It had been almost two years since my previous visit to Alton Towers, due to numerous reasons and terrible planning in 2015 [see my Alton Towerless weekend entry]. Whilst 2016 is set to Thorpe's year on the new ride development front, a new attraction managed to pull me in to the orbit of Alton Towers.
That new experience was Galactica, the park's former flyer Air, now turned VR coaster for 2016.Would this ret-heme reach new heights or lack atmosphere without Air.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, where is the proof that I actually visited the park recently following my non trip to Disneyland Resort?
Here it is.
Anyway, back on topic.
The entrance plaza is definitely alot more striking and eye catching from the old one. The new logo is a nice touch with the ride's name below which gives the attraction a modern and sleek personality. Most of the rocks have been repainted space grey except the one that used be between the old air sign. The Galactica floor paving is also a very attractive feature in the plaza area.
The Music Soundtrack
the ride has also gained a new soundtrack. Created by IMA Score [arguably the B&M of park music], the new theme is very tranquil, airy and ambient whilst entailing a sense of excitment and wonder.
Amongst it's similarities with other IMA work , the music features similarities to a number of film soundtracks & Composers. These include Vangelis, The Matrix, American Beauty and Interstellar. Since most of these are Space/ Sci-Fi related, the music is definitely coherent.
The Queue line/build up
Aside from some improved fences and painted areas, the queue line remains almost identical to when it was Air [which was expected]. However it does look a lot more neat and tidier and builds the ride up more.
The photo opportunity unit is where the old merge point was which involves placing your head in a bowl like thing and automatic photos taken moments later. Once finished, the queue continues where the ride splits in to the two stations like before.
The ride's stations are considerably different whilst retaining similarities to the original. The main change that both are now fully enclosed [whilst previously being semi-enclosed].
This helps add some atmosphere prior to boarding alongside the new instructional videos through the attraction's fictional computer Eve explaining how to prepare prior to riding.
One of the things I love and hate are the air gate signs. I love how they say Galactica Gate [a sort of reference/element from one of Air's old features]. However I don't like that there are no numbers on the signs, which feels like a very simple flaw [making boarding harder for guests].
Once seated a ride host helps you strap on your VR goggles located in boxes/pouches connected to the restraint. The goggles can be adjusted at the back for comfort and element, whilst the focus can also be adjusted for blurriness.
One thing that should be noted is that dispatch times are considerably slower than when it was Air and the gap between putting on the headset and dispatch feels uncomfortably long and under whelming.
When the VR starts, it literally does start. no introduction, no build up it just begins as if someone's pressed play on a device.
The VR experience starts off well to begin with [bar the sudden jump], where a narration and the ride theme accompany some interesting graphics depicting being in a launch tunnel with lots of working machinery and devices. This is visually impressive to witness and reminds me somewhat of films like The Matrix, Inception and Interstellar to name a few.
Once you get to the top, a launch sequence begins where you then enter the space travel part of the attraction. Whilst it's interesting to witness on the ride, it's just as exciting off ride with the Portal element [more on that later].
Unfortunately like the ride's drop, it is here where the VR experience goes downhill.
Whilst the graphics are interesting to witness, a lot happens in the VR, too much. One minute you enter this hot fiery galaxy then the next your in this cold snowy planet less than 20 seconds later. This is before entering at least 2 more different worlds and then suddenly re-entering the portal element. It is here you are told you are safe and back at HQ before the VR ends a bit suddenly. You are then told to remove the goggles before heading back in the station.
Once back on foot, you follow the exit path where you soon enter the Galactica shop, which occupies 1/3 of Air's former shop.
Some nice space-esque lighting.
It may not be on the grand scale of the Derren Brown shop but it's still nicely themed and reminds me a little bit of Space Mountain in a way. There's some fairly decent merch in here too [though the shot glass looked a little tacky].
One of the other significant changes and additions is the portal. Located at the bottom of the drop, trains fly through this massive thematic element where a number of different light, smoke and mist effects go off in the process. This is a fantastic addition to the ride and gives Galactica that much more interaction and excitement to off riders amongst improving the themed experience as a whole.
The Critical Review
- The portal is a stunning piece of theming and has got to be the most exciting feature built at Towers since the Marmaliser.
- The sound track retains the fantastic quality IMA Score are renowned for
- The entrance plaza is much more distinctive, striking and eye pleasing prior to when it was Air
- The station area builds up to the ride much more than Airs used to
- The pre-show videos fit in remarkably well
- The new shop is decently themed
- The wait between dispatch and VR kicking in is quite painstaking
- Dispatch times are much slower to how Airs were
- The headset can feel a bit uncomftable at times
- The pace of the VR is off putting, it's too fast and begins and ends too suddenly
- Headset tries to fall off during ride
- VR may not be optional now
I have always thought Air has lacked style and personality compared to the other coasters [minus Rita]. It's felt rather bare, empty and a little unfished.
However the retheme to Galactica has definitely given the ride a much stronger image and personality as a stand out ride which feels more like an experience as . As Galactica the ride has gained a fantastic thematic centrepiece, loose storyline of space travelling and holes of it's empty past filled in.
However, it can't be helped that the VR feels like a gimmick just to make the ride's update feel more marketable. Whilst it still has some good points, the flaws including throughput, comfortability and pacing do outweigh the plus points. Unless something gives, I can't see the VR lasting by 2018 time as it causes too much hassle.
The perfect ride would be Galactica's theme/landscaping with Air's original flying concept.
Creeky Rating 6/10
But Lets Face It! Towers isn't about VR
It's about experiencing this beuaty!
As she's had a marvelous makeover this year
And I don't know about you. But at 22 she still runs very fine
And one the park's turds has been washed in glitter. It was running quite well that day too.
However this alone can't help the fact
The Uk's best experience is currently closed
A much needed flat has been sweeped out of the lineup
Alongside a much less popular one
Alongside a family staple [even it wasn't a patch on the also closed Loggers]
Not forgetting the selected shops
And food outlets that have also closed up for 2016
And these massive B&Q fences only add insult to injury
However I can happily cope with this closure, nothing lost here.
This place is nice though and Nemesis beer? what's not to like
But this needs to be great whenever it happens. Wood that be possible?
However with an entrance like this, how much is there not to like
So Smile always!
And I'll be back in June
To hopefully check out this exciting looking experience
One Creeky Criticism
One last thing I will however say, the park does now really lack rides. In an 8 hour day [thanks to ERT], I completed everything except Congo & Mine Train due to queues [and others not wishing to ride]. I even managed to do all coasters except Rita & Smiler at least twice alongside Duel and Skyride.
Considering it's the UK's biggest park, Towers no longer feels like a multiday park. At the moment it's very easy to nail the park in one day [even with a trip through the gardens].
Lets hope the park can get off it's knees and return to greatness now.