You’ve never shot a Nerf gun like this before. And you should.
Because Nerf’s new 112km/h Rival blasters are poised to change your backyard battles for good.
Once upon a time, Nerf guns fired all kinds of foam. Playground skirmishes were won with arrows, missiles, big darts, small darts, even golf-sized foam balls.
The problem: reloading your toy weapon wasn’t easy if your opponents didn’t use the same kind of ammo. Each player would have to spend most of the game running in the direction they’d shot, and scoop up their ammo off the ground.
The Rhino-Fire, an blaster that shoots Elite darts from two 25-round drums.
But over the years, Nerf smartly reduced the number of ammo types to just a few different kinds of projectiles — primarily the small Nerf Elite dart. Now, practically any blaster you can buy shoots Elites, and many of them can take interchangeable magazines that can fit up to 35 of ’em at a time. They have steadily been improving in range, too: with powerful springs and battery-operated flywheel motors, Nerf guns can now send Elites flying up to 90 feet — more if you’ve got a decent breeze behind you.
It’s gotten to the point where a Nerf club can pitch in money for a giant crate of Elite darts that they can all share, and nobody has to pick up ammo until the end of a major skirmish.
From left to right: Nerf Mega, Nerf Elite, BOOMco Smart Stick, Nerf Rival High Impact Round
Now, Nerf is ruining all that with tiny yellow balls.
You see, Nerf decided it wanted a foam blaster that could appeal to slightly older folks, the ones who might otherwise be playing paintball or airsoft (which is illegal in Australia). That’s what Rival is all about: Nerf guns made for sport. Nerf guns that each come in red and blue so you can always tell which team you’re playing for.
Nerf guns that shoot little yellow foam balls at up to 112km/h. Little balls which shoot better, load better, and feel more durable than any Nerf ammo that’s come before.
Seriously, these balls can get completely squished and come right back to life. And they they don’t hurt any more than modded dart guns: I shot myself point-blank in the forehead with only a light sting and no visible mark.
They can bounce off walls for angled trick shots. They still shoot slow enough that you can live out your bullet time fantasies by dodging them at a distance. Hell, you can pick them right up off the ground with the magazine itself:
It’s just a little bit harder than it looks because balls tend to roll around.
The magazines are way smaller than Elite dart mags, meaning you can carry more of them, and every one comes with a couple of clips to attach them to the rails on your blaster.
Perhaps the most amazing part: It costs less to get a good Rival blaster than a good Nerf Elite one.
The $US25 Nerf Rival Apollo XV-700 is the cheaper of Hasbro’s first two Rival blasters, but it’s absolutely the one I’d recommend. It’s dead simple, featherlight, and yet it’s built like a (polymer) tank. You just slide in the included 7-round magazine — or better yet an optional 12-round magazine for an extra $US15 — pull back and push forward on the priming handle, and pull the trigger for a shot that really, really flies.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this lightweight blaster feels more powerful than any stock Nerf gun I’ve used before. But they don’t use that power to fly further — just straighter and more on target.
The new Nerf High-Impact Rounds (the little yellow balls) actually seem to hit the ground at roughly the same distance as an Elite dart shot from a good blaster, and they’re still affected by wind, but it takes longer for them to start falling. I found myself starting to actually aim at my targets instead of always trying to land darts on them from above.
The Apollo certainly isn’t perfect, though. For one thing, there’s no good way to actually aim. After years and years of building toy blasters with built-in sights that didn’t help aiming one bit, the Nerf Apollo doesn’t actually have a sight, and you can’t realistically add one either. While it does have a rail up top where you could theoretically mount some sort of aiming device, the blaster’s charging handle totally blocks any chance of aiming down the barrel.
Reloading the Apollo is a cinch.
And speaking of that charging handle, it’s the one part of this blaster that’s not remotely ergonomic. The handle feels great, the trigger feels pretty good, but that little handle you constantly need to use to cock this blaster needs to be pulled back AND pushed forward despite having barely enough room for two fingers and half of your thumb. It can leave welts if you’re not careful.
The big, big issue, though is that the Apollo can jam if you try to cycle it too quickly. And once it jams, you’re done playing that round. We had it happen four times in one day. The ball gets so wedged that you’ll need a screwdriver or other long pokey tool to remove it.
Thankfully, there’s an easy fix. The reason it’s so hard to clear a jam is because Nerf included three tiny little plastic locks that keep you from loading more than one ball at once. But the Apollo is so easy to disassemble that it will only take 10 minutes to fix that once and for all. Here’s a step by step guide:
You only need to unscrew the screws you see me unscrewing. The whole grip and barrel assembly can stay just where they are!
Lastly, I should probably mention that the Apollo is LOUD when it fires. Probably too loud for cubicle warfare.
The $US50 Nerf Rival Zeus MXV-1200 is the bigger, badder, beefier counterpart to the $US25 Apollo… which basically means it’s a motorised semi-automatic rifle that spits out balls from an included 12-round magazine. (Again, additional mags cost $US15 a pop.)
The good parts: Just like the Apollo, it shoots remarkably straight for a foam blaster — only now you can follow up with 11 more shots without pumping a handle back and forth. Also, there are flip-up sights (not that they line up with where balls go) and a little door you can open in case of any jams. Three rails, a stock and some comfortable grips make it feel pretty tacti-cool, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can also mod it to be a fully-auto monstrosity.
The bad: It’s motorised, and requires six C batteries. Which means it’s noisy and heavy to tote around. No sneak attacks. And, it’s the rare motorised Nerf blaster that only holds 12 rounds before you need to reload. Which sucks, because reloading is a bit of a chore. You’ve gotta rip out the magazine from the rear while holding the blaster with one hand and pushing down the locking switch with the other. Here’s the best way I’ve worked out to do it so far:
Not terrible, but it could be way easier. Long story short, I’d take an Apollo over a Zeus any day of the week, until or unless I can insert a magazine with way, way more balls in it.
Also, you should probably know that you can’t use 7-round Rival mags in the Zeus. There’s no way to lock them in. They will just fall out.
Overall? I can’t say I was a better Nerf player with a Rival blaster at my side, because of the flaws I mention above. My playstyle is to fire off a dart, watch its trajectory, and correct that trajectory with a second one. I couldn’t do that with the Apollo because of how it cocks. I couldn’t do that with the Zeus, for long, because of how few shots I got before I needed to reload.
I would need to relearn how to play Nerf to make the best use of these blasters, and I’d be running around a lot more and picking up my own ammo a lot more because the Bay Area Nerf guys (who I play with) are still primarily using Nerf Elite darts.
But I think it could be worth it, because Rival — the blasters and the balls — are higher quality than I’ve ever used before. They feel like they were made for accurate, competitive nerf wars, unlike the rest of my collection. They don’t cost more. And they aren’t more powerful than dart guns to the point where they feel like an unfair advantage. They play well in mixed company.
When Nerf builds a Rival blaster that’s air-powered like the Apollo, takes larger magazines like the Zeus, and has some way to actually aim at targets, I’ll be among the first to lay my money down. And I don’t think I’ll be the only one.
Mind you, I bought an Apollo anyhow. At $US25, it’s a steal.