Visiting Hirakata Park on the same day as Universal was quite the contrast. One was a heavily attended, major park and the other was a laid back family park with a whole lot of charm. You can probably guess that Hirakata fell into the latter. Even Hirakata’s location has that relaxed feel since the walk from the train station passes through a quiet neighborhood.
For a smaller park, Hirakata actually has a respectable coaster collection. Heck they have an Intamin woody! Now before you get a woody, keep in mind this isn’t a pre-fab in the ilk of El Toro. Rather it’s a conventional wooden coaster, but it’s a pretty solid one in Elf. You’d think theming a coaster to an elf is perfect for a park with a whimsical theme, but “Elf” is oddly an abbreviation that stands for the “Episode of Little Fairies.”
Seeing the Intamin t-bars on a traditional wooden coaster looked really strange, but they left plenty of room for airtime. The coaster isn’t an airtime machine by any stretch of the imagination, but 4-5 of the straight drops had decent pops of air.
One negative with the lap bars was that it was easy to smash your knee against the t-bar’s column. That isn’t an issue on Intamin’s ultra-smooth hypers, but it does come into play on a woody. Elf is smooth for the most part, but it has some shuffles like you’d expect from any wooden coaster that isn’t new or at Knoebels. But after my first ride I knew to brace for it and I was able to enjoy the park’s best coaster. 7 out of 10
The park’s largest coaster is Red Falcon and it looks a whole lot more impressive than it actually is. For one, the track is over 4000 feet in length and cruises all over the back half of the park. Plus it’s the park’s tallest coaster. However, I wouldn’t really say the coaster has any drops. As a jumbo-sized jet coaster, any “drop” is more of a ramp.
Despite the OSTRs and some interesting looking turns (just watch the POV and you’ll know what I mean), the coaster is actually smooth. In a way it’s too smooth. When the ride finally decides to give riders a pop of airtime, it’s immediately followed by a turn into the brake run. If you go in expecting thrills, you’ll be disappointed. If you go in expecting a high speed monorail with some scenic views, Red Falcon is a solid coaster. 6 out of 10
Fantastic Coaster Rowdy has two adjectives in its name. Only one applies. Can you guess which? The drops are profiled very sharply, but they’re taken so slowly that there’s no air. Conversely, the turns are compact as well, but the slow speed helps by mitigating any potential roughness. For uniqueness, I’d take it over most wild mice, but in the grand spectrum it’s not fantastic as the name suggests. It’s more like Decent Coaster Rowdy. 5 out of 10
Speaking of a wild mouse Decent Coaster Rowdy is better than, look no further than Hirakta’s Crazy Mouse. It looks like a spinning wild mouse. And it has the spinning vehicles. Yet they don’t spin. That’s not even me complaining about weak spinning. This “spinning” wild mouse has the spinning disabled.
The first half gives the same ride as usual. Thanks to the rides placement atop a building, the hairpin turns deliver a solid view. And the first drop gives a pop of air too. But the second half just felt weird without any spinning. It’s like watching a movie without the audio or eating fries without salt. You can do it, but it doesn’t feel right. The slow speed negated most discomfort, but the finale with the unbanked ground-level turn gave quite the jolt since the car could no longer rotate to absorb the lateral force. Needless to say I prefer these spinning. 4 out of 10
Last but not least there’s Peekaboo Town. That sounds like the name of a walkthrough or children’s area, but it’s actually the name of their kiddie coaster. Like many kids coasters in Japan, this one only offered one lap. The approach to the drop built up more speed than expected, so I was optimistic I’d actually get some air. Then I remembered I was on a kiddie coaster not at Knoebels and realized how foolish I was. 3 out of 10
The park’s most intense ride is without a doubt Giant Drop Meteor. The placement is sort of odd. Usually you want the drop tower to be the most imposing ride in the park. In a park sparse on thrill rides, it towers over everything but the obligatory colossal Ferris wheel found at every park in Japan pretty much by default. But I was shocked that a park built on a hill placed the drop tower at the base.
