Motiongate sounds like some type of Patriots scandal. Until that inevitably happens at the rate they bend the rules, Motiongate will be synonymous for me with a great, Universal-esque park in Dubai. The parallels to Universal are astounding. And for the most part, that's a good thing. The most obvious is that you have a movie themed park that even shares some of the same IPs.
The one drawback is the major coasters share a similarly strict loose articles policy. While there are no metal detectors, your precious iPhone must be placed in a free fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo before entering the queue. It was a bummer since these coasters had some impressive looking queues.
As a big fan of the Hunger Games novels and films, there was little doubt where I'd go first. I was intrigued how they'd approach the area considering the subject matter. Something about a grim dystopian society glorifying child murder doesn't quite seem to align with the message of most theme parks.
They made a wise decision to focus on the luxurious Capitol and have subtle tones to the resistance. It's impossible to miss the Peacekeepers as you enter the land. They stand guard in front of a memorial to the districts and if you try to take a selfie with them, they will commandeer your phone and put you in a neck hold.
The area's anchor is Capitol Bullet Train, the Mack launcher. It's truly a shame I couldn't bring my phone with me because the queue and station were filled with decorations. The soundtrack borrowed the booming instrumentals from the film and was another strength. The launch was not.
Dramatic music comes to a crescendo and you hear, “Preparing for high speed transit in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
Capitol Bullet Train has one of those forwards-backwards-forwards launches that are all the rage. In this situation the first launch isn’t supposed to melt you face, but I at least expect it to resemble a launch. Calling this a launch is an embarrassment to other launch coasters out there. You roll forwards at no more than 15-20 mph. It’s all the more comical since this is when they take your photo.
I wish I could say the second or third launches were better. While they do get the coaster up to a respectable speed, they were forceless. The lone redeeming quality of the launch was that reverse spike. If you’re sitting towards the back, you get some awesome weightlessness.
The rest of the coaster is a winner. It’s short, but it offers a little bit of everything. The vertical loop is loaded with Full Throttle-esque hangtime. That’s followed by some snappy turns, a powerful ejector hill, a floaty zero-G roll, and a pop of floater entering the brake run. If this thing had a real launch, it would be perfect. 8 out of 10
Up next was Panem Aerial Tour. Based on the name, I was expecting a flying theater in the ilk of Soarin’. Instead I was greeted by a motion simulator surrounded by an omni-screen. The concept can be effective (see The Simpsons Ride), but here the execution was flawed.
The biggest drawback is the vehicle. For some reason, it has a roof. If you aren’t in the front, the poles supporting the roof and the roof itself will obstruct your view. As a Red Sox fan, I’m used to that when I go to Fenway Park. But Fenway is a century old historic landmark. This ride isn’t even 2 years old.
The film did have some impressive landscapes and the visuals were great, but the action was tricky to follow I couldn’t see everything. With a different vehicle, this could be one of the better simulators out there. 4 out of 10
The indoor Dreamworks section is the park’s crowning achievement. For one the area is huge. Technically it’s one single area, but it feels like its own separate park. The area is broken into sub-areas themed to Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, and Shrek, each with its own distinct appearance.
My first stop was Madagascar. Themed to a circus, the area is a complete sensory overload consisting of multicolored lights, reflective mirrors, and loud music. And the focal point of the area is the Gerstlauer infinity coaster, Madagascar Mad Pursuit.
While Capitol Bullet Train’s launch was pitiful, the one on Madagascar was surprisingly excellent. Madagascar looked all cute and cuddly, but the inadvertently demonic eyes of the characters during the pre-launch sequence told me otherwise. The acceleration was abrupt and very powerful.
This was followed by two aggressive turns in complete darkness. It felt like the coaster was trying to flip me over like Skyrush’s wing seats. Thank god this coaster had lap bars, but these turns were accompanied by a violent shuffle. The rest of the ride is smoother, but it still does have a persistent shuffle.
The rest of the first half is great. There’s a funky top hat with a delicious amount of sustained air and another camelback with good floater. But the second half was a letdown. The MCBR sapped a good chunk of the ride’s speed so there was no thrill. There were just some cutouts a la Rock n’ Roller Coaster.
Madagascar’s tracking wasn’t an issue for individual rides, but consecutive rerides gave me a headache. It’s an unfortunate Achilles heel because the coaster’s first half is fantastic. 7 out of 10
How to Train Your Dragon was a considerably darker area, but the focal point was Dragon Gliders. The colossal entry gate is quite imposing and it was exciting seeing trains passing overhead every few minutes. The throughput should have been higher, but loading and unloading was a cluster.
The ride has a conveyor belt system like Rockit or Arthur. However, you load and unload on the same side. The result is an absolute mosh pit. People ignore their seat assignments and no one knows where they should sit. Inevitably this causes the conveyor belt to stop so they can sort out the chaos.
The ride was reminiscent of Arthur. The first half felt like a dark ride with the screens and animatronics. The second half felt more like a coaster. It wasn’t overly fast, but the visuals and unexpected twirling provided some thrills. This is the type of ride system I see Disney using someday. 7 out of 10
The Shrek area has a similarly dark tone. I mean it’s a swamp, so what would you expect? The area’s main ride is Shrek’s Merry Fairy Tale Journey, a dark ride that makes one of the most interesting stylistic decisions I’ve seen.
