Nerf or Nothin'

The art of waging foam war.
By Bro
September 08, 2015
Hello again, everyone. After six articles of Super Nintendo memories, I wanted to take a break from video games and write about something else. When I look back at the toys of my youth, my first thought is towards the G.I. Joes and their various vehicles that I owned. But when I think about it some more, I see the Nerf gun. I don't know what it is about young boys that makes us this way, but if something can launched, jettisoned, catapulted, or made to be shot out of something in any form, then it's pretty much guaranteed to make us happy. Therefore, the Nerf gun was a very beautiful thing indeed. It was also every parents worst nightmare as their child and his/her friends unleashed foam fury throughout the house, vaulting over furniture that was never meant to be used as cover and "accidentally" knocking over lamps and other assorted glassware. This, of course, just made it all the more fun for us. I had a friend named Jonathan and together we had mutual friends in two brothers named John and Chris. It is with these three people that the majority of my Nerf battles took place. In fact, going to John and Chris's house without some type of foam weaponry was akin to bad social etiquette: it simply wasn't done. It was a lot of fun, and coupled with my own individual target practice, Nerf is one of my favorite childhood memories. I'm not going to present you with a complete list of every Nerf gun that was released at the time, but I did want to reflect on what I had, what my friends had, and the ones that I wanted. And yes, I do realize Nerf guns are still around today but I'll comment on that at the end. For now, let's enter the world of...

I don't remember the exact year, but I know that I received my first Nerf gun as a Christmas gift. And it wasn't even a gun, but rather the Nerf slingshot.

I had the black and red model. And it was glorious. This is what started it all for me. After getting this, I would start to look for other Nerf guns whenever we went out somewhere that had toys. One of our household Christmas decorations was a gold basket-ish thing with a big red ribbon that was hung above one of the doorframes. After everything was cleaned up, my dad, myself, and one of my relatives took turns trying to get a ball through basket. After that, I would make targets in my room by setting up G.I. Joes on my dresser and windowsills. This would be my only Nerf Gun for a while, but I had a lot of fun with it. My only complaint is that I kept losing a ball. I would always find it again eventually, but it was always right after losing another one. Rarely did I have all three balls at once. On the occasion that I did, I really appreciated how the balls were stacked on top of each other so you didn't have to reload after every single shot.
My friend Jonathan had the Sharpshooter.

His was the blue model. For some reason, I always thought this kinda looked like Donald's plunger gun from Quackshot. I think it was because the end of the barrel was pink. I was always impressed by the range of this gun. It was one early model Nerf guns, but it never lost any of it's power during all the years that Jonathan had it. The only thing about it that I wasn't fond of was how it was loaded. With most Nerf guns, you simply stuck the dart/ball inside the barrel, pulled back the handle, and fired. The sharpshooter had a small tube inside the barrel that the dart had to be stuck on to. This may have been why it shot so far but it also made it a slight pain to reload because you had to line it up just right. Obviously this was very frustrating in the heat of battle. It never seemed to bother Jonathan though. I guess he was used to it. Anyway, we would bring our guns to each others houses and have a grand old time. One time especially stands out to me. I took a lego base from a castle set I had and set up a bunch of wild west lego figures on it as targets. I sat back on my bed and fired at one of them. I'm not sure how, but I hit it in the arm which flipped it behind itself and knocked the gun out of his hand, yet the figure remained firmly in its place. I thought that was cool.
Going to John and Chris's house introduced me to some new Nerf weaponry, including the one that started it all: The Nerf Blast-A-Ball.

Before this, Nerf had only made balls, with their assorted footballs probably being their most fondly remembered. The Blast-a-ball was pretty basic, just pull the handle back and shove it forward again. As you can tell by the packaging, it was marketed more as a game than a device used for indoor and backyard warfare. Along with that, I was also introduced the original Nerf Bow and Arrow.

I had seen commercials for this but they didn't do justice to how big it really was. This may have been simply due to my own height at the time, but it was still impressive nonetheless. It had a good range and John and Chris were pretty accurate with it. I remember getting pegged by its arrows many times during each of our many Nerf wars. They also had the Nerf fencing set.

