Nerf blasters are two things at once. First, and most obviously, they're fake firearms for flinging foam at your friends and foes. But secondly, they're also ingenious works of engineering, with clever mechanisms of springs and levers to store and launch darts, with varying capacities, accuracies, and firing rates owing to the nature of their innards and projectiles.
It's this clockwork nature that's given rise to a whole generation of tinkerers and engineers who take Nerf blasters far beyond their stock performance. But Nerf's new Laser Ops Pro blasters, the brand's first real foray into laser tag (available online as of Monday), see Nerf shooting from a different angle. Nerf guns made for laser tag are a stark and fascinating departure from classic Nerf, opening up new possibilities for cooperative play—but losing something at the same time.
Laser Tag Is Back In Style
Nerf's Laser Ops Pro blasters work basically like the laser tag guns that came before them. The blasters shoot beams of invisible infrared light. Sensors mounted on the barrel of each gun function as the targets for shooters to hit. Yes, this is vest-free laser tag.
This means Laser Ops Pro blasters are also "smart," meaning they know when they've been hit. This means you can play in two ways. For simple out-of-the-box play, just grab a few blasters and start blasting. Every time your blaster gets hit, your health goes down. Once it's depleted, you can't shoot anymore until you've had some time to "heal."
A second, more complex mode requires your phone. Using Nerf's app, you can pair your trusty blaster to a smartphone and unlock the more sophisticated side of this new laser tag frontier.
This mode tracks statistics and has leaderboards to show exactly who shot whom and how many times over the course of a match. It has power-ups that can increase the abilities of your blaster, which are earned by leveling up in multiplayer games or messing around in single player mode, where you can set up your phone as an AR sight and then blast digital drones out of the simulated sky as if you're going cyber skeet shooting.
A Little Too Perfect
Nerf is launching Laser Ops Pro with two blasters. The Alphapoint is pistol-shaped and functions as a semi-automatic weapon. The Deltaburst is rifle-shaped, with three-round burst fire and a fun little mechanism to provide some KA-CHUNK haptic feedback for every volley of invisible blasts.
Unlike the differences between any two dart-firing blasters, these differences aren't intrinsic. The Alphapoint and Deltaburst are essentially the same perfectly accurate TV remote, packed inside different shells and programmed with different artificial restrictions. And while that digital nature allows for a higher-tech version of Nerf wars than ever before, it also makes them fundamentally different from the Nerf blasters we've known and loved.
Dart-based Nerf blasters might be more or less accurate for various physics-based reasons including firing mechanisms, spring weights, or physical magazines that hold more or less ammo. Every Laser Ops Pro blaster starts out intrinsically perfect. They are all a few lines of code away from perfect accuracy, unlimited ammo, and a maximum fire rate of infinity. Any differences between them are design decisions to balance perfection down.
Brave New Niche
The traditional, mechanical nature of Nerf inspired tinkering. Enthusiasts, not as concerned with safety or lawsuits as Hasbro, modded their quirky-but-impractical blasters into better or more maniacal foam-flinging machines.
Laser Ops Pro, meanwhile, implies a fleet of functionally identical, functionally perfect laser beam blasters with some gimmicks peppered in for flavor. It takes the messy physics almost completely out of the equation, for better or for worse. It also designs away the space for creativity and modding, unless you count hacking your Nerf blaster's software. Even then, the modification is obvious: unlock the blaster's True Potential.
All of this comes with an enormous upside, of course. Nerf's Laser Ops Pro blasters should make it virtually effortless for folks to take part in the most ambitious, epic kinds of play Nerf blasters facilitate with none of the organizing headaches of finding scorekeepers or referees or arguing about whether or not that dart actually hit you, to say nothing of retrieving all the ammo afterward.
But the competitive angle Laser Ops Pro takes—plus the fact that every digital Nerf blaster is actually a perfectly accurate, full-auto sniper rifle with a bottomless clip—means there's probably no room for Nerf's zany side. I'm talking about the and and . DIY mods are similarly squeezed out by the requirement to pair with Nerf's app and the fact that near perfect performance is pretty effortlessly achievable with little to no compromise.
There have always been Nerf blasters designed for fun and Nerf blasters designed for more serious war games, and with their near effortless facilitation of the latter, these new laser guns could be great for folks who are interested in that and that alone. So long as Nerf's top down balancing can manage to keep things fair and competitive.
In the meantime, fortunately the good old foam flingers aren't going away.