2021, Blasters, Nerf, Unprecedented Times

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.

NERF

Img from https://www.volpinprops.com/

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

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. 

Squeeze Poppers are seasonal!

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.

XShot

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.

Shelby Destroyer

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.

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2017 Year in Review – Nerf, Buzz Bee, Zuru, and more – The Blasters, the Fails, the Wins, the Ugly

YEAR IN REVIEW: BLASTERS AND MOAR BLASTERS
Vas The Stampede

Blogger note: Each section will not encompass ALL releases for each brand. I am choosing highlights for each.

Nerf Nemesis. One highlight from 2017

NERF CONTINUES TO INNOVATE FOR 2017, BUT ALSO BLASTS YOUR WALLET.

2017. Probably one of the craziest years for blasters thus far. Nerf continues to hit some really high notes with their Rival line, continued world-building with Alien Menace, Doomlands, and hitting stride with continued products for Zombie Strike. However, they also continue to push the envelope when it comes to prices. While they are establishing themselves as the de facto blaster brand (so much that the brand has become eponymous with blaster battle play and games) they also establish with Nerf you get a premium product but also at a premium price.

The Nemesis, Regulator, Judge, Twinshock and even Dreadbolt were all 2017 releases and while impressive big blasters, the lowest of the bunch was $39.99 approximately. The Voidcaster, a semiauto spring pistol also released at around the $19.99 mark. The Raptorstrike looked great but it was another bolt-action rifle and while impressive aesthetically wasn’t functionality we hadn’t seen in previous blasters (bolt-action, magfed, accustrike ammo, etc.) The new blasters for the most part were cool in their own right –

Nerf Mega Twinshock
  • Nemesis – gravity fed hopper, 100 rounds before empty, usable with the Nerf Battery pack, overall just a great addition and a huge step for toy blaster play, although at $99.99
  • The Judge – a multishot functionality (3 dart bursts) but HUGE, and expensive.
  • Regulator – a blaster that introduced 3 dart bursts (a function also used in the Nerf Wii game a few years ago) but also a select-fire switch, a huge feature to go from burst, single, and full auto in a blaster. Bonus points for Modulus functionality to add more accessories. If the Nemesis hadn’t released this might have been my favorite from Nerf this year.
  • Voidcaster – Another semiauto blaster. Just a lot of fun and a function that needs to be used more often.
The jewel of the Nerf releases I think was clearly the continued monster offering from Nerf Rival. Higher fps, higher capacity, even at the prices it’s what the community was doing and Nerf made an offer for folks to step up their experience right out of the box. The Nemesis is costly, but that just makes blasters like the Hera, Kronos, even Khaos (with mags now sold separately) a bit more accessible and reasonable by comparison. And the Hera and Kronos were sleeper releases that weren’t a Toy Fair but were a huge hit when they came out, adding functionality to the Rival line of a semiauto flywheel Rival blaster and a 5 shot pistol with an internal magazine.
Not to even begin on the licensing for Deadpool, and Star Wars blasters that are perform pretty well (though I’ll say I wasn’t excited to see the Boba Fett Apollo kit), Nerf continues to keep the market stocked with a good amount of product for shelves. It’ll be interesting to see where Nerf goes next (and a leaked video earlier this year hinted at Bigger than a Nemesis, maybe even a Rival rifle…. a Rivle?) and with all the sub brands they have you can only expet more Nerf on the shelves for the coming year (some of which has already leaked onto shelves early, including the Mediator and Tri-Break.) If I had to nitpick anywhere, I wish there was more range out of the Judge, and maybe something new besides another rifle for Accustrike. Impressive as the lineup was in places, there is still some room for improvement and maybe some concepts I would like to see revisited. The Signature Bow was another great item, albeit not your usual blaster fare.
Toss in the additional licensed products from Sakar and Jazwares, there will be a full array of toys, accessories, and items to choose from to add on this year. Nerf continues to pave the way for other brands. And yes, there were also a bunch of smaller releases, repaints, exclusives, but these are the highlights that stuck out most for me. Dare I say it Nerf continues to set a gold standard for blasters in mass market, and whatever innovations they make definitely find their market amongst hardcore fans and casual players alike.
Don’t sleep on the competition – “Nerf or Nothin'” =/=…. Buzz Bee, Dart Zone, Zuru….

Competition is healthy! It’s so good. And when the competition is like this, the real winners are the players.

Buzz Bee came out swinging, releasing the Thermal Hunter, Zenith, Barbarian, Tactical Storm, Dwight’s Crossbow (for “The Walking Dead”)…. all for lower prices than Nerf blasters. The highlights were not only the number of pump-action blasters they made, but some accessory innovation with the Thermal Sensor (shown below!)

Buzz Bee also made magazines that were cross-compatible with Nerf blasters, new ammo types (Precision, Long Distance, in addition to sucker darts) that were compatible with Nerf blasters, even an adapter to make the Thermal Sensor usable on Nerf Tactical rails.

The Thermal Hunter was by and large the most comfortable blaster from this line for me, and the pump-action gave it the advantage over the Tactical Storm. I also have the Monorail (thanks for the sample, Buzz Bee!) but man…. the issues about it loading are pretty apparent. It does jam on me quite a bit from just the initial testings I’ve done, and considering how excited I was at Toy Fair I was a bit frustrated with the final product. Great idea, great look, but I wish the experience with the Monorail so far hadn’t left me wanting.

