Blaster Labs “2013 Product of the Year”: The Winner

A unique disc shooter takes the prize.

Although Blaster Labs has only existed as a formal entity for a few months, our crew has been collecting, comparing and battling with all manner of foam blasters, laser tag and water guns for years… decades, really. So while our standardized testing procedures and processes have only been in use for a short while, we nonetheless feel as though we have the aggregate experience necessary to be able to pass judgment on what we feel is the best product of 2013.

First, a few words of qualification. For award consideration, a product must be widely available at retail, must have received a full test by our team, and must show superiority in at least one of our key test criteria—range, accuracy, rate-of-fire, value or fun. For example, while we absolutely love Ubisoft’s Battle Tag system, and it performs beyond anything but pro-level laser tag gear, it is almost impossible to actually purchase, and is therefore inaccessible to the majority of our readership. And that makes in ineligible, despite its fantastic performance.

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Review: Nerf Vortex Revonix 360

If you’re thinking the “revo-“ part of the Revonix 360 blaster’s name is related to it’s unique, revolving drum, you’re probably right. It’s the only Vortex blaster that currently uses a drum of that type, and one of only a few, period, in the entire Nerf range (the Elite Strongarm, Spectre and Stockade being notable, dart-based exceptions). However, we think the “revo-“ aspect of the Revonix name is a bit more significant—we think it could more correctly be used as an abbreviation for “revolutionary.”

Don’t believe us? We’ll let the Revonix speak for itself. Fresh from the box, here were our typical ranges…

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Review: Nerf N-Strike Elite Stockade

The Nerf N-Strike Barricade RV-10 has been among our favorite, go-to blasters of the past few years. It came out in 2010 and was one of the original flywheel-based blasters. Featuring a thumb-mounted switch that turned-on an internally mounted, battery-powered flywheel, it allowed the user to fire semi-automatic rounds as quickly as they could pull the trigger. We liked the original so much, two of our team members used it as their primary weapon of choice. Our expectations, then, were fairly high for the Barricade’s inevitable Elite-branded upgrade: the Stockade.

Name confusion notwithstanding, the Barricade and Stockade share a number of similarities, both good and bad. For starters—and just like its Blockade forbear—the Stockade was not initially released in the United States (the Blockade was first released in Australia, then the United States). And when it did come to the states last fall, it could only be found in Wal-Mart (and later online, where we found ours). But aside from its staggered release and availability, the two blasters are also visually identical in size, shape and molds. The Elite color scheme is the only appreciable aesthetic difference. They likewise share the same manual-load 10-round barrel, the same overly-large muzzle, the same top-mounted jam door, and unfortunately, the same thumb-mounted flywheel switch. Importantly, however, the Stockade includes a detachable shoulder stock that holds a full 10 rounds—the exact number needed for a complete reload. Whether this was intentional or not, it’s brilliant, and the look of the Stockade with the new shoulder stock makes it a great-looking, compact blaster.

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Review: Nerf N-Strike Elite Mega Magnus

By most accounts, the Nerf N-Strike Elite Centurion has been somewhat of a failure in the Nerf community. While it’s “100 foot range” and ridiculous size made it a standout on store shelves, the reported performance of the blaster varied greatly. For starters, the range was inconsistent, and shots often veered in all directions. But to make matters worse, many users found the priming mechanism prone to jamming, and chewed-up darts were common. It wasn’t easy to modify, and the reverse-plunger mechanism was not in keeping with the newer, direct plunger system used in other Elite products. In short, the Centurion failed to live up to its hype, and frankly, we don’t know a single person who desired one, much less actually bought one.

The new-for-2014 Mega Magnus, then, has some “mega” baggage to overcome. But it does have one thing going for it—as soon as we saw one, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. Perhaps it’s the “big power in a little package” idea, or perhaps it’s just that it looks a lot less ridiculous than the Centurion with 85% of the (theoretical) performance. Either way, we predict the Magnus will sell a LOT better than the Centurion, simply based on size, price and perceived performance. But does it make up for the Centurion in justifying the existence of the Mega line, in general?

