One of the few negatives about riding coasters in Japan is the local reluctance to run coasters with wet track, and the rules for reopening generally err on the side of paranoia. Revising plans around weather is easy enough to do when using public transport, but basically impossible with pre-booked rental cars. It was therefore quite a relief to discover that the miserable weather that had engulfed Tokyo this morning had been trapped on the eastern side of the Japanese Alps, our train breaking out into glorious sunshine shortly before arriving at Niigata Station.
During peak season Suntopia World can be reached by bus, but this service does not run in October. It is possible to walk around four miles from the nearest train station, but we decided for convenience sake to rent a car, as the total cost including fuel and toll of ¥8100 (~€60) wasn't radically different to what it'd have cost to take a taxi. More to the point, having our own transport gave us the flexibility to adjust times on the fly, and we did just that, leaving an hour ahead of schedule to catch an earlier bullet train back to Tokyo, giving us a valuable extra hour in bed.
The park offers a "free pass" for ¥4000, though enthusiasts will likely be better off with individual ride tickets. We ran up a bill of ¥2700 each, giving us two rides on the coaster (¥700) and one ride on the powered coaster (¥500), the haunted house (¥400), and the BFOFW (¥400). Staff outnumbered guests today by a factor of at least two to one, but despite that almost all of the attractions were open, with only some unimportant spin rides out of commission.
The first thing one sees on entering Suntopia World is a spectacular multi-level waterfall with landscaped staircases on either side. Two sets of statues can be found on concrete plinths within the flow, their sculptors clearly drawing their inspiration from ancient Rome but disregarding the fig leaves from the sixteenth century. The giant wheel stands perfectly centered at the top, and photographers are catered for by huge windows big enough to comfortably slide a SLR through. Those not bothered by heights also have the option of riding in one of two completely open cars with forward-facing seats and over the shoulder restraints.
Dinosaur Coaster (#2171) was manufactured by Hoei Sangyo, a relatively unknown local manufacturer with just twenty-four entries in RCDB, most of them family coasters. I'd assumed that this ride would fall into that category, but nothing could have been further from the truth; the lift hill was at least one hundred feet high and track covered a wide area, weaving around the terrain in a manner almost reminiscent of Lisebergbanan. Better yet, the layout was great, with airtime in the front and back, strong lateral forces, and smooth tracking. The train wasn't built for tall foreigners, but I was able to shoehorn myself in without major issue and the lap bar restraint didn't impinge upon the overall experience.
The powered Wild Jet wasn't quite in the same league, being for the most part a sedate trip around a wooded area, though there was a sharp and thoroughly unexpected drop at the midpoint that delivered airtime and bruised knees in equal measure. It's worth noting that we were sitting in the front where the resultant forces should theoretically have been at their weakest; enthusiasts retracing our steps should consider going to the back seat for maximum effect.
It would have been easy to miss the Haunted House, a walkthrough tucked away in a corner next to the powered coaster, and that would have been a major shame. The scenery inside was superbly detailed, and there was a lot of it, and a several of the triggered scenes made us jump. The only thing that took away from the experience overall were the bright green exit signs everywhere that seemed unusually prominent, though one presumes these were required to comply with local regulations.
We had done everything on our list at this point, but before leaving we made the effort to climb to the top of the hill behind the BFOFW on the off-chance that there might be another undocumented coaster. We were rewarded for our effort by the site of a Flume Ride and Karts, and took a few photos of both before heading back to our car.