Unfortunately they were only loading the side facing uphill, which took away somewhat from the ride’s height. However, the drop didn’t suffer in any way. It had some great airtime the whole way down. This was probably the park’s best attraction and I would have ridden it a few more times if it wasn’t suffering from bouts of downtime. I kept seeing a maintenance guy working behind the vehicle. 7 out of 10
Washuzan Highland’s cycle monorail was like riding a junky POS along a scenic mountain road without a guardrail. You love the view, but also are secretly terrified. Hirakata’s Cycle Monorail by comparison was like riding a Harley Davidson along a mountain road with a guardrail. The cycles were far easier to pedal and the vehicles were more robust. And it also had a lift hill, so begin the debate- is it a coaster? 6 out of 10
Hirakata also had the obligatory Japanese dark rides. Unfortunately I missed out on some volcano maze and the promiscuously named Naughty Witch’s Labyrinth due to time, but I did sample four of the others.
Return of the Garg was a shooter almost identical to the one at Cosmoworld. It used the same ride system, had similar physical sets, and contained pointless screens (this isn’t me mocking screens, this is me saying you couldn’t get points shooting the screens). The large targets and laser aim made it pretty easy to rack up an impressive score. 7 out of 10
The creatively named Dark Ride was a complete WTF. The building’s architecture is reminiscent of a classical pagoda, but the course passes by several odd monsters, including one of which can only be described as a Marshmallow man. But everything pales in comparison to the finale. The somber tone is broken and the ride becomes a dance party complete with a disco ball and J-pop. That may sound stupid. And it sort of is. But it’s stupid fun. 7 out of 10
On a hot day, the Ice House was a haven. Being from New England, I think I have the authority to evaluate the cold. And this gets a passing mark from me. The house was themed to the inside of an oversized refrigerator and freezer (or maybe we were shrunk?). The theme even included the dank smell of my old fridge. 5 out of 10
Actually I take back what I said about Dark Ride. It was a WTF, but the true WTF was Legend of Luxor. We went in expecting some kind of walkthrough and were led to a room with sarcophaguses. The operator then gestured towards them. Would the sarcophaguses lead to another room? No, we were instructed to sit in them, put on our headphones, and stick our hands outside a tiny slit on the coffin.
The premise alone was creepier than most haunted houses. Then there was a film with 1980s caliber animation and cheap sound effects like Disney’s old Sounds Dangerous attraction. The cheapness shouldn’t have been creepy, but somehow it worked. Each sound was sending chills down my spine. We were confused why we had to stick our hands outside the sarcophagus, but there was a surprise effect that made it apparent.
Turns out I scored 888 and my heart weighed far more than a feather. There are worse ways to die. There definitely are more complex and sophisticated dark rides out there. There are also dark rides with more charm. But few are so screwed up and psychologically terrifying. I openly admit this shouldn’t have been as scary and effective as it was, but having absolutely no clue what we walked into quite possibly helped. 9 out of 10
Along with kiddie coasters, I also have a weakness for unique attractions. That is not limited to just adult rides. For that reason, I embarrassingly rode World Derby. Others were more than glad to commemorate my ride for me. Basically take the kiddie whip and replace the vehicles with bobbing horses and that’s World Derby. For some delusional reason I thought it may be exciting, but it was run at appropriately kiddie speeds. 3 out of 10
Hirakata also had an intriguing looking log flume combining the screaming game from Cosmoworld with safari theming. It had potential to be the best ride in the park. The river rapids was also closed and drained. It was a shame to see both water rides closed on such a warm day, but that’s something to look forward to in a return visit.
The park also had a tiny little zoo area. This was probably the most shaded part of the park and had some interesting animals. They had an always entertaining group of mischievous monkeys and the red panda, which is better known as the lesser panda.
Hirakata Park really is a hodgepodge of coasters and funky dark rides. Those are neatly packed together with a whole lot of charm and the Intamin drop tower is the bow on top.