Yeah, this year in review is super late. With New York Toy Fair fast approaching, it’s still good to see where we’ve been and it might shed some light on where we’re going. I’ll address the more Big Box/Major Brands in the blaster space and provide some anecdotal pontificating about the industry, how it did, and what I hope to see in New York later this week.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Nerf KILLED it this year releasing the Nerf Rival Perses. Compact, high-powered, hopper fed, rechargeable (although proprietary) battery, for stock and modified players the Perses was definitely on everyone’s radar whatever your skill set. It had the price tag to go with it, but if you could get one you were in for some super fun times. I had other favorites like the Nerf Mega Megalodon, but the Perses is what really made the Year in Nerf for me. The Nerf Titan CS-50 deserves a mention, but mostly for being released with the fabled 50 round drum.
The Nerf Knockout was another memorable release, with the low cost and impressive pop. I was a fan after I received my sample, and even stock I thought it was a neat sidearm. Other blasters were not single shot blasters, but the design and tactile loading made for a satisfying experience for me. Initially some folks thought it was too many steps or too much time between shots, but considering how many mods I’ve seen for the Nerf Knockout, it has at least found a home with someone.
Nerf Hits an Ultra Rough Spot – Limping Out of 2019
The big conflict for Nerf this year wasn’t the release of Nerf Alpha Strike though, it was the rollout of the Nerf Ultra One. Besides some off-site shenanigans, the Nerf Ultra One was the following:
- 25 Shot Turret Loading
- Only really usable with the Nerf Ultra “Aerofin” darts
- Marketed to shoot 125’ (Farthest Flying Nerf Dart Ever)
- Darts came in packs of 20 for $9.99.
Nerf released a new, pricier (and considered unnecessary by some groups) ammo type, that didn’t fire straight or hit the marketed distance. The Nerf Ultra One blaster didn’t really offer anything new in functionality (we’ve seen front loading motorized flywheel blasters before) and even though the darts cost more, no extremely noticeable range/benefit existed between them and already available ammo. As a side note, the ammo is also dark colored, so for a new expensive ammo it is also easier to lose. Arguably, the ammo is also more fragile and while Nerf streamline darts may bend, they don’t break in half. I could go on about Nerf Ultra, but that’s an entirely separate post on its own.
Sprinting for 2020
Nerf did sneak a few more releases out recently: the Nerf Rival Takedown, Nerf Rival Charger, Nerf Star Wars Mandalorian Gauntlet, Nerf Alpha Strike Flyte, and the Nerf Ultra Two. These are probably closer to being 2020 releases but some pretty favorable blasters in that mix. More on those as the year progresses.
If these blasters are any indication, Nerf is trying new things but knowing what works and going with that angle as well. Could Ultra have gone better? Absolutely. I have this theory that Nerf Ultra will be Nerf’s fill-in for areas that they can’t sell Rival easily (Australia, waiting to hear from you) but as with a lot of things in this hobby, all we have is speculation.
Besides blasters that have leaked, Nerf’s in this position where they do so many blasters and styles it’s hard to say what they will release next. Nerf Ultra is probably still big on their push for 2020 and Nerf Rival, but what will come from Elite and Zombie Strike is too big to guess. Maybe Nerf will double down on additional Fortnite “skins” to complement the Axeroni and Drift weapon recently released.
There may be additional Icon releases, and obviously Nerf Alpha Strike isn’t going anywhere. Nerf still has licensed properties such as Transformers, Star Wars, Overwatch, and Fortnite to produce. Given the emergence of the new GI Joe movie and mobile game, maybe (hopefully?) some proper G.I. Joe blasters are not too far from prototyping either.
*Nerf announced a new partnership with Microsoft and 343 Industries, makers of the Halo Infinite game. With the MA40 full size blaster, SPNKr and Needler Micro Shots, a fresh excitement was palpable. Now producing Halo blasters instead of Mattel and BOOMco, I’m curious as to where this new license leads. Even with the missteps during the year, Nerf still remains a frontrunner in blasters and brand awareness, becoming synonymous with “blaster play” and pretty much any toy dart blaster/launcher out there. The other brands are making strong cases for themselves but Nerf’s still the brand to chase.