This was something else I had seen in commercials that I had hoped to obtain myself, but never did. The goal was to knock down all the target pads on the hilt of the other fighters sword. I asked if we could try these out but I regret to say it wasn't as fun as I'd hoped. The pads kept falling down on their own accord which, as you can guess, defeated the purpose.
One afternoon, tragedy befell my Slingshot. I had just found my missing ball (again) and I sought to find find the weapon to which it belonged and have some fun. I had left it inside a big box in my room that I was pretending was a fort/vehicle at the time. I went to my room and the box was gone. I asked my mom where it went and she said that my dad had hauled it out to past our front gate for trash pickup. (We didn't have curbs on my street.) He didn't check inside it and thus my Nerf Slingshot was never seen again. I was really ticked for a while because I had a couple of other toys in the box along with it that were also thrown out. Eventually I came to terms with the fact that it was an honest mistake, but it also never got replaced either. Oh well. So for a time, I was left to commercials to see what I would hopefully gain in the future.
The first thing I remember is the Secret Shot.

It was a basic single shot blaster, but the secret in the Secret Shot was another barrel hidden in the handle. Should you appear to run out of ammo, you raise your hands in surrender and squeeze another shot at your unsuspecting victim. The gun looked cool and it was a neat idea in concept but there was one major problem; commercials and the box art gave the secret away instantaneously. This was discussed by me and Jonathan on several occasions and we both came to the conclusion that unless your opponent had lived under a rock, you wouldn't be fooling anybody. Like I said though, the gun itself looked cool and should it have found its way into my hands, I would not have complained.
Another gun that caught my attention was the Sneakshot.

The hook with this one was that you could rotate the barrel to aim around corners without exposing yourself to attack. I thought that was neat and all but more than anything I just remember thinking the overall design of this gun was really cool. I though it looked like a machine gun and I could picture myself mowing down imaginary foes when I wasn't engaging my friends in combat.
The other gun that I remember wanting was the Ballzooka.

Again, I thought if anything that this gun just looked cool but unlike the others I actually came really close to obtaining this. I had some birthday money and I asked my mom if we could go to Toy R Us specifically so I could buy it. When we got there, I found the gun and grabbed it but then I wanted to look around some more. After a while, I decided to leave the gun behind and got a Street Shark instead.

Anybody else remember these? They had their own cartoon as well, though it was very short lived. Even though I wish I would've had the Ballzooka, I got a ton of use out my Street Shark so I have no complaints. Jonathan had a Street Shark as well so even though I was still sans Nerf gun, I was able to find another new way to play with him. He had the one on rollerblades.

But I digress. Back to the subject at hand.
Eventually I did obtain another Nerf weapon. I don't recall if it was a Christmas or birthday gift, but one of those occasions left me with the Eagle Eye.

This thing was awesome. It was big, much bigger than the usual single shot blaster. It had a light in the top part of it, along with a red lens that could be slid down in front of it that acted as a laser sight. This gun quickly became my pride and joy as far as Nerf guns went. The hammers on each side made cocking the gun really easy and the distance the dart traveled was solid as well. It also had the respect of my friends. There was one time where we all slept over at Jonathans house for his birthday and obviously a Nerf war was pretty much entitled to happen. We ran around house, dodging each others shots but eventually it evolved into a game of tag. Using my gun, one person pursued the rest of us in an effort to hit someone, thus giving him the chance to run. The catch was you were only allowed to use one dart, not all three. This lead to some spectacular hits and misses. I swear I had the luck of the Master Chief that night. I'd be standing right behind somebody and the dart would go between our necks. That's how close it got. We all had a blast that night, that is until Philip interfered. Philip was a kid at the party who whined the entire two days we were all there. The rest of us tried to ignore him, and eventually even Jonathans parents got sick of him and had to pull him aside and tell him to get over himself. He would gripe whenever he got hit and complain that he was the only one any of us were shooting at. This wasn't true but try as we might to explain it to him, he refused to believe it. In the end, he just sat there and moped and ended up forcing us all to call it quits before we were ready to. Punk. We cursed his name for a long time after that. But it was good time overall.

