Hands-on: Nerf's 2014 blasters cater to a more casual crowd

Credit: Raymond Wong/DVICE

At Toy Fair earlier this year, I got a sneak peek at prototypes of Nerf's new blasters, robots, and bows. It was tough to get a sense of how they would shoot. Yesterday, I finally did get some personal time firing darts Hunger Games-style from the Thunderbow, flipping and wielding the Zombie Strike Slingfire, recording video with the Nerf Elite Cam ECS-12, pumping out massive Missile Darts on the Demolisher and checking out a more polished version of the Combat Creature Attacknid robot.

My initial impression is that Nerf's 2014 lineup is playing it really safe — and very casual. None of the blasters are what I would consider "hardcore" or "extreme" in the way the Vortex disc-based blasters (and the ones that lit up) were. They don't quite have the "wow" factor that would impress adults. They're clearly designed for a younger demographic.

I see Nerf's new lineup catering to a new generation of younglings. That's not a bad direction. It's probably a good thing that today's smartphone and tablet-glued kids go out, get some sun, and shoot non-lethal foam darts at each other anyway. Just because they're not made for grown-ups who still like acting like kids doesn't make them any less fun. A Nerf blaster is a Nerf blaster. It's always fun. It's been fun for 45 years. And it's still fun in another 45.

Zombie Strike Slingfire

Joining the company's Zombie Strike lineup is the Slingfire, strange blaster outfitted in orange, lime green and brown. The Slingfire's marquee feature is its lever-action reloading mechanism. It's a manual blaster which requires you to push its lever forward and then pull it back to reload. It's a little cumbersome to do (probably even more so for little kids), but after a few minutes I was able to get the hang of it.

One of the Nerf reps manning the station even showed me how to do a spinning flip trick, which doesn't make the six-dart clip that's included shoot any faster or straighter, but looks badass.

Nerf says the darts can fire up to 75 feet, but I've got some initial doubt seeing as the darts had a tendency to curve in directions. (Trust me, there wasn't any wind in the indoor venue.) All that levering action and you only get a six-dart clip does seem a little inadequate, though.

Price: $24.99

N-Strike Elite Mega Thunderbow

I guess people still have Hunger Games fever because Nerf isn't abandoning its bow-based shooters just yet. The Mega Bow is a rather large, well, bow that fires five Mega Darts (not at one time, although, that would have been cooler). It's another manual dart shooter, which means you've got to pull the string back and let go, just like a real bow. While the Thunderbow does have two red markers on its string to help with finger placement, I found gripping it to be unwieldy while trying to aim and shoot.

That said, just because I sucked at shooting with the Thunderbow, doesn't mean others didn't fare better. There were plenty of lads and ladies with more stable grips who were able to hit targets like a pro.

Price: $39.99

N-Strike Elite Cam ECS-12

Nerf's camera-equipped blaster is arguably one of its flagship blasters. It's the first Nerf blaster to have a 1.77-inch color LCD and a built-in camera for recording your acts of valour backyard dart wars. The specs haven't changed — still only 0.3-megapixels at 20 fps. In my time with it, the crosshairs on the screen didn't line up with the dart's line of sight, which meant it was largely inaccurate. A Nerf rep basically told me to disregard it for firing, as it's more for the recording purposes, and not meant to be a scope replacement.

Price: $74.99

N-Strike Elite 2-in-1 Demolisher

I'm a sucker for the Elite 2-in-1 Demolisher. It was my favorite blaster at Nerf's Toy Fair preview and it still is my fave now. Maybe it's the Demolisher name — it's so powerful-sounding — or maybe it's because of the orange and black design, or maybe it's that chubby Elite Dart that makes that fantastic "bwup" sound when you pump the blaster and launch it. Or, perhaps it's that the Demolisher also has a semi-auto battery-powered half that also shoots standard Elite darts.

Whatever is the case, the Demolisher is the most satisfying blaster in Nerf's entire lineup this year IMO. More detailed info on it here.

Price: $39.99

Combat Creature Attacknid

Last I saw of the Attacknid, it was still a crude prototype, designed to show off what Nerf's collaboration with Wow! Stuff was producing. What I saw yesterday was a more polished version of the Attacknid. It still didn't have its final design, but it appeared to move quicker and its missile barrel didn't lock up as it did at Nerf's Toy Fair preview.

The hexapod still fires 12 darts up to 45 feet. (I didn't get to see its true range, since again, it was still a prototype, albeit a closer-to-production one.) Back at Toy Fair, Nerf said the Attacknid would cost $79.99, but Nerf's knocking that down by $20 when it comes out this fall.

Price: $59.99

(All photos and video by Raymond Wong/DVICE)

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