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Why has the UK seemingly been unable to top Nemesis?

Matt N

Strata Poster
Hi guys. If you look at international roller coaster polls, and talk to enthusiasts about their favourite UK roller coasters, the one that almost predominantly comes on top is Nemesis at Alton Towers. It is still most people’s favourite roller coaster in the UK even 27 years on from its construction. But coaster tech has progressed a lot since 1994, and the favourites in most other countries are far newer, so my question to you is; why has the UK seemingly been unable to top Nemesis? Why, 27 years on from its construction, is Nemesis arguably the country’s only ride that has such wide enthusiast appeal?

I personally think it’s because the act of “topping Nemesis” in itself is a somewhat big ask. The ride was the Steel Vengeance of its day, and still holds a huge legacy among enthusiasts now. It’s definitely become a true fan favourite in a way that not many rides can (I’ll admit I’m not as big of a fan as most; I like Nemesis, don’t get me wrong, but it’s only my #6 UK coaster).

But what are your thoughts? Do you even think the UK will ever top Nemesis?
 

Nitefly

Mega Poster
Nemesis smashes it out of the park compared to the other UK coasters. It’s just a ‘sum of all parts’ offering that makes it memorable and unique even for non-coaster fans.

There is much to say but for me the special bits are:

The ‘drop’ (or rather the lack of the boring “drop into a loop”). It’s a post-lift hill sense of anticipation that doesn’t really exist on many other rides.

The triumphant emergence from the trees into the first inversion (high about ground). Before this moment, you’re close to the ground and in a state of constant acceleration and anticipation. Then the ride sort of ‘unleashed the beast’ and says “here I am - GRRR”.

The whole section from and including the first and second inversions. I think this arguably one of the strongest sections of coaster in the world (well, of those I’ve been on) - the “GRRR” of the ride just explodes into a scream. The constant acceleration through the tight helix and lift-up into the roll are exhilarating every time. The rest of the ride is still relentless (with zero meandering) but it’s those first sections that really make it IMO (from a raw coaster perspective).

Then, the setting and the theme. Terrain coaster? Not enough - needs to be dug into a pit. Add a mysterious / ominous (and LONG) theme with a gigantic alien, a river full of blood and creepy music. It was extremely impressionable and ominous as a child. Even without the river of blood, it’s still ominous today.

I don’t think anything else in the UK comes close. A real ‘lightening strike’ of a coaster. It will take something very special to top it.

I have one gripe with the current offering.... why oh why have that station announcement. NEM-EH-SiiiIiIIiISss. Its a real ambience breaker.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
One follow-up-question that might shed some light on the answer to the original question: How many serious efforts have there been to top Nemesis? It's a custom-built white-knuckle thrill coaster interacting with the terrain around it. Those tend to be extremely rare even in the best of circumstances. RCDB lists only 19 examples, anywhere, ever (although their definitions may be a little too strict, because I can think of several obvious examples missing from that list - Lightning Rod, for instance. It looks like the label "Terrain" has only been affixed to three coasters built after 2006, so I guess the list isn't particularly well maintained).

Essentially, in the UK, only a handful of coasters have been built to be even close to that description after Nemesis: Oblivion (great ride, but with a different focus and therefore not a direct comparison), Air/Galactica (ditto), Nemesis Inferno (built on flat land, so there's not much terrain to interact with), Swarm (ditto), and Icon. All of them located in the biggest parks with the most money, because cost.

Parks just don't build Nemesis-like coasters very often, because thrill coasters are hellishly expensive even in the best of circumstances. Additionally, to have the element of terrain interaction the coaster must not be built on flat land. So there's a great filter for Nemesis-like coasters from the get go: Parks built on non-flat terrain that have the money for thrill coasters (or the money to build non-flat terrain where there isn't any).

I think you have to look further out in Europe to find coasters that compete with Nemesis on equal footing. Helix, Wildfire, and Monster in Sweden, Taiga in Finland, maybe Raptor in Gardaland, and of course the trench coaster trio in Phantasialand (see the point about creating non-flat terrain above). It doesn't really help the case that half of Europe is a huge flat plain, making competition even rarer.

I guess Nemesis just is a really really rare coaster type, out of the question to build for most parks anywhere due to the rare combination of factors present to make the ride as great as it is.
 

