The launch of the Nerf Rebelle line of blaster products designed specifically for girls was a ground-up effort by parent company Hasbro. Rather than simply painting existing blasters pink and putting them in prettier packaging, the brains at the second-largest toymaker in the United States went into the project without any preconceived notions of what girls would want. Instead, they spent more than three years finding out what girls might want in a blaster by asking the girls themselves.
Then, in 2013, among the rise of pop-culture heroines like Katniss Everdeen and Princess Merida, the Nerf Rebelle product line was launched.
About the Codebreaker Crossbow
The Nerf Rebelle Codebreaker Crossbow blaster is a product that came about as part of ongoing development into the Rebelle product line that has been possible only because of Rebelle's incredible success in the market. With this success has come ever more advanced and interesting products, including the Rebelle Codebreaker Crossbow, which is part of the "Secrets & Spies" sub-brand of Rebelle products. Secrets & Spies adds a layer of storytelling to the Rebelle world, providing girls with new ways of interacting with their blasters. The Codebreaker is one of the best examples of this additional subtext, as is clear from the official product description:
NERF REBELLE CODEBREAKER Crossbow
(Ages 8 years & up/Approx. Retail Price: $24.99/Available: Fall 2015)
Girls can keep their secrets safe with the NERF REBELLE CODEBREAKER Crossbow, the highest capacity NERF REBELLE crossbow yet! This eight dart front load capacity crossbow features passcode protection that girls can set-up for extra spy security, ensuring only trustworthy friends can unleash its power. The CODEBREAKER Crossbow includes one “Secret Message” dart, seven darts, and a separate decoder. Available at most major toy retailers nationwide and on HasbroToyShop.com.
Testing the Codebreaker Crossbow
To find out if the $20 Nerf Rebelle Codebreaker Crossbow lives up to its potential as a girl's ultimate spy blaster, we secured two samples from Hasbro and gave them a thorough test. In both of our samples, the "passcode protection" feature (the defining featured of the Codebreaker) performed without issue, and shouldn't be too hard for most girls at or above the recommended age of 8+ to figure out and use (though in reality, we suspect most girls will simply set the passcode once, and then always leave the blaster unlocked--unlocking and re-locking the plastic tumbler used to set the code is a little fiddly, even if it does help keep younger brothers from stealing the crossbow for their own use).
The "Secret Message" dart featured the same message in both of our samples and was easily read with the included decoder sleeve. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any place on the blaster to attach or hang the decoder, so we expect this will probably get lost over time. It's a bit gimmicky, too, since only one of the eight included darts has a secret message, which limits the opportunities to trade messages with friends. We're also not sure how trading the message with a friend would actually work--does the friend have to get shot with the secret dart to get the message, or are players expected to hand the dart to a friend? In either case, is passing along a message via one of your darts more important than shooting the enemy with the same dart? Hopefully, girls' imaginations will sort it out better than we've been able to manage.
But about the blaster itself--it's a good one. With a tested average dart velocity of 63 feet-per-second provided by the clever, elastic crossbow string, the Codebreaker is right up there with most, modern Nerf blasters in this key performance metric. And although not slam-fire capable, the Codebreaker does fire off darts rather quickly, with the only downside being that it won't take long to shoot through all 8 of the included darts (and reloading is a bit of a pain--some patience and dexterity are required).
We should also note that one of our two Codebreaker samples had a problem with the internal mechanisms that caused the dart chamber to rotate sporadically, which would occasionally result in a dry-fire and/or lock-out situation. The other Codebreaker, for its part, fired flawlessly and reliably. We also found ergonomics to be pretty good, with a primary handle that should be comfortable for most users, even if the priming handle seemed a bit large for the girls expect to play with this product. Lastly, we liked the overall design and aesthetic of the Codebreaker, but noted that only one side had decoration--we've observed this cost-cutting measure being taken on a number of Nerf products recently, but found it particularly unfortunate for a blaster of this size and price (not to mention one designed for what is likely to be a fairly design-conscious audience).
All things considered, we liked the Nerf Rebelle Codebreaker Crossbow quite a bit, and we think most girls will, too. It has a fun and functional crossbow aesthetic, it performs as well as most other Nerf blasters (bow or not), and it has a few unique features with the passcode protection and hidden message dart that provide additional "secret" play value beyond the blasting. But perhaps the Codebreaker's biggest secret of all is that its proof-positive boys are no longer the ones having all the blaster fun!
- Clean, modern aesthetic that is attractive and sized right
- Bow-powered performance is competitive with traditional blasters
- Unique "secret" features add another layer of play value
- Only one side of bow is decorated, creating a less-premium feel
- Loading darts is tedious and slow; manual dexterity required
- One of two samples tested had cylinder rotation problems