In 2021, we were amidst the lingering shadows of the pandemic, theme park enthusiasts like us sought a haven, a place to forget the banana bread baking sessions, the panic purchases of TP, and the never-ending Joe Wicks workouts. Alton Towers like a light to end of the tunnel of escapism, came to our aid.

The challenges brought on by the remnants of the pandemic at the beginning of 2021 meant that indoor rides had to remain closed, which inadvertently led to extended wait times for the other attractions. The usual attractions like HeX, the not-yet-opened Gangsta Granny, Duel, and The Dungeons were momentarily out of service, necessitating something novel to balance the longer queues.

Enter the Retro Squad: a brilliant merger of nostalgic appeal and the art of storytelling. This wasn't just about introducing temporary rides; it was a strategy to evoke memories of the funfair attractions of old. At a time when high-tech, intricate rides were all the rage, Alton Towers beckoned visitors to relive simpler, golden days of coconut shy's & goldfish in plastic bags.

Anchored by an 80s theme, the marketing campaign drew inspiration from iconic elements of the era like Transformers – not the Michael Bay versions but the authentic proper Boombox, Rubix Cube, Leg Warming 1980s Transformers. Although the park couldn’t use actual Transformers due to copyright constraints, their influence was palpable, plus the idea of Optimus Prime just chilling in Forbidden Valley just doesn't sit right with me.

But did they stick out? Did they ruin the immersion of the Alton Towers escapism? Did they overstay their welcome? let's take a look together friends of the Life and Death Of The Retro Squad & The Rise Of The Towers Flat Rides.

Alton Towers' website provided a backstory to the Retro Squad:
"41 years ago a message asking for help to bring more funktastic thrills for the nation to enjoy was sent out into the galaxy and the cry for help was answered by The Retro Squad, 3 wickedly awesome, fairground-inspired and totally 80' rides: Mixtape – Roller Disco and Funk’n’Fly! Together they set course for ATR but never arrived and the memory of them got lost in time.... Until now cause these totally rad rides have officially landed!
Don’t miss your chance to spin back to the 80s and join in the retrotastic vibes as 3 new totally awesome and wickedly fairground-inspired pop-up rides take on the Alton Towers Resort to bring major funktastic thrills!
Cowabunga – You’re officially part of the Retro Squad!"

The promotional content whisked audiences away to a fantastical rendition of Alton Towers in the 1980s. The subtle sounds of synth reminiscent of Europe's "The Final Countdown" stirred a wave of nostalgia. Presented through animated visuals of the park from that era, it was a delightful flashback for someone like me, born in 1988. I missed the era of iconic attractions like Corkscrew, Around The World In 80 Days, and Doom And Sons. Witnessing the park before its transformation into a rollercoaster garden, even if just in animated form, was truly special.

We glimpse a man at an 80s-era computer, likely an Amstrad (kudos, Alan Sugar), typing out a plea: "Urgent: Exciting Rides Needed At Alton Towers." Given the era, sending binary code to space seems a stretch, but in the Alton Towers Universe (let's shorthand that to ATU - move over MCU), anything's possible. I'll chalk it up to the marketing team's creative freedom.

The signal is intercepted by the fictional "Retrograde" planet, reminiscent of a mirrored disco ball if it was made from Rollercoaster Tycoon. Regrettably, the message took 41 years to transmit, and much has changed at Towers in that span. On screen, we observe robots at a control hub dispatching three counterparts—akin to off-brand Transformers—to Alton Towers. The trio comprises Funk N Fly, a PWS Super Trooper; Mix Tape, a Sartori Roto Techno (Jumper Jumper); and Roller Disco, a Fairtrade Waltzer (Thunderdome).

Witnessing these ATU transformers emerge in X-Sector, Dark Forest, and Forbidden Valley genuinely delighted me. I can't help it; I have a soft spot for the glossy allure of the 80s, and this resonated deeply. Come 2022, the Retro Squad story continued. With Mix Tape's "mission complete," Spinjam - Tivoli Remix II (Air Raid) was introduced, presumably because the rest of the Retro Squad was tired of picking up the slack.

In 2023, the Retro Squad saga evolved, introducing a fresh storyline that broke away from the repetitive "swap one ride for another" motif. This chapter featured an unnamed antagonist, distinctive for his smiling spaceship with himself adorned with spider webs—evidently, a nod to his malevolence (he's the baddy innit?). Oddly, he had an Australian accent. Whether this creative decision stemmed from Francis Jackson or Bianca Sammut remains a matter of conjecture.

This mysterious foe targeted Roller Disco, uttering the memorable line, "Rollar Discuo? Ur Myyyyyyyne." Why he coveted Roller Disco, a rather underwhelming waltzer, is anyone's guess. In response, Retrograde HQ deployed another amusement transformer, Twistatron. As Twistatron made his appearance, he greeted viewers with a cheerful "G'day"—clearly, another Aussie. Yet, for some unexplained reason, our nameless villain decided to turn him evil with a zap, resulting in a rather striking transformation to a fabulous shade of orange. Twistatron Slay.

As the 2023 season has concluded, a new video surfaced showing Planet Retrograde recalling the entire Retro Squad. Their reasons remain a mystery – perhaps they were simply homesick and yearning to bake some banana bread?

My main challenge was that, due to my size, I could only fit on the Roller Disco ride from the entire Retro Squad lineup, preventing me from experiencing 80% of the attractions firsthand. It might seem questionable for me to pen this article without that full experience. However, feedback from fellow enthusiasts conveyed a general sentiment that, apart from Spin Jam, the rides lacked comfort.

While the Retro Squad served a logistical purpose in managing queues, it somewhat marred the area's immersive experience. Their idea of immersive music was 80s power ballads & Dad rock. Initially, it was amusing to hear "Sweet Child Of Mine" in the X-Sector, but that charm quickly faded. The rides, with their loudness and flashy lighting, were far from subtle. Strolling through Forbidden Valley and spotting Funk N' Fly where Ripsaw once stood was jarring. It's no surprise that Nemesis took a hiatus in 2023; she probably grew tired of the incessant Bon Jovi tracks.

In a recent Q&A with Bianca Sammut during the Attraction Source event, we learned that Retro Squad would be phased out in favour of new, thematically consistent flat rides. This was music to the ears of enthusiasts like us. While the general public might just see them as rides, to us, they represent the immersive worlds within the park. X-Sector, for example, felt more like a transient funfair than a part of a themed park. I love funfairs, but they don't provide the escapism I seek in a theme park. Flat rides, while perhaps not as popular as roller coasters, enhance the overall park experience. To use an analogy: if roller coasters are the ham in a sandwich, flat rides are the butter. They might not be the main event, but they sure make everything better.

I appreciated the retro cartoon theme of Retro Squad—it certainly struck a chord with my millennial generation. I suspect future enthusiasts will ask in disbelief, "Did Alton Towers really have amusement park transformers?" With memories of Covid masks, banana bread, Joe Wicks, and toilet paper shortages, we'll fondly reply...

"Yes, indeed it did."