Tonkso

Mega Poster
There are two sides to the coin here:

On one side, we seem to have a real issue building anything 'big' here, and Merlin have somehow managed to find themselves in a market dominating position (then again, we had over a decade to top it before Merlin became a thing). Thorpe really should have a proper Hyper by this point, Drayton would have been a Thorpe beater if it maintained it's 90s trajectory etc.

On the other side, Nemesis was simply one of those unusual cases where they built the 'perfect' ride. Even today, the only real criticism I have is that I wish it was longer.
 

Furiustobaco

Mega Poster
I think the Merlin owning the market kinda reigns true here. 94' was seemingly the peak for the UK theme park Indsutry. Nemesis, Big One, and Shockwave. All big coasters in their own right, all fairly close to each other. Alton wasn't completely dominant at that point, it was a free-for all.

Merlin have no reason to splurge much. If Thorpe does not add a new coaster, then where are people going to go to ride big coasters? Hike up north? Nah they are just going to suck it up and keep visiting Thorpe. And if they go north, they will probably to Alton Towers (more money for Merlin) or settle for Chessington (still Merlin). Alton is the rare case, they have a couple of northern parks like Flamingo and Blackpool in particular to compete with. Which is probably why they still get good coasters, and plus it is a true destination park for Merlin. A full fledged resort. Hence the good amount of money poured in.

I think the closest things we've had to Nemesis has been The Smiler, Icon, and Wickerman. Heck somedays i rank Smiler above Nemesis, i believe that coaster really has given us a unique and intense coaster. But yeah to be fair it hasn't really had much to compete against outside of its home park.
 

Serena

Miss CoasterForce 2016
Staff member
Social Media Team
An interesting topic @Matt N !

Nemesis has been of legendary status since it opened in 1994. My first question is: is it still worthy of this status?

Let's look at some of the factors that gave it an edge of supremity back in the day:

1. First B+M invert in Europe. This coaster was a structure that most people had never seen before. Just how was riding on the outside of a loop going to feel?!

2. Forbidden Valley location. Forbidden Valley in the 90s was the best themed area of any UK park. Strict black, red and white colour scheme. Burnt out overturned busses as food stalls. Rivers of blood. Matching supporting flat rides. A truly immersive area.

3. Unique layout. A vertical loop towards the end of the ride?! Dropping into a corkscrew?! That insane helix! No other invert will ever have this layout. The treeline restriction truly sparked innovation with this one.

4. The story. I mean, how many other non-IP coasters had their own comic book? The story of the Nemesis creature is a captivating one and the way the track chains the monster down is so inspired.

Now.

Let's think about how these factors hold up in the present day.

1. There are now 7 B+M inverts in Europe (including Gronas Monster) - add in the prominence of Vekoma SLCs too and the sensation of hanging from the track on an inverted coaster is now very common. You don't need to wonder what the loop will feel like. You don't need to worry about if your shoes will fall off. Inverted coasters aren't special anymore.

2. Have you seen what Forbidden Valley looks like now?!?! It is not a themed area. It is a collection of rides. It is not immersive or horror-esque anymore :(

3. The unique layout, I believe, is what keeps Nemesis in such high regard. There are loads of inverts nowadays - but none with a layout like this. It is superb.

4. With the removal of my beloved Sub Terra, and with Forbidden Valley becoming an incoherently themed zone, I feel like the story of Nemesis has got a bit lost recently. Video screens with the backstory in the queue would bring this element of the ride back to life.

When you look at it this way, yes, Nemesis was iconic - but now the only thing really left in its favour is the layout. Is that enough to stay at the top of the UK coaster charts?

In my opinion, Nemesis is not what it once was. It's "good for the UK" but that is more a reflection of the UKs poor coaster line up than an acolade for the ride itself.

To me, it's not even the best coaster in the park (hello Oblivion)

I also wonder how many of these people who believe that Nemesis is "unbeatable" are older enthusiasts? Cos for enthusiasts growing up in the 90s, Nemesis was OUR ride.

Yet, I feel like The Smiler and Wickerman are just as iconic to younger enthusiasts. Those rides are their rides. They're just as well-themed. They're just as unique layout-wise. To those not blinded by nostalgia, perhaps Nemesis has already been beaten? The Swarm was certainly a valiant effort at least.

I would argue that several better coasters do exist in the UK now: Stealth, Oblivion, Icon, Saw... Why Nemesis gets to hog the UK coaster throne for 20+ years is becoming a bit of a mystery to me.
 
