Nerf updates laser tag with smartphone AR

There’s nothing like a great new toy to make you mourn the ghost of bygone youth. I don’t have the opportunity to try many out at this job, but when I do, there’s an invariable pang of jealousy for kids today who have much broader access to sophisticated playthings than we did in our day.

Nerf Laser Ops Pro is a pretty solid example of this. It finds the company combining a solid bit of nostalgic IP with some modern technology, to good effect. The new toys, which hit virtual store shelves next Monday, look like a Nerf, play like a Lazer Tag and incorporate your smartphone to help take them a step beyond what either line has offered in the past.

Arguably the most compelling bit in all of this is the price point, with none of the sets running more than $50. I have a vague memory of the original Lazer Tag system being prohibitively expensive in my youth — or maybe that’s just what my parents told me because they didn’t want any fake guns lying around the house.

There was, after all, some controversy with the line from the outset. Here’s a pretty depressing story from the height of Lazer Tag’s success that no doubt caused its manufacturers to rethink the product’s presentation. In 1998, the brand was purchased by Hasbro, and in 2012, it was rolled into the Nerf line.

The foam gun brand has always offered a warmer, fuzzier take on toy weapons, and that’s very much at play here. The likelihood of ever mistaking Nerf Laser Ops Pro for a real gun is slim to none. That said, true diehards will likely miss the Knight Rider-esque black and red vibe of the original product. But if that’s enough to ruin your childhood, it was probably already on shaky ground to begin with.

The more important question is whether Laser Ops Pro is fun. I only played with it briefly today (reminder: I’m an adult with a job), but I can unequivocally state “yes” on that front. Habro’s done a good job marrying the new with the old here. The guns are big and plasticky and hearty, combining digital technology with mechanical haptic feedback.

Smartphone use is optional, which is good for the little ones. When you add that in, however, you get the benefit of things like leaderboards, states and GPS tracking (all secure and private, the company assures me). There’s also a fun little AR shooting game you can play when you’re all by your lonesome.

The blasters will be available online July 16, with retail availability next month. They’re a solid summer purchase for parents looking for ways to get their video game-obsessed offspring up off the couch while the weather’s still nice.