All the same, heck of a year for Buzz Bee releases. They really stepped up to provide an alternative dart flinger for Nerf, and at the prices they have the offerings are pretty good! If you’re a blaster player on a budget, don’t sleep on Buzz Bee toys. You definitely get what you pay for and a lot extra, I think. They still haven’t made their comparable Nerf Rival blaster, but that brings me to…
With the Thermal Hunter
Dart Zone (Covert Ops!) I used to dub Zing Toys the Dark Horse of the blaster/launcher category.
As Zing hasn’t had a new release in some time (that I’ve heard about) besides some Costco gift packs… I pass that onto Dart Zone. It wasn’t enough that they released the Enforcer, Light Command, Dartstorm, but they made a real splash this year with…. 
Much like what happened with Buzz Bee, Dart Zone has made a comparable product to Nerf Rival, but cheaper than any other offering from Nerf. $20 for the Powerball, and it’s cross-compatible with Nerf Rival ammo and magazines. The performance is comparable, in range and accuracy. No slam-fire still from these blasters but that’s not a big deal at all considering what you are getting. On top of the ability to use Nerf mags, the BallistixOps blaster comes with a gravity fed hopper, so depending on your style of play you can use either. You have choices. And buying this blaster won’t put you out against anything else except maybe the battery operated Rival blasters. And even then, there are plans for a new blaster called “The Accelerator”.
Dart Zone again makes the case for a budget buy that offers near-premium performance. You won’t go wrong giving this brand a second look in 2018. Their dart blasters are fantastically strong out of the box as well, but the BallistixOps definitely made their mark this year.
Welcome to the…. ZU (Zuru/Xshot)

Zuru by and large may arguably have the BEST value of blasters and darts. Knowing some of their manufacturing methods, their darts come in crazy packages of refills, but there is a caveat with that. While their blasters accommodate nerf darts, the darts are a little shorter than Nerf darts. In early Zuru mags, Nerf darts were way too long and weren’t cross-compatible. The Bug Attack Crossbow fixed that, but it made the magazine and Crossbow unusable with earlier smaller Xshot magazines, a huge oversight on their part in my opinion. Zuru darts however might hiccup in a Nerf magazine but they work a large part of the time. 
This year, Zuru put out the much lauded Turbo Advance and the Regenerator…. both really decent blasters. The Turbo Advance may have the advantage in my opinion though, as the blaster only needs to be reloaded via the drum while the Regenerator has two new clip styles and you have to refill those as you go. But the blasters are pump-action which I like, and in addition to the cost Zuru continues to chug along cranking out low cost products for good ranges and decent quality. Another brand that undercuts the premium pricing you find at Nerf with good options that don’t have the spectacle and aggressiveness of Nerf, but fire almost as well as anything else. Again, another brand you won’t regret saving a few bucks on.
The E-thir (Third Party companies/products)

Nerf says to use only products with the Nerf seal of approval, and there’s a litany of legal reasons they have to say that to people. Nerf’s brand has become synonymous with toy projectile play – practically anything that shoots a foam dart, arrow, ball, etc. gets referred to as a Nerf toy. Something goes wrong, like a third party dart injures a kid (anyone who used FVJs and found those uncomfortable to get hit with for instance) or some other product breaks and damages a kid’s toy, it’s Nerf who initially may get put on the hook for it. To my experience, the third party products I’ve used (Headshot ammo, shout out to them for providing a pretty decent Rival alternative) have so far been ok, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all of them will be. With the advent of 3D printing, information exchanges on the internet, and Amazon availability, the third party products available now is at a crazy level. That being said, yes, you may find some products perform better than Nerf products and that’s great. Common sense, not all Nerf products are created equal and not everything “for use with” Nerf is Nerf made nor may it be as safe as a product made by Nerf, or any other retailer that makes their products compatible for Nerf but also make their products for mass market (that means Dart Zone, Zuru, Buzz Bee). Just use common sense, read reviews, ask for recommendations, and happy hunting.
Bring me that horizon:

They’re still out there, and I hope to follow up on them at Toy Fair 2018, but Marshmallow Shooters, Paper Shooters, and Precision RBS are still out there and making products! Alternammo from foam darts are still around, so make sure to stay tuned here to find out more as I get info from them. 
Accessories! Modular battlefields!

Earlier I touched on licensed products by Jazwares, utilizing the Nerf brand (those are ok!)
Get familiar with these brands, as they offer ways to create your own adventures and battlefields in two very different ways. Battle Bunkerz offers inflatable barrels, drums, boxes, etc. that you can set up for your own purposes, like they do on Battle Universe. They look really cool aesthetically, and I do need to get these out in the field to try out for myself (it’s winter, and going outside is tough right now in Illinois! Indoor places by me are also few and far between. :P)
Fort Boards (and their sister product, Blaster Boards) are a bit costly to make a HUGE fort, but even the starter kits available can help make some decent panel obstacles for a small battlefield. The blaster board targets make for good objective and target shooting game play, while you also have the added benefit of a construction and fort building kit to add just a little more panache to your battlefield, whether indoor or out. It’s the first year I’ve seen other companies try to market directly to blaster play communities, and it’s interesting to see how everything plays out. The fact that these products exist and have an audience in this manner show that blaster play patterns are really coming to light. Yes, couches, chairs, and tables may still rule the field, but they don’t have to be the only things at risk (and these may save a lamp or two!)
WHEW! What did I miss? 2017 was a big year for blasters and associated products, feel free to sound off and let me know what you want to see in 2018! Happy new year, everyone!

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