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Matt N

Strata Poster
In terms of this question, I’m not necessarily asking about Nemesis’ impact and whether that will ever be beaten, because for various reasons (reasons that many have already cited), I think that’s very unlikely. I’m asking from a mere ride experience point of view.

Why is it that our parks have been unable to pull off the types of universally loved ride experiences that parks abroad are pulling off, even when utilising the same ride types as those much-loved rides abroad? Will a UK park ever pull off a more universally loved ride experience than Nemesis? I think that many, many rides abroad are now more universally loved and higher ranked by most than Nemesis, but that doesn’t seem to have happened in the UK yet. Will the same wave of popularity as some of the recent hits abroad (I’m talking the likes of Taron, Helix, Shambhala, Untamed, Hyperion, Zadra etc.) ever hit a modern UK ride?
 

emoo

Mega Poster
Nemesis won the war of '94. It's longevity helped in no small part by nostalgia but also genuinely striking gold very early on. Stills holds it own to this day. Giggidy. Rooting itself into historical importance, and not ironically. It got everything spot on right off that bat. Truly iconic.

Nemi' wasn't cloned umpteen times. We didn't get the original model considered thank ****. Its special, complete & above the call of duty. Even the designer is legendary.

The perfect storm. You can feel it in your bones. What a layout.

My rose tinted glasses just shattered through the tears and dramatic fan boy enthusiasm.

You can see just how much it's faded in all the ways, and lost ground to the newer class of rides in one way or another. I gush more than the waterfall falls. Dumb new font.

And it's still cool. Many rides are cool now, perhaps without a detail here and there. They all work together to make a complete package but few went in alone. Variety is the spice of life.

I keep picking faults on the few occasions I get to go back. Mostly thinking "ahhh that's better" after a long hiatus, then casually pondering what to do next? The butterfly's are gone, now a distant memory I wouldn't trade. Getting to use some of the old queue section was a recent highlight.

It worries me of my sorrow when a seasoned rider finally comes to the UK and recoils in despair 'was that it?'. It'll happen as the world spins relentlessly on and other countries look to lift the bar. As it should, and I would prefer the UK kept up. Its to blame for the hope I hold in grand plans.

Not all poems have to rhyme.
 

Jamesss

Mega Poster
Nemesis' design is still one of the greatest of any coaster anywhere in the world.

The ride experience, if we're talking sheer forces and how it "feels", is nothing too special by today's standards.

But the unusual circumstances for construction resulted in a such an incredibly unique layout and interaction with the landscape.

That's what make it legendary, unparalleled by anything since.
 

owentaylor121

Giga Poster
I think it’s honestly that enthusiasts hold onto nostalgia.

I’d argue that The Smiler is the better ride of the two in the park, more well liked by the general public too.

Then you have the likes of Icon what I’d say is considerably better than Nemesis, but it really does come down to personal preference.

You’ll find it’s the generally older generation that still consider Nemesis as the best in the UK, without really giving the new rides a chance, for its time it was unlike anything people had ever seen before and really was innovative for the UK at the time, it had a historical and emotional attachment for many people.
 

Tonkso

Mega Poster
Nostalgia definitely plays a part, I miss the way the early 2000's felt back when Nemesis was only a decade old it felt like the UK parks could do anything, I've also made it clear that as much as I enjoy Wicker Man, I would prefer the Flume was still there instead for the variety (this could partially be down to the fact I've only managed 3 rides on Wicker Man since it opened due to break downs and usual Merlin crap).

However, every time I ride Nemesis, I remember what I love about it. There's not a single part of that layout that could be described as filler, it's all solid. The Smiler IS fun, definitely the second best ride in the park for me, but I could chain Nemesis for hours.
 

Changa

Roller Poster
It will definitely be beaten eventually. As great as the ride is, we have evidence that it can be beaten, there have been countless rides that (are widely agreed to) top it (including Smiler imo). Its just a matter of investing a lot of money into a ride that does not capture the widest demographic, which Merlin will clearly not do. If Merlin are ever ousted, or any unknown management changes from the Lego buyout start to show, then it's a near inevitability. But not while they are involved as they will likely pass a decade without a ground-up thrill coaster at any of their UK parks.