The plot is simple; Shrek tells his kids how he met his wife. The unique part is that Shrek tells it via puppet show. As a result, all the animatronics are designed as puppets. One on hand, it’s a neat twist. On the other hand, it does look sort of cheap. 7 out of 10
The final Dreamworks area is Kung Fu Panda, which is set during a gorgeous sunset. The most noteworthy ride in the area is Kung Fu Panda Unstoppable Awesomeness, a decent motion simulator that doubles as a water ride*.
The animation was gorgeous and the ride captured the tone of the films well (both comedy and action). The motion was also well-synched to the film. Some of the movements were pretty jerky though, which was problematic due to the hard seatbacks. 7 out of 10
* If you want to stay dry, avoid the end seats. Myself and others on the end seat came off quite wet. Those on the inside were perfectly dry.
I also couldn’t leave the Kung Fu Panda area without trying Mr. Ping’s noodles. If you’ve seen the film, you know how prevalent these noodles are. I thought the noodles were good, but the star of the shop was the shrimp dumplings. They were so good I returned later in the day for a second order.
The park’s largest outdoor area is the section themed to Columbia Pictures. And it’s lone coaster was Green Hornet: High Speed Chase. I think the most memorable thing about the coaster was the queue. On the bright side, they have a replica of the famous car. On the downside, they play clips from the abomination of a Seth Rogan movie on repeat.
The coaster itself was ok. The layout is reminiscent of the other two Gerstlauer bobsleds I’ve ridden, but it was missing the excitement. There was no airtime on the bunny hills or Gs on the helices. It was glass smooth and I would still take it over your average wild mouse. 5 out of 10
One of my most anticipated rides in the entire park was Ghostbusters. The original film is one of my favorite all-time movies and the IP lends itself perfectly to a shooter. I was even more excited to see the same ride vehicles as Ani-Mayhem. It would take a herculean effort to screw this up.
But try they did. All of my shots strayed wide right. At first I thought the guns weren’t calibrated correctly, but midway through the ride I made a shocking discovery. The lasers were deliberately on the right edge of the gun instead of being centered. I have no clue why you’d do that.
There were no physical targets, but the screen targets utilized the source material well. The first half throws hundreds of smaller ghosts at you. The second half borrows the main villains from the films. It was distinctly satisfying lighting up Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. 8 out of 10
If you told me my favorite dark ride at Motiongate would be Hotel Transylvania, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have bet the house on the Hunger Games or Ghostbusters dark rides. I am completely indifferent towards the Hotel Transylvania IP, but the ride uses a trackless ride system to perfection.
The initial scene of a mummy wiping his butt with rags didn’t inspire confidence. But the main showroom was a exceptional. Picture a long hallway with 8 or so open rooms. Each room has a unique show scene. While you don’t quite get to see everything on Pooh’s Hunny Hunt or Scooby Doo, you do get to visit each room on Hotel Transylvania.
The finale reverts back to your typical dark ride, but that isn’t an issue at all. The bulk of the ride is carried by the aforementioned sequence and the set design was strong throughout. It made me almost want to see all the films. Almost. 9 out of 10
Usually I prefer about any other drop tower to an S&S, but it would have been wildly inaccurate to go with anything else for a Zombieland themed drop tower. While the film uses the double shot at Wild Adventures, this is a full-fledged, almost 200 foot combo tower.
It’s also one of the stronger S&S towers. The launch offered decent airtime, but the drop surprised me. New England has two of the stronger S&S towers in Dragon’s Descent and Down Time, but this drop was more powerful than either. I’ll still take an Intamin or a Larson tower, but this was as good as an S&S tower can be (unless you put it on a mountain with a view of Niagara Falls). 8 out of 10
Underworld 4D was a gory zombie film. I have no clue what the plot was due to constant jump cuts and incomprehensible audio, but it did have one of the most irking special effects I’ve ever seen. Every time a character loses blood, you’re squirted with water. And there’s a lot of blood! 3 out of 10
The final themed area was Smurf Village. It’s a cute area that was clearly designed with families in mind. Not surprisingly, it’s home to the park’s family coaster, Smurf Village Express.
The coaster is a step-up from your average roller skater. The first drop actually had some balls. We’re not talking grown man balls; we’re talking start of puberty balls. It had some whip to it. The rest of the ride is considerably tamer, but it does pass by all sorts of Smurf houses. 5 out of 10
The better ride (unless you’re a true credit whore) is the Smurfs Studio Tour. It’s yet another trackless dark ride. While this is one of the ones that didn’t need to be trackless, it was still an enjoyable ride. The plot is basic (the Smurfs want to make a movie), but sets were incredibly detailed. 8 out of 10
I finished the night with a marathon of Capitol Bullet Train. Mack launchers are one of the most reridable coaster types out there. Yes the coaster did make a loud rattle, but riders can barely feel the rattle if that makes sense.
Motiongate was probably my favorite park in Dubai. I’ll still take the two major parks in Abu Dhabi over it, but I really liked what Motiongate offered. It had some quality theming combined with a few good coasters and a strong collection of dark rides.