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The opening of Nemesis at Alton Towers in 1994 was a landmark event in the history of the park, setting it on the road to becoming a thrill-seeker’s paradise and the UK’s most popular theme park. The first Bolliger & Mabillard inverted coaster to open in Europe, it attracted huge media attention and was at the cutting edge of coaster technology at the time. It has since become one of very few British rollercoasters to achieve international recognition, having frequently appeared in “top 10” lists around the globe – despite being shorter and slower than most major coasters. So what is it about Nemesis that has made it such an enduring favorite – and does this 16-year-old ride still hold up against more modern attractions at Alton Towers and elsewhere?
Close Encounter – Nemesis’ Setting and Queue Line
From a distance, Nemesis doesn’t appear to be anything spectacular. Faced with severe restrictions on the height of attractions at Alton Towers imposed on the park by UK heritage bodies, designer John Wardley and his team took an innovative approach and simply built the attraction deep into a giant hole in the ground. This leaves the lifthill as one of few elements visible from ground level, although even that doesn’t emerge beyond the treeline. First-time riders will be unsure of what to expect on entering the queue, but once inside they should quickly begin to understand that it is Nemesis’ unique setting that sets it apart from other similar rides around the world.
The queue snakes around the outside of the excavated pit, giving a spectacular view of the coaster as it swoops and turns both overhead and below eye-level. Nemesis ranks alongside SeaWorld Orlando’s Manta as one of few coasters that are almost as much fun to watch as they are to ride. Both are set against a spectacular landscape which creates a captivating spectacle, as well as forming a key part of the ride experience itself. It’s a shame that more recent additions at Alton Towers, such as Air and Rita, are set in such bland locations (a patch of grass and a stretch of concrete respectively).
Taming the “Beast” – The Lost Nemesis Storyline
One aspect of Nemesis that has unfortunately been allowed to decline since its original opening is the theming. Although the setting is as impressive as ever, the backstory has largely been lost. This is based around an alien that was discovered when the site was excavated, and was subsequently pinned in place by the masses of steel that make up the coaster. Although the station continues to be loosely themed as the monster itself, and rivers of “blood” still flow down the sides of the pit, anyone unfamiliar with the story will probably not realize that there is one. Although not as big an issue for a rollercoaster as it would be for a dark ride, it’s a shame that something which could add some re-ride value has been dropped by the park.
Nevertheless, for most people the anticipation will be pretty high by the time they reach the station. There, they’ll have a choice of queuing for the front row, or selecting any other row of the train. My recommendation to any first-time rider would be to queue for the front – it adds significantly to the experience, and the ride’s solid throughput (around 1400 people per hour) should ensure that you don’t wait too long. It’s also worth trying out the right-hand-side of the back row for the most intense experience. The train itself is as comfortable as any other B&M inverted coaster, with the familiar over-the-shoulder restraints holding riders in place.
Into the Abyss – Nemesis’ Course
Unlike many others, Nemesis’ lifthill does not take riders well above the ground and leave them with a panoramic view of the park. Instead, it follows the contours of the pit until riders are just above ground level, before turning 90 degrees and descending down a smooth slope into the valley below. The slow start leaves just enough time for riders to take in what they are about to experience, before the ride begins to accelerate towards the bottom of the pit. Although Nemesis only hits a relatively low top speed of 50mph at the bottom of this section, it feels a lot faster since riders can see the ground and “blood” waterfall passing close beneath their feet. It’s a perfect use of an inverted coaster’s strengths, and something which has not often been replicated by many other rides of the same type, which spend much of their time dozens of feet off the ground.
Following the exhilarating first drop, Nemesis pulls sharply away from the ground into a barrel roll – providing a stark contrast as the comforting ground suddenly disappears from view. It then banks into a downwards helix, with riders’ feet again dangling close to the scenery, before plunging into an inline twist that veers close to the ride’s station building. After again following a waterfall – this time upstream – the coaster enters its signature section, and the one which was most often seen in marketing when it first launched. Plunging towards the water at the bottom of the pit, the train is pulled suddenly upwards into a vertical loop before swooping towards the water again and through a short tunnel. The loop itself supplies some excellent G-forces, while the near-miss sensation of heading towards the water is another classic example of how to design an inverted coaster.
There is still time for one more surprise, with a barrel roll finishing off an action-packed 80 second journey before the train hits the final brakes and returns to the station. Although fairly short in duration, Nemesis packs in a number of very intense elements and makes the most of its unusual setting. Most riders are windswept and out-of-breath when they reach the end, their eyes streaming as they reach for the buckle on their seatbelt. Many rush straight round for another turn.
There’s no underestimating the significance of Nemesis to Alton Towers and to the UK theme park industry as a whole. Not only did it put Alton Towers on the map, it established John Wardley as one of the world’s most respected ride designers and cemented the popularity of theme parks as a whole in the country. Part of a wave of major coaster openings in 1994 that included The Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach (at the time, the world’s tallest, fastest and steepest coaster) and Shockwave at Drayton Manor (Europe’s only stand-up coaster), Nemesis has outlasted them all in terms of continuing popularity. Why? In my opinion, because it took an exciting new ride type and combined it perfectly with its surroundings – creating an experience which still ranks among the best rollercoasters in the world.
Ironically, it’s the planning constraints on Alton Towers which resulted in Nemesis becoming the classic it is today. It benefits greatly from being forced to hug the ground tightly, something which sets it apart from faster, taller inverted coasters like Dueling Dragons (at Islands of Adventure) and Montu (at Busch Gardens Tampa). It has been followed at Alton Towers by a number of high profile additions, including Oblivion (the world’s first vertical drop coaster), Air (the world’s first B&M flying coaster), Rita (an Intamin accelerator coaster) and, most recently, the much-hyped Th13teen. It has even spawned a “sequel” ride, Nemesis Inferno, at Thorpe Park. Despite its age and a slight decline in the quality of its theming, Nemesis still holds its own against all of these and tops my list of my favourite UK coasters. Overall, I’d rate Nemesis at 9/10 on the Coaster Critic’s scale, and believe it is one of the finest inverted rollercoasters ever built. Final Rating – 9.0 (Excellent)
Nemesis is rated TH for Thrilling. It’s a 3 out of 5 on my Thrill Scale. See the full scale here.
What’s Your Take?
Have you ridden Nemesis? What’d you think? Do you agree with Nick’s review? Leave a comment below. Images 1 & 2 courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons. Image 3 courtesy of Theme Park Tourist.