Also, from the looks of it, the competition between theme parks in the 90s/early 2000s seemed to make each individual ride more well known in the public conscious. Since then the only ones that seem to have had the same staying impact is Stealth and Smiler. Though that's probably just my perspective growing up in the 2000s.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
But not while they are involved as they will likely pass a decade without a ground-up thrill coaster at any of their UK parks.
It's quite scary/sad how close they are to this already. If you count RCDB's "Extreme" category, they will pass the decade mark in 2023 (ten years since Smiler). Thorpe will almost certainly pass it next year, unless they can get something announced, built, and opened within ten months from tomorrow (Swarm opened March 15, 2012). Expanding into the "Thrill" category on RCDB, Wicker Man is the only breaker of a streak that has held since Thirteen opened in 2010.

It really seems Merlin is content with the status quo, and given the success of Wicker Man, it's reasonable to think they don't see the point of building anything more thrilling than that when the time finally comes for a new coaster. After all, thrilling hardware is expensive, and Merlin has mastered the art of slapping a grimdark theme onto family rides to give them a more thrilling image. Just take a Wacky Worm, give it a name and a story about a baby-eating monster, and presto, you've got a new Nemesis good enough for Merlin's management.
 
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oriolat2

Giga Poster
It really seems Merlin is content with the status quo, and given the success of Wicker Man, it's reasonable to think they don't see the point of building anything more thrilling than that when the time finally comes for a new coaster. After all, thrilling hardware is expensive, and Merlin has mastered the art of slapping a grimdark theme onto family rides to give them a more thrilling image. Just take a Wacky Worm, give it a name and a story about a baby-eating monster, and presto, you've got a new Nemesis good enough for Merlin's management.
Don't forget shipping containers as theming. That's Merlin's key to success.
 

Ian

From CoasterForce
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Social Media Team
What I'd love to do is take 100 coaster virgins aged 16-30 years old to Alton Towers, let them ride all the thrill coasters (they can ride the Octonauts if they have time) and then ask them to rank them. Bet Smilier would come out on top, possibly Rita or Wicker Man second, and then Nemesis third or fourth.

It is possible that enthusiasts have a different palate to the 'public'. We tend stand back to admire the engineering, recall our previous experience riding similar type rides, and we actively anticipate that pop of airtime. We've also invested a lot of time watching the coaster under construction, or reading up about it or watchin a POV ("looks slow") before we go. And with Nemesis, we're all too familiar with the backstory, engineering, theme, and place in UK coaster history.

With rose-tinted glasses on, I'd argue there's also a small element where UK enthusiasts don't want it to be bettered because it's godly status would start to diminish...I for one would personally dislike Smiler being ranked higher than Nemesis. I prefer Nemesis to Smiler, because I don't enjoy the flow and pacing of Smiler.

So our preconception and subsequent experience of a ride is partly made up of our enthusiasm and knowledge. Your average Joe doesn't give a toss about that. Typically they care if it looks 'good', which might means it looks impressive to the eye, it looks big or fast, and most of all, it looks "scary". Smiler achieves this. Nemesis by the nature of it's design doesn't. Nemesis doesn't look that fast, or tall, loopy, mainly because most of it is hidden. Despite Nemesis being a much better (imo) on-board ride than Smiler, I reckon it doesn't have that instant visual click in peoples (general public) mind that Smiler, Wicker Man, Oblivion and Rita do. We're guilty of hyping certain coasters up before we ride them, but our hype has been formed over many years. Joe Public's hype is a matter of weeks, if not minutes before they strap themselves in to ride.

In the topic about Blackpool's future, I mentioned that no park in the UK is seemingly willing to take a risk with a top end, outrageous, innovative, thrill coaster, like some did in the golden year of 1994. Stealth, perhaps? Swarm? Good tries, but not groundbreaking enough for seasoned goons (although aforementioned coasters are in my top 5 UK coasters for sure!). I'll concede that in recent years, Wicker Man was a 'risk' for Alton Towers because it's a wooden coaster, which, despite being not being the only one in the UK, was most likely going to be the first wooden thrill coaster for most developing goons and general members of the public visiting a Merlin park with their cereal packet BOGOF tickets. But we goons know Wicker Man is really a family coaster masquerading as a thrill machine - a bit like a 16 year old trying to get into a nightclub. And in 2013, along came Smiler. 14 hoops OMG! Wow! Smiler captured the imagination and headlines (subsequently for sad reasons)...and the public lapped it up! But to me and possibly other goons, it was two Eurofighters bolted together situated in a relatively easy area to work with, given a stupid theme, and that combined took away the shine. Until a park goes balls deep with something completely uniquely thrilling and mind-boggling crazy that is a masterpiece of marketing and engineering, nothing will extinguish Nemesis' flame.

