Check out one of the latest gel blasting toys I’ve checked out, the UnlocX Gel Blaster! It’s live on IndieGoGo right now and you have a chance to still get in! Starting at $89, you get a rechargeable, 11 rounds/second unit that can fire up to 200 FPS! (Info taken from their campaign).
What a year. The world is a crazy place right now, but the blasters keep coming. Let’s take a look at some of what 2021 brought out from Nerf, Dart Zone, XShot, Buzz Bee, and the rest.
Other folks can say what they want, Nerf is steering the ship of blasters still. Nerf still has HUGE distribution across the world, and a wide variety of licenses and lines to bolster their lineup. They have to make sure their toys fit safety standards across different countries, even leading to instances where they “nerf” themselves in one country but the US gets something else. Most famously probably, this happens to blasters in Australia. Rival isn’t sold there (as far as I know) because of strict laws on toy blasters.
Even with the restrictions though, Nerf counteracts the lack of brute power in their products by leveraging aesthetics. Driven by the model of turning Nerf into an entertainment/lifestyle brand, Nerf grabbing up pop culture licenses is something I noticed even myself this year. Nerf recently announced collaborations/blaster lines for Halo, Dungeons & Dragons, Roblox, and Minecraft to add onto their past work with Fortnite and Overwatch (though I believe Overwatch is no longer with Hasbro as of now). The Nerf LMTD line announced the Aliens Pulse Rifle will be out in 2022, as well as a Gjallarhorn from Destiny 2.
Hasbro (Nerf’s parent company) carries GI Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars, which had or have Nerf-style blasters. Star Wars is pretty much always a guarantee, but the other two are always a possibility.
And while Nerf’s licensed property game is strong, they also have lots of Nerf standalone lines going as well. Nerf Hyper and Nerf Mega XL just came out, the Nerf Ultra line had new blasters, Nerf released frickin’ DINOSAURS, Nerf Rival Curve was earlier this year, and Nerf Mega, Nerf Elite 2.0 are still filling shelves. And while not every line has hit high notes with everyone, during Christmas not much was left in the Nerf section no matter what line it was from.
Nerf announced new licenses, introduced new ammo types and continues to cater to ages 8-999. As another year closes out the only thing I am sure of is the drawing board a Nerf is still full of ideas. To bring in new fans and catch some of the older ones.
Dart Zone/Prime Time Toys
HOLY COW what a year for Dart Zone. While Nerf excels at volume and licensed products, while also delivering decent performance but sometimes at a premium price. Dart Zone, I’d say carved a niche for themselves nicely with their Pro line, but they also deliver on price and out-of-the-box performance.
The Pro blasters offer 150 FPS out of the box (my MK II hits lower, but that might be because of some manufacturing error. Everyone I fire my MK II on is surprised how low it hits). They sell this at anywhere from $50 to $160+, depending on the model you buy. THIS IS HUGE. For years people would build their own hard firing foam blasters at home, and while that is still an option, the Pro line makes higher FPS blasting accessible for a lot more people. The Nexus Pro got a couple of new skins, the Conquest is a different offering, and the Max Stryker is the Target exclusive. All powerful blasters, and good options.
Dart Zone expanded to be the only big-box manufacturer using half darts as ammo, too. While Nerf made different ammo types for new segments, Dart Zone explored ammo that was already in use in the fan community. I’d say it paid off, solidifying their position in a niche market within an already tough space that Nerf has a lot of market share in.
Dart Zone didn’t ignore regular blasters, though. They brought out the Monolith, the Tomahawk 60, the Matrixfire, and a remake on their super-popular Magnum Superdrum among some of the more notable non-Pro releases they had this year. And their prices remained under $50 mostly, except for Pro blasters. Dart Zone made a very good show this year giving out value and blasting power with their releases. If you needed a lot of compatible ammo too, Dart Zone’s darts and ball ammo were reliable and easy on the pocketbook in comparison to other popular brands.
Buzz Bee – 2021 and Beyond
Buzz Bee is another budget-friendly brand, and their main notable release for me was the Triggerfire. In the same class of blasters as the Snapfire, Voidcaster, DartFire, and Nailbiter, the two-stage trigger on the blaster provides a true semiauto experience. One trigger pull, one shot. It was good power, and if you fire it right the blaster can fire reliably whether you’re on the move or holding position. A favorite for me. The Tetra Shot was honestly kinda weird, and I hoped it had a multishot function, not just a single shot out of a weird chain. There was some drama with their Thundershot, but mistakes happen, and honestly, the blaster had bigger issues than its internals.
All that being said though, Buzz Bee still provided flashes of brilliance in 2021, and I always look forward to what they have next. They still only seem to do dart firing blasters, staying in their lane, and providing a decent product at another great price. The Triggerfire is on my list of blasters you can get the most value from out of 2021, for sure.