The Eagle Eye was part of Nerf's Max Force collection. These guns bore the slogan "Nerf to the next level" and were mostly animal themed. There was pistol-ish gun that had a boar motif, one that was modeled after a yellow jacket, and a bunch more. One was called the Manta-Ray, and it was was flat. It's surface was intended to act as a shield but I never cared for the design. One gun caught Jonathans attention and he eventually bought it. It was called the Razorbeast.

I can perfectly understand the appeal of this thing. Nerf basically provided us with a belt-fed machine gun, thus turning mere youths into Robocop, John McClaine, and the Terminator all rolled into one. This gun was enough to make you want to hunt the Predator in your backyard. I acknowledge the awesomeness of this full well, be even so it was never my taste. The size of it was justified, but I preferred smaller blasters that could be quickly wielded and aimed with one hand, should the situation require it. The belt idea was also cool, but it only had 12 darts. This was a lot for a Nerf gun at the time, but it shot through them quickly and then took a while to reload. The crank was also really loud. Again, I perfectly understood why Jonathan liked it so much, it just wasn't my particular style. It's funny though. We played around with it on our own, but I don't remember him ever using it in an actual battle...
The last Nerf gun I bought was also part of the Max Force collection. It was called The Rattler.

I got this in the exact reverse scenario from the Ballzooka. I went to Toys R Us to buy a video game, Ballz I think it was, and I got this instead. I had seen commercials for it, but I don't remember thinking much of it until I saw it in the store. I didn't regret the purchase. The darts didn't fly as far as the Eagle Eye, nor was it as accurate, but that didn't matter much because I never got the chance to use it in a full-blown Nerf War. I brought it to Jonathans and we had a few duels between the two of us, but that was it. I had a lot fun shooting darts at things, but I ultimately got more use out the Rattler using it just as a toy gun. I would aim down it, and pretend it was a machine gun and the barrels were rotating as I fired. I would also pretend it was a shotgun, which complemented the pump firing mechanism perfectly. I actually held onto it up to moving out of my parents house after graduating high school. I guess I did that because I got it towards the end of sixth grade and it reminded me of that weird period between elementary and middle school where you're not quite sure how much you're supposed to have grown up. What can I say, I'm sentimental.
I also have to give a quick shout out to this thing.

I don't remember what it was called or when I got it, but I owned it. It got a ton of distance, but the rubber broke over time so I ended up just pretending the handle was a lightsaber until I eventually threw it away.
And I think that's everything. There were many other Nerf guns during that time but these are the ones I was exposed to. Nerf weapons are still around today. Along with the regular assortment, there's also a girl brand called Nerf Rebelle. My daughter has a couple of these. There's also the Zombie Strike series which I will happily admit my child self would have loved. But time have indeed changed. For me, Nerf will always be a part of a time where kids played outside just as much as they played video games, there was no food that could ever compete with pizza, and we still used words like "nards." Kids are different now. My family and I used to live in this apartment complex and whenever I took my daughter out to play in the play area, there was a group of boys that I would see walking around. They always had Nerf guns with them, but wouldn't actually use them. Instead, they just carried them around and talked about Call of Duty. I know that was just that one group of kids, but it still made me sad. Then there's the guns themselves. It seems like they had more personality to them back then. Know what I mean? Like they were almost larger than life. My daughter's got a bow and arrow from the Rebelle set and compared to the original, it seems so tiny. And there's the advertising. The Nerf commercials were cheesy and so full of the 90's "attitude" from the time, but man, did they make me want their products. Here's a few of them.

Good times, good times. Nerf was a great part of my childhood and it's impossible for me to not look back at that group of kids ducking in and out of hallways, plastic blasters in hand, and smile. Stay retro folks. Thanks for reading.
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