Nerf or Nothing..?
Nerf has come a long way. Since 1969 when the very first piece of Non-Expanding-Recreational-Foam hit the market, to 1989 when the first Nerf blaster was developed, to 2009 when the N-Force line of Nerf weaponry was created, to today where Nerf has a nearly complete and total dominance of the foam dart blaster industry. Today, for all intents and purposes, it truly is Nerf or Nothing.
Nerf or Nothing: The Early Days.
“Throw it indoors. You can’t damage lamps or break windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people.”
The original foam ball made of that “Nerf” material was originally supposed to be part of a game of volleyball. Reyn Guyer, the inventor of party game Twister, took his ideas (and his balls) around town to see if he could find a company to sign on and begin to manufacture and sell his foam ball party games. The most popular of those games would be an idea for an indoor friendly type of volleyball. Guyer took his ideas to Milton Bradley, who he had success with Twister, but they shot down his ideas. Next, he went to Parker Brothers. Parker Bros. didn’t think the games were worth anything, but they saw something in the foam ball itself. Basically, they told Guyer it was Nerf or nothing. They took his foam ball and dubbed it the Nerf Ball. It took to the shelves and had the hilarious advertising on the box: “Throw it indoors. You can’t damage lamps or break windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people.” The Nerf Ball went on to sell millions. It did so well that they started using the Nerf foam to product a whole slew of new products, most notably the Nerf football, and the Nerf Blast-A-Ball.
“Nerf or Nothing? We’ll take EVERYTHING!”
In 1991, Hasbro came up like a Hungry Hungry Hippo and swallowed Tonka whole. The problem was, Tonka itself had recently acquired Parker Brothers a few years earlier. Hence, Hasbro was the new owner of the Nerf foam and all related products. You know how sometimes when a company is bought it is just hacked up and destroyed? Or buried somewhere never to see the light of day again? That wasn’t the case here. Under Hasbro, Nerf flourished like never before. The same year Hasbro acquired them, they released the Nerf Bow and Arrow. It became an instant classic, and best-seller, and its release cemented Nerf as the true “armorer of kids everywhere.” Nerf would continue to build upon that magical foam ball, releasing upgraded ball blasters, foam missile launchers, Nerf footballs and other quirky products. All of this would lead inevitably up to the release of their first foam dart blaster, the Nerf Sharp Shooter.
“It’s Nerf or Nothing!”
The Nerf Sharp Shooter was released in 1992, the year after the Nerf Bow and Arrow blaster. The Sharp Shooter was the first foam dart Nerf blaster ever made. It was a spring powered dart blaster that used a special type of the original Mega Nerf darts, with tail fins. It debuted many unique features that would not be forgotten for future blaster designs. It had molding up top that looked like a cocking slide. On top of the blaster there is also integrated dart storage, which could hold 2 extra foam darts. Load the blaster by front-loading a dart into the end of the barrel. To fire the blaster, you would pull back the plunger rod handle to prime the blaster, then pull the trigger. The Nerf Sharp Shooter was the very first foam dart blaster, but you can still see its influence on current blasters on the market to this day. The popular slogan “It’s Nerf or Nothing” was at the height of its popularity during this time.
Nerf N-Strike Blasters.
“…I fell in love with Nerf, for the second time.”
In 2003, the Nerf N-Strike line of blasters were born. With those blasters came the proliferation of the “tacticool,” Silver Age of Nerf. There were tactical rail mounts, barrel extensions, detachable shoulder stocks, flip-up sights, scopes, shields and more. Nerf accessories and Nerf gun attachments were at their peak level of popularity. It wasn’t Nerf or Nothing, it was Nerf and Everything back then. N-Strike blasters also started to resemble actual firearms, both in form and function. Also, of particular note was the birth of the modern Clip System blasters. The first of which was the legendary Nerf N-Strike Longshot CS-6. The N-Strike era was also the time when one of the most popular and best selling Nerf blasters of all time was created. In case you were wondering, I’m referring to the Nerf N-Strike Maverick REV-6. It was during this time that I fell in love with Nerf for the second time.