Zing continues to be solid for 2021. The main release blaster-wise (cause they make other products) was the Wrist Bow, and I think COVID times interfered with some of the other releases they had planned. BUT, they make some of the best bows in their Hyperstrike line, and while they’re not “real” bows, the Hyperstrike bows are plenty of fun all the same. One of their new bow entries I did see, the Wrist Bow is a lot of fun and a bow of theirs I feel confident saying you can use inside.
Marshmallow Blaster is a part of Zing’s lineup now as well, and while I wait to see new blasters from them I can’t imagine a better partnership out of all the years I’ve interacted with these two companies. I see a lot of innovation and improved performance in the future!
They did make some new Go Go flying creatures (I have the Butterfly they sent me), and while not a blaster toy it’s a fun toy all the same. See more of you in 2022, Zing.
Hog Wild (Power Poppers and Squeeze Poppers)
Hog Wild celebrated their 10th year, and that’s a timeframe including Stikballs and a variety of squeeze/power poppers. The line is overshadowed a lot by bigger brands but there is a lot of people who miss out on it. Yes, the popper toys don’t have a ton of range and are all functionally the same. But Hog Wild also keeps their popper designs so incredibly fun and non-aggressive, even the most powerful popper toy looks more sci-fi than COD.
The basic poppers are elves, pugs, avocados, and so much more that they’re just outright fun to use and collect. You can test what technique fires best for you, and kids may have some challenges getting the right pressure to fire the ball, but it’s easy enough to figure out. You can figure out how hard or fast you want to shoot the popper so for me it’s one of the perfect lines to introduce to someone who doesn’t know anything about toy blasters and think Nerf is just a little too much.
Hog Wild doesn’t do triggers, magazines, tactical rails, or scopes, but you can get a rear-loading Unicorn. A dark horse in the category to me, and one that will consistently put out fun products. You may not see these at your next internet meetup nerf war, but this just might fit perfectly in your office drawer (assuming you aren’t working from home at this point).
Little Tikes Mighty Blasters
I said Hog Wild is perfect for a kid’s intro to blasters, the Mighty Blasters are maybe another step up from that. The ammo isn’t foam, but a soft pillow/cloth type and blasters don’t have triggers as far as I can tell. They favor pullback/bow and arrow style firing, and that makes the power a little more controllable than a regular blaster. These are still a relatively new line, but for kids, just past being a toddler, this is a good line for them and again for anyone who thinks the major brands are just too aggressive or realistic looking.
This list is by no means an indicator of power rankings for each company. But someone had to be at the end of the article, and it’s XShot this time.
XShot stepped up its community outreach game in 2020. They ran a few contests, started a TikTok, and sent over some amazing PR packs (at least, I received some of them. They forgot about me on a couple).
But…. that’s it. The last new XShot blaster I think I saw was the Crusher, and that received a new paint job. The other blasters like the Regenerator, the Reflex, the Micro, and others were released as a “Royale Edition” with gold trim but no other new models were released. I think the Dino Attack line was this year, but those blasters also seemed pretty familiar to previous releases. XShot stuck with what works, and they’ll keep at it like that for a little longer I guess. I think I know why their designs get used so consistently for years, but that’s another blog post.
All that being said, XShot JUST might have some of the best values out there. You can find a pack of four XShot blasters for $20 or a little more than that, and for gifts and parties that kinda pricing is amazing. It’ll be interesting to see what new paint jobs/products XShot will have coming out.
GEL BLASTING TOYS
A segment that seems to have taken off in the last couple of years is gel blasters. They’re all newish as brands but the technology has been around for a while. A long time ago I worked on a gel shooter toy for the U.S., but it never took off, unfortunately. The blaster was primed manually, but these newer ones are all-electric. I’ve heard about the ones that hit 300 FPS+ and are comparable to airsoft, but that’s not the case with these new gel blasters.
The first brand I connected with is called Gel Blaster, but you also have brands such as Gellyball, UnlocX, Gelstrike, the list goes on. Some use a gravity-fed hopper, others use a magazine, all battery-powered, and rely on growable, disposable ammo.
The ammo is a polymer that absorbs water and grows larger, but then shrinks again when it dries out. The ammo breaks apart on impact, and the pieces then dry out and “disappear’. This makes packing A LOT easier and bringing large quantities A LOT easier. The environmental impact is worth noting though, and the internet has plenty of references for you to find more on the subject.
Overall, gel shooters/blasters are making waves, and I wonder how designs will branch out and grow in the future, and which brands will survive. I have thoughts, but that’s for another day. I will say that gel blasters have higher capacity and higher ranges than most foam blasters stock, so depending on the kind of game you’re looking for and the kind of investment you’re looking to make, this might be an interesting alternative for you from foam blasters.
There’s a new disc shooter (not Vortex) out there called the Shelby Destroyer, and it LOOKS interesting. I haven’t been able to look at the blaster itself though, so I can make a mention of it and that’s about it. However, they have been getting noticed by many outlets, so you can search Google for more info on them.
Whew! 2021 was a big, weird year for blasters, and if there’s anything you want me to go more in-depth about, let me know! This piece is meant as a big overview, going into massive detail would have easily been another thousand words.