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Review: Ride reboot at Six Flags Magic Mountain makes Superman coaster twice as good

I used to think the ride on the Superman shuttle coaster essentially ended when the car reached the climatic 415-foot-high peak. But now that Six Flags Magic Mountain has flipped the trains around to run backward, the fun is just getting started when you reach the top.

I took a test drive this week on the re-dubbed Superman: Escape From Krypton coaster at the Valencia amusement park between takes of a TV commercial shoot for the revamped ride.

Scheduled to reopen March 19, the rebooted Superman is undergoing invitation-only "technical previews" for Facebook fans, radio contest winners and others. Magic Mountain season pass holders can ride it during any of the coming weekend previews.

As I stepped into one of the new streamlined trains, I was taken aback as I stared at a black cinder block wall. For a split second I thought, "Where did the track go?"

During the ultra-smooth magnetic launch, my body pressed against the new over-the-shoulder restraints as I rocketed backward at 100 mph. Hurtling along the 600-foot-long stretch of flat track, I was never sure when to expect the vertical ascent.

The further we climbed, the more my jaw drew open until my gaping maw turned into a maniacal grin. At the precipice, I screamed as the coaster stalled for a moment of weightless hang time – still the best moment of the ride, forward or backward.

Filled with anticipation rather than relief (as was usual on the old ride), I looked left and right at the commanding view before turning my attention again to the 40-story drop before me. My cheeks flapped and nostrils flailed like a stunt pilot in a wind chamber as tears streaked from my eyes during the demon descent.

The biggest rush came at the bottom as the car swooped through the L-shaped transition from vertical drop to horizontal run-out.

In many ways, Superman is still the same ride, but the experience is entirely new. The old forward launch always seemed like a mad rush toward a brick wall, only to be propelled skyward at the last possible moment. The new backward launch saves the best thrills for the second half of the ride, like a plane zooming toward Earth only to pull out of the dive just before smashing into the ground.

Superman was never my favorite ride at Magic Mountain, registering somewhere in the middle of the pack of what will soon to be a record-setting 18 coasters. The direction-reversing makeover makes Superman twice the ride it used to be and twice as fun. I rode it five times in a row, and it got better each time.

That's not to say there weren't some downsides to what remains a super-short 20-second ride:

* I expected to race toward the iconic Fortress of Solitude at terrifying speeds, but during our test runs we crept into the ice cave tunnel finale at a disappointing crawl.

* The disorienting backward launch doesn't seem as fast or scary as the old forward launch.

* The highly restrictive protective side panels on the six outside seats, designed to prevent riders from reaching out to touch the launch tunnels during the return run-out, may make some riders feel like they're in a straight jacket. My suggestion: Request one of the eight inside seats.

I'm looking forward to this summer when one of the cars on the twin tracks will be turned around to run forward, allowing riders to choose between the two options.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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