*Edit: this was announced just before Toy Fair, when the Nerf section was already written. New Halo developments factored in. Yay, for editorial delays! There was additional info released as of 2020/02/21, but those will be covered in a future post.
XShot/Zuru came out of New York Toy Fair swinging for the fences in 2019, marketing the new Chaos line HARD. They announced their Rival-compatible line and made a pretty big buzz, in spite of the lack of new XShot dart blasters. Instead, XShot struck a deal with Ninja (the game streamer, first on Twitch now on Mixer) to rebrand existing blasters with his face and personality. The Turbo Fire was the only really new dart blaster for 2019, but the availability of the cost-effective XShot Chaos blasters definitely make up for it in price and performance. That there’s a pistol and release and both are easily affordable is a great combo from XShot.
XShot sent out gold blasters to XShot League members with their samples this year, making a striking image on social media. It looks like partially gold blasters will come out later in 2020 as well, for anyone not in the XShot League.
XShot to 2020
XShot continues to perform strongly with a predominantly lower priced product. Their build quality is still adequate or beyond sufficient for what you pay, and some of their blasters still offer additional tactile feedback in with recoil action. Nice touches that really make the line stand out. I only hope they have some new designs across the board this year for both Chaos and the dart blasters, especially since Nerf is now going into their category as Alpha Strike. To date, I still don’t know of any electronic XShot blaster but maybe this is the year they go into batteries. I was also impressed to see them tap Ninja as a license, so if they continue this trend it will be interesting to see what they do next.
Dart Zone/PrimeTime Toys
Dart Zone swung for the fences this year, most notably with the Dart Zone Pro line. After building up a lot of buzz around a hobbyist level blaster, Dart Zone released it. The reviews were mostly positive, but as I didn’t get the blaster (It was a bit out of my budget at $180) I didn’t review it and will refrain from commenting too deeply on it since I haven’t actually used it. I will say it was surprising to see a major company release a hobby grade item through their website and avoid the regulations of big box retail. To date, there looks to be a Target release of another Dart Zone Pro blaster and more info on that from New York Toy Fair.
Dart Zone didn’t just release the Dart Zone Pro, though. They reinforced their BallistixOps and Dart Zone lines, with the Apex Revolver, the Liberator, the Savage Spin and the V-Twin, to name a few. They consistently serve up high-powered impressive product at a budget friendly price and 2020 will be no different from the looks of it. The Apex was fun, but I think the Liberator might be my favorite from the line this year. Solid form, smooth loading mechanism, fun to use.
Dart Zone still doesn’t have any major licenses for blasters, but they continue to distribute well through Walmart’s “Adventure Force” line of toys. In this case, they continue to produce such quality product that they don’t even really need a licensed property and find attention by just making fun product. Can’t wait to see more from them out of Toy Fair and into 2020.
Buzz Bee Toys
Buzz Bee has not opted into making a HIR Rival equivalent ammo yet, opting to stick with dart ammo so far. Not sure what they will produce for 2020 but I definitely won’t mind more pump-action blasters.
Of their lineup this past year I think the Max Morpher was my favorite. It had the most stable stock and the wackiest transformation of the other transforming blasters. It was fun, and also upheld the tradition of low cost/comparable performance that Buzz Bee Toys has really emphasized over time. I do feel the Mutator was a slight misstep, it was too big and the mechanism was interesting but made the blaster ungainly to wield.
All the same, they continue to produce and produce interesting blasters of good quality for an affordable price. I didn’t see any new Walking Dead blasters, so no telling if the license is finally done or they are gearing up for additional designs. Stay tuned, because Buzz Bee Toys continues to chug along and if you sleep on them you might miss a great blaster.
Zing came in hot, with new BOWS. They were back, and this time with PvP action on their minds with the Hyperstrike bows. With some new design tweaks, such as replaceable bands and a collapsible frame the new bows were definitely a welcome sight. The new arrows were a touch softer than the original Zing arrows, and while not totally comfortable to get hit with the changes were noticeable.
I anticipate more bows from Zing, and their continued pursuit of team based combat games. It will be certainly interesting to also see what happens now that they’ve purchased the Marshmallow Fun Company, makers of Marshmallow Shooters. Stay tuned to this space and my social links, as I find the news, I’ll post about it! 2020 just might be one of the biggest years for blasters, let’s go to work.