What’s the point of making a blaster that can be primed with one hand, only to then make it a muzzle-loader that requires a second hand to feed it? That’s the first thing we wondered about the BOOMco Whipblast, which is otherwise one of the more interesting pieces to come from Mattel’s new blaster brand. And if that glaring usability flaw is enough to turn you off from this intriguing design, we honestly wouldn’t blame you. Nonetheless, we set out to examine this intriguing blaster a little closer, to see if that one misstep alone would be its defining characteristic.
Being a medium-sized blaster that sells for roughly $15, the BOOMco Whipblast is right at the sweet-spot of the blaster market. It’s not too big, not too complicated, and not too expensive for consumers to consider purchasing it even if they don’t own any other BOOMco products. Inside the highly stylized BOOMco packaging is a single Whipblast Blaster with built in shields, 4 Smart Stick darts, and a circular Smart Stick Target with a sticky backing. For just $5 more than you’d pay for the BOOMco Farshot, a smaller blaster that comes with one fewer darts and doesn’t have any unique functionality, the Whipblast feels reasonably priced.
Design and Ergonomics
The Whipblast has the same red, blue and gray color palette that is part of the BOOMco family look, but with a semi-circular (and admittedly rather odd-looking) “sling-fire handle” that theoretically allows for quicker loading via a flick of the wrist. This D-shaped handle is a closed-off design, which means those with larger hands might feel as though the Whipblast is on the cramped side. And a trigger guard that is likewise a bit too small doesn’t help matters in that regard. The sling-fire handle’s design also means that a second hand can’t be placed overtop the firing hand to help steady things. Instead, one can only place a second hand awkwardly over the sling-fire handle arc, or under the short muzzle. Of course, one-handed use is this blaster’s big party trick, so perhaps it was assumed that a second hand would be doing other things… like holding ammo, as we’ll see in a moment.
One other aspect of the design of the BOOMco Whipblast that we feel is important to mention is the fact that the “quad barrel,” under-muzzle location for spare darts is somewhat impractical for a blaster that is intended to be whipped around at high velocity. On more than one occasion, we had darts fly right out of the blaster and land several feet away. We had this happen directly from the muzzle itself, too, not just the storage slots. We tried to make sure the darts were seated properly, but sometimes this didn’t seem to matter–for reasons unknown to us, they would sometimes just fly right out and leave the user without a dart in the chamber. It didn’t happen consistently enough for us to determine a cause, but it did happen.
Performance and Use
Getting the hang of using the Whipblast takes a bit of practice. In order to fire, you must first hold down the blue button underneath the trigger, then give it a forceful flick of the wrist, such that the blaster body pivots downward around the sling-fire handle. Once it reaches about 3/4 of the way around the handle, the Whipblast is fully primed. Flicking the blaster back up locks it into place, upon which a shot can be fired. But if you whip the blaster too forcefully, it locks at the other end, putting the Whipblast into “defense mode.” Thus locked, you can then “defend” yourself by holding up the blaster in a sort of backwards orientation with the shields facing your opponent. Of course, the shields are too small to adequately defend anything, and defense mode prohibits you from firing. But it looks kind of cool and makes for a good bullet-point on the box. Either way, getting the hang of the Whipblast takes some getting used to, and it’s not something we can see small children figuring out very easily, but it’s actually quite a lot fun once you’ve mastered it.
Unfortunately, now we’re back to our big problem. Even after you’ve figured out the priming and firing mechanic, and you’re all ready for some one-handed Whipblast action, you quickly realize that you still need a second hand to load darts into the blaster’s muzzle. It’s a “what the f…?” moment that had us frustrated on more than one occasion, as we flicked the blaster into firing position, only to realize we didn’t have a dart loaded. So we have to reach out with the other hand, pull a dart out from the holder below the muzzle, carefully load it into place, and then aim again. It would have been soooo much cooler if the Whipblast automatically advanced the next shot during the flicking action, such that you could prime, chamber a round, and fire, all with a single hand. Can you imagine someone coming at you while dual-wielding a Whipblast, flicking and firing at you left and right in a non-stop wave of darts? We can, and it would have been totally incredible. But you can’t do that here, and we’re bummed.
Fortunately, that’s where the bad news ends. Because once you’ve figured out the priming and firing sequence, you realize that you no longer have to pull a slide or other mechanism while you’re holding darts in your spare hand. This leaves you free to prime, aim, and fire in the one hand, while holding and loading darts from the other. And once you’ve mastered this process, the rate-of-fire is actually pretty solid. With some practice, we were able to pull off 4 shots in 6.5 seconds, which isn’t terrible for a muzzle-loader (granted, our accuracy between shots was pretty horrible, but that’s not what we were testing here). We think this generally results in a faster rate of reloading and firing than you’re likely to pull off with most typical Nerf muzzle loaders that require some kind of opposite-hand involvement to prime the blaster.
Despite the glaring usability oversight in making this one-handed wonder a muzzle-loader, we generally came away satisfied with the other key performance aspects of the Whipblast. In our height-limited office setting, we reached a max shooting distance of 65.6 feet, which is right on-par with other BOOMco blasters, and easily a good 7 feet farther than our max distance with the (ironically-named) Farshot. Our average velocity readings were 56 feet-per-second, with a low of 48 and a high of 61. And once again, our rate-of-fire was a respectable 0.6 darts per second using the technique described above. Lastly, accuracy with the Whipblast was just like every other BOOMco blaster, which is to say, very good overall and much better than typical Nerf products.
Value and Fun
We’ve gone into several BOOMco reviews now with very high expectations. The irony is that these expectations have been created by Mattel themselves, by introducing blasters with mechanics that aim to be different than what we see from a typical Nerf blaster. The problem, to-date, is that in almost every instance, there has been some kind of oversight that prevented them from living up to expectations. The Farshot was simple to use, but it didn’t actually shoot that far. The Rapid Madness was an awesome performer, but lacking extra clips, our fun ended in exactly 2 seconds. The Twisted Spinner needed a real trigger, as well as internal mechanisms that were more robust. The Rounds and Magazine included Rounds that don’t stick to anything except for a target that itself doesn’t stick to anything. And now we have a Whipblast that allows you to Whip, only to require a pause for reloads between blasts. If it sounds like we’re being overly critical, it’s only because we’re actually huge fans of BOOMco and what Mattel is trying to do with the line… Smart Stick is clever, dart accuracy is superb, and we love that each blaster brings something new to the party. So when we appear to be overly harsh, know that it’s because we want BOOMco to be a success. And we know that can only happen if they continue to refine their products, especially in regard to core elements of what makes a good blaster: range, ergonomics, capacity, reload times, and reliability.
In the case of the BOOMco Whipblast, in particular, we can definitely say it’s just as much fun to play with as a typical Nerf product. In fact, we’d go so far as to say it’s a LOT more fun, and you really have to try it out for yourself to fully “get” how the flicking motion works. Because once you get it down, you’ll want to do it over and over and over again. Yes, it’s true that the muzzle-loading aspect limits the one-handed action that could have made this blaster a true competitor to products like the Nerf Zombie Strike Hammershot. But in every other way, we’d say it’s at least as fun as that product, and it’s a lot of fun in its own right–period. We can hardly wait to see how Mattel improves on the design next time around.