When you hear the name Nerf, there's only a couple of things that come to mind. Most of the time, it means foam projectiles and lots of giggling from everyone involved. Sometimes it also means swords and axes and shields clashing in various forms of themed combat. Last week, a different experience with the Nerf branding on it crossed my desk. Laser Tag, in packages that look and feel just like many of the classic Nerf blaster I've used all my life. And perhaps coolest of all, an Augmented Reality add-on which lets you use your phone for both solo and multiplayer gameplay.
It couldn't be more clear these were not average Nerf toys, which is exciting. Here's a quick look at the new Alphapoint ad Deltaburst blasters from Nerf.
Bottom line: It's Nerf, but laser tag. And Augmented Reality. There's a lot to like here.
- Look and feel just like Nerf blasters
- Multiple blaster options at decent prices
- Laser Tag system works great
- One app can run multiple blasters
- Deltaburst blaster is LOUD
- AR is kind of basic
- Gummy phone strap gets gross FAST
Nerf Laser Ops Pro: What I like
Out of the box, Nerf offers you either a 2-pack of single-hand blasters or a single larger two-handed blaster, dubbed Alphapoint and Deltaburst respectively. These are simple Laser Tag blasters, with emitters in the barrel and receivers on the top. There's no chest piece to be worn; everything is contained within the blaster itself. With the Alphapoint blasters, as soon as you drop four AA batteries in you're ready to start playing. Powering the blasters up lets you choose between the red team or the blue team, and once sides have been chosen you play until someone loses. Simple, straightforward gameplay enhanced by a light up display on the back of the blaster. You have a simple health and ammo indicator. When you're running low on ammo, there's a button under the trigger you can press with your hand or slam dramatically against another surface and suddenly you have more energy to blast at your opponent.
Nerf has done a great job making sure the Laser Ops Pro blasters work basically everywhere.
Deltaburst is a little more advanced. It has an LCD screen on the back to give you specific numeric ammo count, as well as more detailed information for your remaining health. It's also not a single shot like the Alphapoint's, but instead defaults to a three-round burst every time you pull the trigger. To help simulate this semi-automatic fire, there's a bolt in the back of the blaster that slams back and forth three times with lots of noise and vibration. The reload button for this blaster is located closer to the front but also positioned for dramatic-looking reload sequences when necessary. While this is a larger blaster, it works just as well as the Alphapoint blasters indoor and outdoor. Which is to say, they all work surprisingly well in both environments.
While it's easy to jump into a game and just play, the Laser Ops Pro blasters are also designed to pair with a phone app to deliver more elaborate experiences. Through the app, players can gain experience and level up just like a console game. Experience earns you upgrades like more ammo per reload or more health as you continue to play, giving your blaster a competitive advantage as long as your phone is attached. Each kit comes with an armband to mount the phone to your forearm, so you can glance down as you play with friends, but the Deltaburst kit also comes with a mount on the barrel of the blaster. While it's certainly possible to have the phone mounted here for multiplayer gameplay, doing so partially covers the receiver and gives you a bit of an unfair advantage. Instead, you use this mount for single-player gameplay.
The Nerf app single player mode is an Augmented Reality gallery shooter. Wave after wave of spaceships fly towards you through the display on the phone, and you take them out until you eventually fail. As you do this, you gain the same kind of experience you gain in multiplayer combat. It's a simple AR game, but as you go deeper into the waves proves to be an impressive challenge. And if you're playing with friends on a regular basis, a few rounds of this mode will earn you plenty of experience to gain a serious advantage in multiplayer combat.
Nerf Laser Ops Pro: What I don't like
Nerf has done a great job making sure the Laser Ops Pro blasters work basically everywhere, but by design, I am less likely to want to use them indoors. The Deltaburst blaster, in particular, is always loud, no matter what. The plastic bolt action is terribly loud and there's no way to turn it off. The Alphapoint blasters don't have this feature and aren't as uncomfortable to use indoors, but they also lack the detailed data readout on the back display and don't come with the single-player mount for the AR phone game.
After a few days of use, this phone mount thing looks like those gumball machine sticky hands every parent on the planet secretly hates.
The AR game itself is also very basic. It's clear none of the more advanced AR tools are being used for depth management or occlusion detection, so if you're in a smaller room the illusion is broken with relative ease. On the one hand, adding these tools would have increased the complexity of the app and made it more difficult for younger users to just pick up and use. On the other hand, added realism keeps people playing for longer. It would be cool to see Nerf continue to evolve this feature.
I'm also not thrilled about the mechanism used to strap the phone down to the wrist or the blaster. It's a sticky, rubbery material that picks up dust and hair from everything it touches. The stretchy material is a good choice for making sure you can put any kind of phone in this set up to ensure it is held firmly in place, but there's very little you can do to keep this thing clean. After a few days of use, this phone mount thing looks like those gumball machine sticky hands every parent on the planet secretly hates.
Nerf Laser Ops Pro: Should you buy it?
Overall, I'm pretty excited to see Nerf step into the Laser Tag world with a simple set of blasters that anyone can use and enjoy. And the blasters are priced great. The $45 Alphapoint kit lets you get started for just over $20 per blaster, and the $50 Deltaburst blaster gives people who want a larger experience something to be excited about. But most important of all, these blasters grow and change as you continue playing thanks to the app. I'm able to play two-on-one matches with my kids with the simple set up, and because they have taken the time to upgrade through the app, I'm at a huge disadvantage even though I technically have superior firepower. The dynamic is constantly changing, making these more than simple toys.
If you're a fan of Laser Tag at all, these are well worth taking a look at.
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