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Review: Nerf N-Strike Elite Strongarm

The Nerf Maverick REV-6 is one of the most popular Nerf blasters of all-time, and for good reason. The Maverick is easy to load, easy to carry, easy to modify, never jams, and looks great. It’s one of the few, original, N-Strike series blasters you can still find in stores today right alongside newer Elite series products. Clearly, sales of the Maverick have been high enough to prevent Hasbro from ceasing their manufacture, even though they would clearly like to move buyers into the Elite line (along with Elite darts). So, what’s Hasbro to do? Create an Elite version of the Maverick, of course!

Enter the N-Strike Elite Strongarm. Only about an inch longer than the Maverick, and bearing a similar barrel-heavy, steampunk-style appearance (color scheme notwithstanding), the novice could easily be forgiven for assuming the Maverick and Strongarm are basically the same blaster. However, there are a few significant differences. For starters, the Strongarm can slam fire (hold the trigger and keep priming)—in fact, it’s currently the only Elite series blaster to slam fire with a rotating barrel. In addition, the Strongarm can fire darts that are clip-system compatible, whereas the Maverick was incapable of firing slimline darts of the previous generation. And interestingly enough, the Strongarm barrel spins when the plunger returns, not when the trigger is pulled—so, unlike the Maverick, the barrel can’t be fully loaded unless it is dropped. Perhaps to make up for that, the Strongarm’s dart access is improved via a more open chamber and a lower barrel drop (a modification frequently made to the Maverick). And, of course, being part of the Elite series, the Strongarm’s stock ranges far exceed the Maverick, with measured distances of up to 49 feet with zero incline, and up to 66 feet (62 feet, average) with 30 degrees of inclination. Jamming was negligible, though accuracy was a little worse than average, with shot trajectories that varied widely from one dart to the next.

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Review: Nerf Zombie Strike Sidestrike

We’re still coming to grips with the whole “Zombie Strike” line of Nerf products that Hasbro introduced in 2013. While all of the Zombie Strike products sport the new lime green, orange, brown, and gray color palette, they differ greatly in their overall aesthetic. A few of the products in the range seem to have been designed from the start as “Humans vs. Zombies” (HVZ)-oriented designs, like the Hammershot and Sledgefire, which both have faux handle wraps and steampunk-esque hammer pulls. But other products like the Fusefire, Ricoshet, Ripshot and even the Crossfire Bow have a much more angular appearance, and even N-Strike embossing. The topic of this review, the Sidestrike, is part of this latter group, with its sleek lines and N-Strike Elite branding in the handle.

Regardless of its likely origin as an Elite-branded product that was re-colored to build-up the Zombie Strike product line after the dies were created (Hasbro reportedly denies this and claims this disparity was intentional), the Sidestrike is nonetheless an interesting little blaster. Of particular note is the included holster, so let’s start there. The all-plastic holster is compatible with both Sidestrike and the Firestrike blasters, but not much else. It’s ambidextrous for use on either left or right sides, and can hold up to 4 Slimline darts of Elite or Zombie Strike variety (2 on each side). It has a belt clip, but nothing on top to keep the blaster in place when things go sideways. Oh, and you’ll pay at least $5 more than you probably should for this unique accessory… but more on that in a moment.

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Review: Nerf Vortex Diatron

It must be hard being a product developer at Hasbro. Everyone outside the company probably thinks you sit around all day shooting darts at your co-workers, reenacting the famous “Great Office War” video. In reality, being an industrial designer, engineer, materials specialist, marketer, or anyone else involved in bringing new products to market is probably quite challenging. After all, you’ve already developed the chain-fed N-Strike Vulcan that would make Rambo proud, so where do you go from there? If you guessed something like “further, faster, more…”, you’re probably thinking along the same lines as those poor designers at Hasbro. Or, at least, that’s what we imagined when trying out the Nerf Vortex Diatron.

On its surface, the Diatron appears to be a very close cousin to the Vortex Vigilon. It has a similar, side-loading and spring-fed internal chamber (though with a 10 disc max capacity) that is operated with a thumb-switch on either side, has a futuristic sidearm look about it (borrowing from the Lazer Tag Augmented Reality series with the under-hand protection piece), has the same disc jam release, fires the same kind of XLR discs (in orange/white vs. green), and generally maintains the same run-and-gun style that the Vigilon encourages. Where the Diatron differs significantly from the Vigilon is in its “Multishot Madness” ability to fire two discs at a time—in fact, it can ONLY fire two discs at a time, which is a problem we’ll discuss in a moment.
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