Last Thursday marked the opening of Thorpe Park’s new £20 million rollercoaster The Swarm.
It is the latest example of Bolliger & Mabillard’s wingrider design, the first being Raptor at Gardaland in Italy.
On a rainy Saturday morning, we made our way to Thorpe Park to check out the ride for ourselves.
The decision to open in mid week this year, and also the wet weather, helped The Swarm ease into the first weekend of opening without the chaos seen with other rides at Thorpe Park and elsewhere.
We’d estimate that the park reached little more than half of its 15,000 capacity during the day, with advised queues for The Swarm never exceeding 90 minutes.
New area and theming
Upon the approach to The Swarm’s new area (we used the way to the right of the Flying Fish), you pass a burnt-out fire engine with smoke and strobe effects present, surrounded by a scorched fence and police investigation signs and tape.
The area is very well themed and it does create a feel that something has happened – although not as well as it could have for some reason.
They have still undoubtedly spent a considerable part of the £20m budget on landscaping and theming.
There appears to be some sort of package holiday-style “what’s your name and where do you come from” thing going on as guests are invited to come onto a temporary stage that has been erected next to the queue line entrance.
The games stall also ruins the atmosphere of the area, and required more thought with regards to integration into the theme.
The life-size crashed aircraft and helicopter components compliment the theming very nicely.
Queue line and station
Queuing centres around the exterior of the station, which is a striking and high quality representation of a damaged church.
As you wait in line to ride, video screens display footage of a 24-hour news station reporting on disturbances from Thorpe Park.
Reporters attempting to relay details of the “devastation” being caused, are frequently cut off as Swarm attacks continue.
It doesn’t quite evoke suspense or drama in guests, who seem to be paying little attention to the screen and news presenter – who resembles a slightly more youthful Joan Collins.
The station is an integral part of the train’s course, it provides near-miss points and its open roof allows those on the other boarding train to catch a glimpse of them as they enter the inline twist overhead.
The trains also interacts in the queue line, flying closely overhead at one point. Just as it passes a robotic sound effect representing the Swarm’s cry plays – somewhat too loudly, but nevertheless effectively startling guests.
Bolliger & Mabillard wingriders feature trains that seat 28 riders, with 14 guests seated in pairs either side of the track.
The ascent to the top of the lift hill is followed by a 180-degree flip which provides a brief moment of hang time, before you plummet down the unique first drop and closely underneath the smoking plane wing.
Strangely, the seating arrangement, even on the outer seats, provides little more feeling of freedom than what a suspended rollercoaster does, although in the back seats you do get a clearer view of what is coming than Nemesis and co provide.
The sensation of speed is not apparent, until ironically the slowest section of the ride – the near hit points of the station’s structure.
The experience is certainly more ‘Air’ than ‘Nemesis’ in terms of intensity, but the heavily-banked turnaround surrounding the helicopter is speedy and moderately forceful.
It is in this section that a water spray effect is activated, but this is relatively limp and far from spectacular, although it did cause one of the riders to remark “someone’s hand was in the water!”
The train enters the zero-g roll a little too slow, providing no feeling of weightlessness and there is also a surprising slight judder.
The corkscrew feels and looks like it almost completely kills the momentum of train and you cannot but help wonder if it is a possible stall risk point under the right conditions.
As the train finally lumbers through, there is a considerable yank and further judder, more noticable on the outer seats from the middle to rear rows.
The experience is far from rough and is still graceful, but it highlights that the wingrider design is a slight departure from the complete smoothness associated with the majority of B&M’s rides.
The final inversion, as mentioned earlier, involves a sudden change of direction past a corner of the wrecked church and the inline twist spins riders over the loading train below, very close to beams and walls.
The drop aside, it is certainly the most memorable part of the ride.
Solid financial investment
The Swarm succeeds most in its marketability and asthetic appeal, it will be an an extremely popular draw this summer and will certainly boost Thorpe Park’s attendance by the desired numbers and perhaps more.
And from a ride experience point-of-view, it does provide great sensations and a feeling of flight, but so do some B&M rides a decade or more old.
It is unfortunately a testament of a manufacturer that has made no significant innovations for more than a decade.
There is a question mark over whether it is the parks or B&M that prefer to build less intense rollercoasters than what they did in the mid-1990s, but the fact remains that as thrill machine builders, they continue to fall short of their previous creations by a considerable margin.