Only in Japan – a common phrase that could easily be applied to Splash U.F.O. This interactive river rapids ride can be found at Yomiuriland, an amusement park situated to the East of Tokyo. The attraction, which first opened in 2016, is listed as a semi-dark ride within the Dark Ride Database. It carries the unlikely theme of cup noodles, a well-known staple of Japanese cuisine and here at the DRdb we all believe this somewhat infamous attraction deserves a spotlight for its unique and creative styling.
Yomiuriland is an amusement park based in the hilly landscape near Inagi, Tokyo Prefecture, at the west of Japan’s capital. First opening in 1964, it has played host to a number of exciting attractions and amusements over the years. One major example was one of the world’s first stand-up coasters from local manufacturer Togo, which sadly closed recently.
2016 saw a significant change in the appearance of the park, with a tighter focus on bringing stronger themes to certain areas. The opening of both the Splash U.F.O. river rapids and indoor roller coaster Spin Runway began to form part of a new section of the park known as Goodjoba!! This new area is themed to “monozukuri,” or Japanese craftsmanship. Each building, or factory, within this area is partnered by a Japanese manufacturing company and contains a combination of rides and attractions designed to bring a sense of fun to each brand. Goodjoba!! appears to have been a great success for the park so far and is continuing to expand, with the opening of another indoor roller coaster towards the end of 2021.
Nissin Food Factory
The main building in which Splash U.F.O. is located is called the Nissin Food Factory and is one of several factories within the Goodjoba!! area. This building encompasses the ride entrance, queue line and the majority of the ride layout, along with a children’s ride and the ‘U.F.O. Factory Experience Process’. The factory is of course sponsored by Nissin Foods, a company that lays claim to being the original creators of instant ramen and one of the biggest manufacturers of convenience noodles. U.F.O. is a particular brand of their instant noodle products, a larger bowl-shaped package that generally contains yakisoba, a fried noodle, along with distinctive graphics.
For the U.F.O. Factory Experience Process, guests can pay a nominal fee to create and customise their own packaged bowl of U.F.O. noodles throughout an interactive process that mimics a production line. Within the production line, guests interact with various pieces of equipment and members of staff who guide them through the several selection processes that make each bowl unique to the individual, including decoration of the package itself. Once the process is complete, guests are encouraged to wear their creation proudly by means of a strap and an inflatable plastic carry case!
Nissin are a household name in Japan and during the 1990s they released a series of food commercials on TV named UFO Kamen Yakisoban. These commercials featured the hero ‘Yakisoban’, named after the Yakisoba type of noodles, and his arch-enemy, the kettle-headed Kettler. The commercials became highly successful, leading to the release of a feature film in 1994 starring both characters. After the film, a beat ‘em up-video game followed, in which players could join Yakisoban in beating large numbers of Kettlers.
Splash U.F.O. – The ride experience
Now let’s turn back to the ride at Yomiuriland: from the Nissin Food Factory, guests enter the queue line for the Splash U.F.O. ride. Yakisoban himself features prominently in the queue line theming for the ride. Guests are encouraged to protect the Nissin factory from the ‘Kettlers’ who are attempting to interfere with production, by means of an interactive element rarely seen on water rides of this nature.
Operating like a regular river rapids ride (built by German manufacturer Hafema Water Rides), the majority of the attraction layout is situated indoors, with a total footprint of 2220m2. The unique twist that Splash U.F.O. brings to the table however is the interactive system from Alterface built into the centre of the ride boats (in the form of colourful buttons). These allow guests to have influence over the outcome of certain sections of the attraction, interacting with screens and media produced by Dynamo Pictures Inc. in order to both avoid water effects and score points.
The ride experience of Splash U.F.O. lasts around 6 minutes and begins indoors with a conveyor belt driven lift hill. This lift section is themed to the early stages of a noodle production line, with the mixture being spread out on rollers overhead. Towards the summit, the noodles are being split into their individual strands. The lighting disappears temporarily as you reach the crest and upon being relit the overhead scene has changed to a large kettlehead figure complete with fork.
A free-floating section commences at this point, albeit in the dark. Various further physical noodle-based setpieces light up throughout, culminating in a significant drop and splashdown section. The boat comes to a stop shortly afterwards, directly underneath a projected video sequence. An animated kettlehead character is interfering with the factory controls and with the imminent threat of receiving a real life soaking, all guests can do to save themselves is mash the buttons located in the central handrail and hope for the best.
After the first interactive sequence is completed, riders face another fast flowing section past more physical displays of the next stages of cup noodle production up to the point of completion and despatch of the goods. The outdoor portion is now traversed around the large kettle which acts as a focal point for guests viewing off-ride.
Once back inside the building, the focus of the storytelling leans towards the consumer aspect of the Nissin U.F.O. product with another large themed water feature showing the draining of hot water from a cup prior to consumption. A projected silhouette of the caped Kettler appears on a nearby wall, letting riders know the mischief isn’t quite over yet.
Again, the boat stops beneath a screen projection. This time the scene shows a faceoff between our hero Yakisoban and the Kettler during which the guests can once more interact by means of the on-board buttons. After this has played out, riders head back towards the station past one more depiction of a large fork, along with a ready to eat cup of noodles complete with chopsticks.
Just above the station are a number of screens that show a final scoreboard (a ‘Hall of fame’ as Alterface opt to call it) to participants along with a rating or rank based on how high the score happened to be. Insight into how the scoring system actually works still eludes the editors of Dark Ride Database who have experienced this attraction – perhaps you can be inspired to give it a go and figure it out one day!
Crazy idea, great fun!
Splash U.F.O. is a ride that you could definitely only find in Japan. The overall concept of the ride, with its theme based on the battle between a kettle and noodles, could just not be conceived in any other place of the world. Moreover, no-one ever came up with the idea of integrating an interactive system into a river rapids ride, which caused new challenges for the developing team.
During our previous interview with Alterface about their Interactive Theatres, Benjamin Walravens spoke briefly about the many technical hurdles the company needed to overcome with Splash U.F.O.: “It was a real challenge to get everything waterproof, to make an interactive dark ride with water splashing at riders as requested by the Customer,” acoording to Benjamin. “All the buttons, all the lasers, that was a hard task. However, our solid engineering and creativity in finding solutions overcame all those issues. Today visitors enjoy the ride and have great fun getting wet as a noodle!”
With our visits to Yomiuriland in mind, the DRdb team could not agree more with the opinion of Benjamin. The rare integration of all different attraction elements from media to interactivity, storytelling to dynamic ride system ensure the Splash U.F.O.is as thrilling and jeopardising as it is creative and inspirational. The ride remains one of the finest examples of this combination anywhere in the world and is definitely one worth checking out.
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Site visit by Steven
Article by Steven and Luc
Pictures by Alterface (when indicated) and by Steven