Reviewed: December 6, 2009
Released: October 27, 2009
NERF products have been a staple of childhood since as long as any of us can remember. From the early days of the simple formed NERF footballs, basketballs, and soccer balls that I played with as a kid, to the fantastically detailed NERF weaponry that the kids of today enjoy – NERF’s soft formed-foam goods have been the name for safe family fun for decades.
But as video gaming becomes more and more of an overwhelming force in childhood entertainment, we have seen a number of traditional hard lines game and toy companies entering into the realm of digital entertainment. Hasbro has already made quite a scene with its Family Game Night franchise that presents gamers with perennial board game favorites – Scrabble, Sorry!, Battleship and Boggle and more – all in a neat package for either local or online play.
Now Hasbro is adding to the mix with NERF "N-Strike" Elite – a family-friendly title that combines the trappings of classic light gun games like Hogan’s Alley, Duck Hunt, and Houses of the Dead with the on-rails twitch-based shooter mechanics of Panzer Dragoon Orta and Rez.
I do realize that these are some fairly lofty associations for a simple NERF-based kid-friendly game like N-Strike Elite – and honestly, the game has a lot of work ahead of it to reach the heights of any or all of those titles. Still, Elite is a very solid offering that has provided countless hours of enjoyment in our house for young and old alike.
At the time of writing this, I have three children aged 8 (girl), 7 (boy) and 5 (boy). My wife and I are quite careful about their exposure to violence, but we have never had much of an issue with NERF gunplay in the house as long as the play was kept clean, fun and safe – no sneak attacks, no shooting in the face, and no ganging-up on each other. And for the most part, they abide by the rules.
Still was a little nervous about with presenting NERF N-Strike Elite to the children because I was not entirely sure how the gameplay was going to pan out – how an object made for shooting would be integrated into a children’s game without promoting some form of violent behavior. I can safely say that the folks at EA Salt Lake have done a pretty darn good job of packaging the surprisingly intense action in an object-based shooter that follows the actions of Shane, Raven, Tango and Komodo, four kid super-spies who find themselves searching for the evil robotic leader B.O.B. who is buried deep inside a secret bunker located far out in the desert.
Rather than shooting humanoid character, NERF N-Strike Elite sticks to robotic enemies that typically attack in patterned formations from all directions as the kids pass through each level riding on monorail carts through the desert landscapes, or delving into the underground bunker.
The gamer is given the option of selecting the NERF weapon that he or she would like to use in each level – which is actually somewhat of a tricky decision as gamers have to balance magazine sizes, reload times, firing rates, and accuracy for any given situation. Much like a full-fledge adult shooter, there are NERF blasters for every circumstance – rapid-fire assault weapons, precision aiming sniper rifles, semi-automatic pistols and even a few surprises.
The game comes packages with a NERF branded blaster that shoots standard sized Nerf darts (3 whistler darts are included). But the real hook of the NERF blaster is the ability to slide out the dart attachment, and replace it with a Wii remote (no grips or Motion Plus allowed, sorry), effectively forming a serviceable Wii Zapper. The game still requires some oddball two-handed A-button presses here and there, but simply pointing at the screen and pulling the trigger perform most actions.
The blaster also includes an attachment for a flip-up transparent red visor that provides the game’s Red Reveal feature. With Red Reveal, certain key objects on the screen are coded in a particular shade that appears to be highlighted when viewed through the red visor. These highlighted objects more often than not some form of switch to open the next level, but the kids really enjoyed the rewarding feeling they got when they successfully spotted the next switch.
Visually, the game is a bit drab and empty feeling; the color palette is weak, the textures are unimpressive, the character models are heavily recycled, and the backgrounds offer very little to look at. But the onscreen action is so intense that most gamer will hardly notice the lack of quality – and to be honest, it is probably all for the better as the visuals can be a bit overwhelming as it is. This is especially true in multiplayer with multiple reticules wildly flashing around the screen.
As for the audio, we were pleasantly surprised to find NERF N-Strike Elite features character voice acting for all of the game’s multiple cutscenes. Otherwise, the sound quality is fairly ho-hum, but still gets the job done.
Like most light gun titles, the story mode is relatively short – but this is a blessing in disguise as light shooters tend to become repetitive and stale rather quickly. NERF N-Strike Elite does feature an additional shooting gallery challenge mode that helps break up the monotony a bit, but even that is best served in small portions. Still, where I eventually started to nod off, my 7yr old son and his buddy trudged along in the story mode for well over two hours and had an absolute blast (pun intended).
Speaking of multiplayer, NERF N-Strike Elite features multiplayer co-op on the shared screen for up to two player. Obviously, as only one NERF blaster is included in the game, the second player will either have to freehand the Wii remote or use some other blaster option like a first-party Wii Zapper.
To be honest, I really didn’t have much faith in NERF N-Strike Elite. But now that I have played the game I must admit that the game certainly exceeded my expectations. Sure, it may not be on par with the classic light gun shooters mentioned earlier, but NERF N-Strike Elite definitely provides an experience the whole family can enjoy.