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Here's the... 'thing'... with Inferno.

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blog-0064178001344900647.jpgThorpe Park's fiery B&M inverted Coaster débuted at the park in 2003, setting alight Thorpe Park's reputation as a haven for thrill-seekers around the country, alerting anyone who'd listen that Alton Towers had a new rival in the world of boundary-bulging thrill ride technologies. First came the record-breaking Colossus, but the year after saw a far darker, more ominous figure emerge out of the tropical undergrowth of Calypso Quay... Of course, with the ten year mark creeping it's way into view of the horizon, Nemesis Inferno has, if nothing else, rightfully earned it's place amongst Thorpe's line-up of rides, as well as a little reflective blog here on ManiaHub, where I'll talk about why I think it's one of Thorpe's top attractions.

Nemesis Inferno gets a lot of stick simply for being Nemesis Inferno. Quick to slam it as another fine example of mediocrity from a long line of poorly-augmented sequels, it's often over-looked for the coaster it is by many of the enthusiast community. Whether that's A) the blinded ignorance of newly-ordained enthusiasts conforming with the general consensus or B] a result of some enthusiasts venturing out to season their palates with the bigger, badder, and better-themed inverted coasters that've been built in the nine intervening years since Inferno's début is all up for debate. But it's here I call to question the validity of comments that suggest Inferno is a poor man's imitation of arguably the greatest inverted rollercoaster in the world; a coaster that supposedly sponged off the brand name to become advertising dynamite by utilising the success of Alton Towers' original creation nine years earlier. Yes, Inferno (as we'll call it henceforth to spare confusion) does draw many comparisons with it's old sister. They're both inverted; they're both built by Swiss ride manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard; they both have four inversions; they even have the same four inversions, but there's a plethora of ways to separate them, and separate them we shall, as it's hard to shine if your standing in the shadow of a mighty oak tree and you've had your voice - your trademark thunderous growl - muted by those that built you.

By considering what raw tools Thorpe had when planning Inferno, you begin to see that to compare Inferno to it's original is a complete fallacy; there's no way this hot-tempered fiend is going to sit idly by and get filed under "imitation". Alton Towers had an enormous, chasmic pit to eat up the ride height and provide riders with many close encounters with the rocky terrain, but Thorpe couldn't do this - the closest object to your feet during Inferno's course is a fake alligator. Thorpe categorically cannot build down, as the entire park is situated upon reclaimed land and as a result the water table sits mere metres below the surface. Inferno was never going to be a terrain coaster, not even to the extent of Colossus was, which had had years of planning and numerous rejected landscaping applications before the blue monolith we know today wove itself in and out of the Lost City walkways. Thorpe had one choice for Inferno and that was to build upwards. Of course, they couldn't go too far that way either, and so Inferno sits at a modest 95ft: the third shortest B&M coaster ever built, and the shortest inverting coaster at Thorpe Park. Looking beyond cold statistics and to the rest of the layout, you might be dismayed to see a conventional inverted coaster post-drop sequence featuring a standard vertical loop and a Zero-G roll. But chief designer John Wardley re-invigorated the once-hackneyed concept with a ground-hugging turn which snaps you out of the second inversion with perhaps just an ounce of the same winking authenticity of Alton Towers' 1994 creation. Following what can only be described as a very graceful corkscrew and a careful-not-to-harm-you hammerhead turn, the ride completes a second corkscrew and a minor breathe-spot is provided by a wonderfully lazy upwards helix, before the pyroclastic vigour catches first-time riders off guard as a last helix provides an intensely dizzying and suitably forceful finale to the fiery coaster.

However, it all sounds great when you say it like that, but the comparatively simplistic layout has long been criticised for being predictable, conventional, repetitive and forceless. Whilst it's hard to argue, Inferno's assets like far beyond it's ride hardware (unless you're lucky enough to get the back-right seat). The theme is often overlooked, the detail dissolved down to a petty argument about an unfinished volcano. Sure, a shed is the last thing you'll expect to see while escaping a volcano in the tropics of Calypso Quay, but stop to admire the smaller details for a moment:

  • The queueline and surrounding areas: built at the peak of Tussauds's reign over Thorpe - the queue cleverly weaves its way through the tropical shrubbery, offering close encounters with the ride in action. Areas such as the pathway underneath the Zero-G offers priceless views of rider expressions as they exit the loop, soon to be followed by an enormous thrust of air as they shoot over your head. Or how about when you stand in front of the queue entrance for a brief moment, only to see the train erupt out of nowhere and soar over head with twenty-eight screaming riders? Surely there was some careful planning in the positioning of the entrance so the first corkscrew could make a statement like that, right?
  • The shrubbery, which, nine years on, has now grown to an impressive plumage, helping further to recreate some of Alton's terrain enhancement. Sometimes you may even catch one of the leaves while soaring through the coarse. And whilst in it's earlier years the ride ran tamely and no real speed was felt, the closer contact to the surroundings only ever enhances this sensation.
  • The pre-lift section, a small and often overlooked part of the ride whose effects are unreliable at best, but it nicely introduces the ride; it makes a small but promising statement and provides a unique feeling of speed without the added intensity - what inverted coaster introduction requires more?
  • The soundtrack, arguably one of the best and most accurately-encapsulating in the park despite it's absence in recent seasons. No more need be said.
  • Or even, if you really look out for it, the small part of the queue during the volcano climb where you stand directly above the train as it rumbles through the heart of the volcano beneath you, shaking your footing in the wake of the subterranean seisma. Makes me giddy every single time... and really gears me up for every one of my rides.

The logistical prowess of Inferno is also what makes it so special for me. In a park currently obsessed with try-hard World's First, snatching every possible world record their rides can obtain - "World's first ten-looping", "Steepest freefall drop", "Scariest", "Fastest and tallest in Europe", "World's first head first inverting drop" - Inferno, quite plaintively and contently, sits at the back of the park making no haughtily big-headed comments about it's own greatness. It technically does hold a world record and a world's first/only, though thankfully Thorpe saw sense and decided not to publicise these due to the GP potentially not fully understanding the terms. And rightly so, as it rids the ride of the silly pretensions that shroud rides like Saw. Right from the first time it's advert was shown on TV to the current day, Inferno's not really shouted about anything, expect that's it's a mighty hot ride. It is what it is and it makes no apologies for anyone who has problems with it as it smoulders at the far reaches of the park, dwarfed by it's top thrill neighbours.

It's not all in the detail - some benefits of Inferno are glaring right at the nay-sayers - but a lot of it's individuality and simplicity does lie beneath it's imperfect exterior. Perhaps it's part doe-eyed optimism of the enthusiast I am, part simplistic naivete that I appreciate these details while others don't and the reason that I still consider Inferno to be one of the UK's greatest thrill rides. But to me it's those things - the type of things that you just have to smile to - that are the real identity of Nemesis Inferno. And it's a crying shame that they're so often overlooked in light of the far more dramatic, far more noticeable, and far more easily targeted failures of the ride. Where it's expected to be good it's mediocre, yes, but given the time to find it's strengths - and what better time to find them than ten years on, when it's running more intensely than ever? - it's clear it no longer needs the Nemesis brand. Even in it's own right it can still provide you with feelings that only a UK theme park and - more specifically - only Inferno, can give. In spite of all it's faults, be it maintenance issues, ride issues, etc. it's still, by far, one of the most reliable rides at the Thorpe Park, in so many more ways than simply it's swift evasion of downtime.

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