Nerf Modulus Recon MKII Review

A cool aesthetic is held back by shortcuts in design.

Nerf Modulus Recon MKII Package
Nerf Modulus Recon MKII.

Sometimes shortcuts are a good thing. After all, a shortcut is just a more efficient way to get something done. But a shortcut can also mean missing out on something important. In the case of the Nerf Modulus Recon MKII, we appear to have a case of Hasbro taking shortcuts in product development, leading to a Modulus blaster that wasn't fully-baked before reaching store shelves. We've given the Recon MKII a few months to find its groove, and while some issues have been addressed, others remain.

But first, a short history lesson. The original Nerf N-Strike Recon CS-6 was released in 2008, and was popular for many reasons, including a wealth of included accessories (shoulder stock, barrel extension, flip-up sight, etc.). It also happened to be among the most compact, clip-compatible designs possible. But it used a reverse plunger design for dart propulsion (common to the older, yellow-colored N-Strike models), which limited performance. Fortunately, the Recon format itself was a hit, so in 2012, Hasbro introduced an updated model called the Nerf N-Strike Elite Retaliator, which featured a direct plunger system, a new "Elite" paint scheme, a different accessory package, and the use of Elite rather than Streamline darts. This model performed much better, and quickly became a fan favorite. So two years later, Hasbro again updated the core Recon design (now named Retaliator) with "improved" XD internals and the requisite XD color palette.

And that brings us to the Modulus version of the Recon for sale in 2016. While it shares the core "platform" established by the original Recon CS-6, the design has been thoroughly updated as a "4-in-1" blaster with modular componentry. And while some aspects of the fundamental have been changed for the better, many will find a lot to be desired in this update.

  

Design and Ergonomics

First, let's start with how the Recon MKII looks, because it looks pretty great! The chiseled lines and white with orange accents feel modern and tactical. The green of the original Modulus product line is nowhere in sight, and we're not complaining. What we would complain about, however, is the fact that the Recon MKII really only looks good on one side (the side that you see in the retail box on store shelves, naturally). The opposite side of the blaster is lacking decoration almost entirely, and is a considerable let-down. Hasbro has been doing a lot of this recently, and in speaking with some of the designers on the Nerf team, it seems the accountants are to blame here. So, blame them we will--Nerf is a semi-premium brand and these toys aren't cheap, so stop with this blatant cost-cutting already. Fans are noticing.  

Moving to ergonomics, things get a little muddied, and more trade-offs become apparent. We think the new-style handle has a terrific feel, but the finger guard is a concern. Aside from it potentially causing an fit problem for users with larger hands, the front of the finger guard caused a compatibility issue. When the Nerf Modulus Recon MKII was originally released to market, fans quickly took note of a massive oversight: it was not straight-18 dart clip nor 25 round drum compatible!

Yes, the two, most-popular ammo clips in use today were somehow--almost unfathomably--not compatible due to the finger guard. We were as shocked as anyone, and immediately got in touch with our connections at Hasbro about the issue. To their credit, Hasbro responded to our concerns by indicating they would implement a running production change, and anyone who purchased one of the initial Recon MKII blasters with this problem could contact Hasbro customer service to get a replacement. 

Other than the issues with the handle and trigger guard, we should note that the trigger itself feels a little thin (could be painful during extended use), and this new handle design doesn't provide any hidden dart storage. We also think the stubby shoulder stock looks and feels great, but is too short to be useful (it's even too short for children), and doesn't have any option for length adjustment.

And while we're talking trade-offs, we'll end the design and ergonomic analysis by noting the priming slide is beefy, but uncomfortable over extended use due to tac rail channel on top (which is largely unnecessary). And the barrel attachment point isn't super-friendly with other, non-Modulus barrel attachments, so don't say we didn't warn you.

Use and Performance

Most of the Recon MKII's hit-and-miss ergonomics could be brushed aside if it was a solid performer. But while the current Nerf N-Strike Elite XD Retaliator is a performance champ with an average dart velocity of 75 feet-per-second (with up to 79 feet-per-second with some shots we measured), the Nerf Modulus Recon MKII is considerably more tame. The average dart velocity of the Recon MKII without the barrel extension in-place was a mediocre 66 feet-per-second, with a low of 64 feet-per-second, and a high of 68 feet-per-second. Speed decreased by an average of 2 feet-per-second with the barrel extension attached. Many "Elite" level Nerf blasters are at least hitting in the low 70 FPS range, so it's perplexing that the Recon MKII can't even hit those levels, much less then Retaliator's 75 FPS average.

While we don't do modifications, and we haven't torn our Recon MKII apart to analyze how things are built, word has it the breech is a different design than the original Retaliator, and is not creating a good seal. This might be the source of the issue, and if you're a modder who likes taking blasters apart, it might be something you can fix. Whatever the cause, a nearly 10 FPS is significant and noticeable. Don't expect to hit that claimed 90 foot range very often with this one. 

Oh, and you also won't be blasting off rounds particularly quickly, either. The Recon MKII lacks any kind of slam-fire ability, so you'll likely hit just under 2 darts per second (we averaged no better than 1.7 darts per second with the Retaliator). That's not crazy slow or anything, but you'll easily be out-gunned in ROF by most anything with a flywheel.

 

Value and Fun

The Nerf Modulus Recon MKII is full of contradictions: for every thing we found to like, we seemed to find something we didn't. We really like the short, purposeful aesthetic of the MKII, but in all honesty, the included accessories are rather pointless--the barrel extension measurably reduces dart velocity, and the shoulder stock is too small to be useful. And that makes the $20-25 price point a tough sell for what is essentially a pretty basic blaster.

Of course, there are many blasters we like that aren't necessarily a good "value" in an absolute sense, but justify purchase by being stellar performers or just being really fun to use. The Recon MKII is neither. It performs noticeably worse than its predecessors, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table in terms of innovative fun.

At this year's Toy Fair, we asked the VP of Nerf what happened with the clip compatibility oversight on the Recon MKII, and while we didn't really get a clear answer, there was an implication that someone other than the core Nerf design team in Rhode Island had done much of the development work on the MKII (which we took to mean Hasbro's Far East engineering resources). He seemed a bit disappointed at what happened, and he knew we were, too. We hope it serves as a lesson-learned that even relatively straightforward designs like the MKII should get the Nerf design team's full attention. Because even with toy blasters, a pretty face will only get you so far. 

Pros:

  • Looks terrific (at least on one side)
  • Comes will modular accessories
  • Generally good build quality

Cons:

  • Too many shortcuts: design only on one side, uncomfortable egronomic aspects, abnormally low dart velocity, and the question of whether you'll get a version that has the clip compatibility issue resolved
  • Performance well below most Elite models, notably the very similar Retaliator
  • Not especially accurate or quick to fire
  • Decoration only on one side (again)