I have very clear memories of my first encounter with Air at Alton Towers. The prospect of a flying coaster was a thrilling one and I rushed off to the park to give the new ride a test run but my heart was already sinking before I had left the car park from where large portions of the ride are visible. It looked very small and unexciting and much of my enthusiasm has disappeared in advance of entering the park.
I was even more disappointed when I had finally taken my ride. Whilst I loved the indignity of that moment when the seats swing upwards in the station, the rest of the journey left me a bit cold. To this day my favourite element of Air is dangling from my seat in the station! The concept of the coaster was brilliant and I just knew that someone was going to build a brilliant flyer, it just wasn’t Alton Towers.
With these thoughts in mind I visited Six Flags Magic Mountain for the third time with some anticipation. Not only was I going to experience X2 which had been closed on my last visit, I was also about to take flight on Tatsu which promised to deliver what Air had failed to serve up. I had heard about the fabled pretzel loop and hoped that this would be a flying coaster that really meant business.
The ride is built into the wooded hillside at Magic Mountain and so you never really get sight of the whole structure. Sections rise up above the trees to tease you but there is no real sense of the entire layout. The queuing area is uninspired being just a sheltered patch of concrete divided into rows but there are large screens playing music videos and infomercials to keep you occupied whilst you wait in line. Guests are sent up to the platform in groups where you can pick a row and have only a few minutes before your ride.
Tatsu begins, like Air, with the upward swing of the seats leaving you dangling face down in the station but from that moment the ride is a very different animal. The trains climb swiftly out of the station and the first hill is one of the most dramatic I have encountered. Within seconds you are suspended inconceivably high over the walkways and trees and I found myself grinning with pleasure as Tatsu was already delivering the thrills. Most of the circuit is then pretty much what you would expect and frankly nothing amazing but the spectre of that loop is always there. As we approached it I yelled a warning to my partner who did not know what he was in for and then we plunged into a swallow dive like nothing I have ever experienced.
This was the most intense single element of a ride that I had found and I loved it! My partner on the other hand blacked out like a pilot in training on a centrifuge and didn’t like it one little bit. The severity of the G force is incredible and even your underwear feel leaden as you plummet head first downwards.
We took another ride a few days later and this time my partner was ready for it and managed to remain conscious for the entire circuit! I still loved that loop and the ascent from the station. The ride in its entirety is not that incredible but those two elements alone make it something special. Tatsu is a flying beast in Japanese mythology and so this is a ride with the right name for sure. It is most of what Air should have been but I still think there is more than could be done with flying coasters.
Article by Sally Stacey