more than five loops.

Superman is what Neapolitan is to the ice cream world with different flavours of elements for every taste with almost every conceivable facet possible on a coaster employed, including large sweeping inversions, tighter and more punchy small inversions, tight helixes and airtime.

To look at the broader picture, Superman is a satisfying and comprehensive coaster. Having sped around several thousand feet of track as fast as a speeding bullet, and leaving the ride with a confident stride as if you’ve saved the world, Superman Ride of Steel perhaps does the name justice and with a well-balanced fusion of sensations is a great roller coaster.

5*/5 Marcus Sheen