Hey guys, have you heard about zombies? You know, the slavering undead hordes that hunger for brains and also function as a metaphor for consumerism or whatever? Apparently they are very popular these days -- so popular, in fact, that they've become a pretty prominent element of pop culture over the past few years. Well, as far as I'm concerned, you can keep all the movies, comics, video games and concept albums about zombies, because the genre has reached its new apex, and it came in the form of a neon orange toy revolver.

Yes, the 2014 NERF guns are here, and this year, everyone's favorite toy arms manufacturer is lining the shelves with a new line of apocalyptic toys called Zombie Strike. And they are probably my new favorite thing.

I first played with these things back in October at Hasbro's New York Comic-Con event, and even though I'm about as tired of zombie stuff as anyone can be -- and even though I haven't actually bought a NERF gun in about two decades -- there's something about these things that drops me right back into the mindset of a nine year-old watching Army of Darkness. They're just immediately fun to hold, and the design and functionality they've put into this line is pretty incredible. I mean, up 'til now, my Zombie Apocalypse Survival Strategy has been the same as it is for any apocalypse that doesn't include comfortable seating, wi-fi and freely available iced coffee -- I find the nearest ocean and walk directly into it -- but assuming that the undead can be stopped with green foam darts, I'm starting to think it might actually be fun.

Judging by the amount of time I've spent goofing off with the box of samples that arrived from Hasbro last week, I'd say they're onto something here.



For the record, this is definitely up there on the list of the best review copies I've ever gotten.

The thing that really got me about the Zombie Strike line -- and the thing that I still think is hilariously weird about them -- is how closely they're designed to mimic actual guns. Don't get me wrong, I'm not quite such a hand-wringing liberal that I think NERF pistols are going to lead to the downfall of society, and I know it's not exactly a new idea either -- the last NERF gun that I had as a kid was a bolt-action pistol with a red "laser sight" that appeared when you started to pull the trigger, and I turned out relatively okay -- but it cracks me up every time I look over at the couch and see that NERF actually made a single-action revolver that cocks and rotates the barrel when you pull back the hammer. That's crazy. And for someone who's terrified of actual guns but who has a full run of Punisher Armory and Gunsmith Cats, it's also pretty awesome.

The aesthetics are what really put these over the top for me. The packaging features art by Robert Atkins, who comics readers will probably remember from his work on G.I. Joe, but the toys themselves are designed with this this chunky, wrapped-in-duct-tape look that reminds me of Fallout 3 more than anything else. Here, for example, is HammerShot, the aforementioned single-action revolver next to New Vegas's "That Gun" (which in turn was designed to look like Deckard's pistol from Blade Runner), along with Sidestrike, the one you cock by pulling the slide back, next to Fallout 3's 10mm Pistol:



It's certainly not a one-for-one comparison by any means, but aside from the color scheme, there's a similar design sense at work. And for me, being reminiscent of something from Fallout is never a bad thing.

Just look at the one that's coming out this fall:



I don't even know what that actually does. I just know I want it.

Also, incidentally, those are the actual names of the products. HammerShot, Sidestrike, Sledgefire, Slingfire. As Rob Wesley pointed out on Twitter when I first got these, they essentially have the same names as Rob Liefeld characters. Again: awesome.

It's also worth noting for the, ah, adult collector that these things are actually really big, too. Here's a photo of HammerShot with 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand for scale:



Those are not the delicate fingers of a child, my friends. Those are the meaty hands of someone who types jokes about Batman for a living.

As far as how the individual blasters, my hands down favorite is Sledgefire, a breech-loading NERF shotgun:



I've loved the design of this thing since I saw it in New York, because it is brilliant. The "shells" are loaded with three darts, and when you pull back the hammer, you can crack open the breech to load it. The action of opening it not only cocks it so you can fire as soon as you snap it shut (which, I'm going to confess, I almost always do by swinging it up with one hand in an attempt to be as cool as Val Kilmer in Tombstone), but it also ejects the spent shell. It only pops up a little, leaving you to pull it out and flip it over your shoulder while reloading giving your empty living room your best impression of Charles Bronson, but it's still pretty rad.

The only real problem is that it only comes with three shells, just enough to be stored in the stock if the blaster itself is empty, and while you can buy darts by themselves -- the first thing I did after I opened up the package from Hasbro was order a dart refill -- but the shells only come with Sledgefire itself. This is a problem because I want a ton of these things. I want to wear an actual bandolier of NERF shotgun shells. This is my new life goal. Don't try to stop me from following my dreams.

Aside from Sledgefire and Hammershot, I was really impressed by Crossfire, the crossbow:



Crossfire's been around for a while -- the Zombie Strike version is just a repaint of an earlier blaster -- but since it's new to me and has that weird design on the grip that falls right in line with the Fallout styles of the rest of the set, I'm counting it. The "bow" part of Crossfire is completely decorative, which I think is the standard on every NERF bow that has ever existed, but if nothing else, it's a cool look.

The really awesome thing comes from the way it works. The barrel holds four darts, and when you fire, it moves from top to bottom. It's really easy to fire quickly, but the neat thing is that it always fires whichever barrels are loaded. I assumed it just cycled through from top to bottom, and that if you emptied it and put a dart in the bottom chamber, you'd have to shoot a bunch of nothin' for three shots until it got back around to the bottom. Instead, you can load it however you want, and it'll always start with the topmost loaded chamber and move down, even if it's the last one.

I don't know how it does it. I expect it was probably magic.

Of the blasters I was sent, there was only one that I actually didn't like: Fusefire, which shoots glow-in-the-dark discs instead of darts:



This one's another repaint from another line, and in theory, I should like this thing a lot. It lights up with a couple of batteries, glow-in-the-dark discs are pretty awesome (and easy to find when they go under the couch), and it's heavy enough that I think you could actually bludgeon a real zombie with it if such a situation ever arose. Also, if I was still keeping a marble composition book with what different NERF guns represented in my front-yard games (I was a very data-oriented child), this thing would definitely represent Fallout's laser pistol. Thing is, it actually jams a lot. The first time I tried to fire it, I ended up having to pry a disc out with a letter opener, and while I think I've got the hang of it now, it seems to require a lot more maintenance than its dart-shooting counterparts. There's even a part on the action that you're supposed to push to clear out jams, so apparently this happens a lot.

The package that I got had most of the blasters -- certainly all of the big ones -- but there are two toys in the line that I didn't get that I was really hoping for: the melee weapons. One was the 30" long "Strike Blade" sword (another Liefeld-worthy name), another repaint from the N-Strike line.

The other was a straight-up machete.



They didn't even try to give it a slightly unrealistic paint job. It's just a machete, made of soft foam that you can bop your friends with, and maybe your cat if you're very gentle about it. Seeing that at Target a few weeks ago was pretty much the moment I knew I had to get into these again. It's hilarious. It's amazing. And really, it's probably more cost-effective than buying katanas and claiming you're preparing for an actual undead uprising.