Nerf N-Strike ELITE.
“Once, Twice, Three Times a Nerfer…”
Okay, so here we go. The Nerf N-Strike series of blasters were so popular and overwhelmingly successful that, instead of creating a new line of products, Nerf just sort of continued the line. In 2012, they came out with a natural evolution of the series known as N-Strike Elite. The Elite line of blasters set out to be better, stronger, faster than their predecessors from the start. They succeeded. But a lot of them were new and yet old at the same time. A big thing in the N-Strike Elite series of blasters were redesigns, re-shells, and repaints of popular blasters from the N-Strike lineup. The Recon became the Retaliator, the Raider become the Rampage, the Barricade became the Stockade, and the Maverick became the Strongarm. And so on and so forth. Some people complained about the recycling of blasters, but how could they? These “new” blasters looked better and performed better. They had superior paint jobs, and were able to fire up to 75 feet away. I for one was very happy to have older blasters brought up to speed like that. Just like in 2005 when Ford realized that they could release a retro Mustang, with looks reminiscent of the older models but with todays new features. Some of my favorite blasters were released under this series of blasters, including the Stryfe and the Rapidstrike.
Is The Future Full of Nerf or Nothing?
Zombie Strike, Rebelle, Mega, and Modulus.
Nerf is at the top of their game right now. They are at such an advantage that their closest competitor is themselves. Yes, they are literally competing with themselves. Nerf or nothing. They have the N-Strike Elite line going strong. They even released upgraded models of some of the Elite blasters, called Elite XD. They have a Zombie themed line of “ZED Squad” blasters called Zombie Strike. They even released a line of blasters, Nerf Rebelle, which targets the female demographic. They have introduced a bigger-is-better line of powerful, long range blasters called Nerf MEGA. They have a whole other category of Nerf blasters called Vortex, which fire small discs. And they still make Nerf Super Soaker water blasters. They’re the pinnacle, that means they reign supreme. They are basically Nintendo in the late 80’s to early 90’s. Complete and utter market dominance. They have become a household name. Like Samsung with their Galaxy line of Android devices, the Nerf name is synonymous with all blasters. No matter what kind of foam dart blaster you might be holding, the average person will refer to it as a “Nerf gun.”
However, as you know, once you reach the top there’s nowhere left to go but down. Everything that goes up must come down again. When Nintendo was on top, they grew stagnant. Stubborn and arrogant, they didn’t listen to the people. The whole game changed around them and they were left down and out, nearly defeated. Similarly with Nerf, they have problems right now that they haven’t been on top of themselves. The Elite line has been repeatedly criticized for being mere repaints of classic N-Strike blasters. The Zombie Strike line has no good primary blaster, period. Those blasters were created to monetize HvZ and cash in on the popularity of The Walking Dead. The overtly gendered Rebelle line was made up of re-shells and Hunger Games inspired Nerf bows. The first couple of Mega blasters left much to be desired, to say the least. The first Mega blaster, the Centurion, mangled and devoured whole clips of darts. Nerf was not making any accessories. There were no Nerf gun attachments available, either. That was what I loved about Nerf, too. The modular, interchangeable, tacticool nature of the Nerf guns was what made them cooler than everyone else. All of this was lacking, though. If it was Nerf or nothing, it was clearly leaning towards the nothing. But wait… What’s this..?
Just when you thought Nerf was headed on a downward spiral, ultimately leading to their own demise, guess what? The Nerf Mega RotoFury, that’s what. The Zombie Strike Doominator. The freaking Nerf Modulus! The Modulus and the Modulus Upgrade Kits. They are improving and beginning to innovate more. They are giving the fans what they want. Times they are a changin. This is why you can’t keep a good Nerf down. This is why they stay ahead of the competition. This is why they stay at the top. This is why it’s Nerf or Nothing!