With these thoughts in mind, I'll give my answer to Matt N's question, "Why has the UK seemingly been unable to top Nemesis?"

When it comes to ranking coasters, voting for the best ones, community awards etc, such surveys are almost exclusively filled out by goons. As such, Nemesis will always rank highly in the UK because we appreciate it for reasons stated by myself and others in this topic. Nemesis is the full package for goons. My imaginary survey of 100 coaster virgins/members of the public would probably throw up a different result. Until a big risk akin to 1994 is taken and for as long "best coaster surveys" are predominantly filled out by enthusiasts , Nemesis will always be number 1.
 

Matt N

Strata Poster
I disagree with the premise of the question as think ICON and wicker man are both better then nemesis.
In your opinion, they might be. In fairness, I personally prefer Icon and WM too.

But that is by no means the consensus opinion among enthusiasts, which is the point I’m getting at. If you ask a group of enthusiasts (both British and international) what their favourite roller coaster in the UK is, I’d hazard a guess that a good 90%, possibly even more, would say Nemesis.

If you need evidence of Nemesis’ sheer popularity; when I did a poll of CF’s favourite UK roller coasters last summer, Nemesis came out overwhelmingly on top, and when run through the pairwise algorithm by @HeartlineCoaster, the results showed that Nemesis had a win rate of 1, which is the highest you can possibly get, and suggests that Nemesis has a nigh on indestructible lead over the other British roller coasters. When I did CF’s favourite German roller coasters a month or so back, the winner of that poll, Taron, did not have a win rate of 1, and was nowhere near as “indestructible” as Nemesis was in the UK poll, and even though there’s still 13 days left in the Florida poll, I’m sensing that whatever ride wins that won’t be anywhere near as “indestructible” as Nemesis, either. In general, I think we can ascertain that on average, Nemesis is rated considerably more highly (in a completely different league, in fact) than any other British roller coaster, and that was what my question spawned from.

The reason I asked the question is because Nemesis seems to have been “beaten” many, many times in parks abroad in terms of popularity and general rating among enthusiasts, but not in the UK. For example, numerous rides in mainland Europe like Taron, Helix, Shambhala, Untamed, Zadra, Hyperion etc. (and many more) seem to be generally rated higher than Nemesis these days, but no ride has been constructed in Britain since has been rated that highly, even when we’ve been utilising the same ride types. For example, Helix is rated so, so highly abroad, but Icon wasn’t able to hit anywhere near the same level of love, and while the ride has its fans for sure (myself among them), most seem to think it’s profoundly average even compared to other UK coasters. Ditto with Wicker Man; while the likes of Wodan and Troy are rated very highly, Wicker Man, while well-received for what it is, doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as popular on the world stage. The only really popular UK coaster on an international scale is Nemesis, and I was questioning why we’ve seemingly been unable to produce an internationally renowned coaster to top it, even with the huge progression in coaster technology since its construction.

Do you get where I’m coming from?
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Do you get where I’m coming from?
You could also use the "CF's favourite coasters" results from last year. Ranked 14th overall, Nemesis was by far the highest ranked UK coaster. Next on the list were Stealth (33rd) and Wicker Man (shared 35th). Swarm got 39th place, Icon took the 44th place, Oblivion the 61st. Nemesis scored a lot higher (well, lower, because of methodology stuff) than any other coaster in the UK.

But importantly, and further validating your point, there were 13 coasters above Nemesis after all, and all of them were built after 1994. In fact, the only coaster in the Top 25 older than Nemesis was Phoenix (ranked 25th).

Simultaneously, Nemesis is the highest ranked coaster in the UK among CFers by quite some margin, but also lower ranked than many coasters built after it. Nemesis is clearly not unbeatable, but it hasn't yet been beaten by a UK coaster.

That being said, there is absolutely some bias in the data we use. But at the same time, the bias isn't strong enough to push Oblivion into the top half of the Top 100, which I think would have been the case if old, nostalgic goons were influencing the list that much. Overall, I think you have asked a very valid question.
 

Jamesss

Mega Poster
I think there are better coasters than Nemesis in the UK.

But if every coaster in the UK had to be burned to the ground except one, Nemesis would be the one I keep.

It's more about the significance of the ride in the industry and its unique design than the ride experience itself.
 
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