Despite designs that often make them look like they’re part of the US military’s advanced arsenal, Nerf’s dart-blasters are just toys, and as a result their performance often disappoints compared to other mock weapons like paintball guns or Airsoft rifles. That’s not the case with Dart Zone’s new PRO MK-1 blaster. At $180 it’s targeted at the most devoted dart blaster enthusiasts and offers enough power and accuracy to make you wonder if you should actually call it a toy.
Last summer we went hands on with Prime Time Toys’ Dart Zone Adventure Force Commandfire and Quantum blasters and despite being a company much smaller than Hasbro, we were surprised to find it producing toys that outperformed Nerf’s dart blasters while introducing innovative new features—and doing it at a much cheaper price point. But Prime Time Toys’ new Dart Zone PRO MK-1 takes an entirely different approach.
At $180 it’s even more expensive than the giant $100 Nerf Elite Titan CS-50 which automatically fires up to 50 darts using a pair of high-speed motors. But the PRO MK-1 doesn’t have any motors and doesn’t have a thirst for batteries. It’s a one-shot-at-a-time manually primed dart blaster targeted at enthusiasts who love gathering with friends and their toy arsenals and spending an afternoon bombarding each other with foam ammunition. The PRO MK-1 promises to elevate these make-believe skirmishes to something a little more intense, almost bordering on a paintball-like experience. The PRO MK-1 will absolutely give you an advantage on the pretend battlefield, but at the same time you’ll never want to end up on its receiving end.
At 32 inches in length with its adjustable stock fully extended, the PRO MK-1 is long, particularly when compared to other single-shot manually-primed blasters. But it’s been designed to be semi-modular and by simply removing a pair of connector pins and a set of thumbscrews, it breaks down in half in less than a minute making it much easier to carry around in a backpack. It’s not especially heavy, though, as the PRO MK-1 is mostly made from plastic, including the housing, magazines, and many of the components inside. But some of the more critical and structural internal components—including the barrel—are made from metal which helps the blaster feel more solid and premium than anything in Nerf’s current lineup.
Despite being a one-shot affair, the PRO MK-1 allows you to quickly load 15 darts using a plastic magazine that’s compatible with the magazines used in Nerf’s products. If you’ve already got a big collection of Nerf toys, the PRO MK-1 will work with those accessories, including Nerf’s darts. However, the PRO MK-1 includes customized darts of its own (including a half-length option) with raised foam ridges that create a tighter seal in the blaster’s barrel to increase their velocity.
So how does it perform? Priming the blaster, which simply involves pulling back its front handle until the spring-loaded firing mechanism inside is locked in position, takes a surprising amount of force. It’s something I think an 8-year-old would struggle with, and it’s your first real indicator of what the PRO MK-1 is capable of. However, on several occasions I found this mechanism jammed, and would only start working again after randomly shaking the blaster and re-inserting the dart magazine. It was never a permanent problem, but I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what’s going wrong when it does.
But when properly primed, pulling the trigger delivers another pleasant surprise. I’ve been playing with Nerf toys for some 35 years now, and was not expecting the PRO MK-1 to have as much kick as it did. Prime Time Toys boasts a dart speed of 150 feet per second, which is just over 100 miles per hour. This was tested by one of YouTube’s most popular blaster enthusiasts, LordDraconical, using an actual chronograph, and he actually found the average speeds to be even higher, over 160 feet per second.
I tested the Dart Zone PRO MK-1 against two of Nerf’s manually primed blasters: the $30 N-Strike Elite Accustrike Alphahawk which uses redesigned darts for better speed and accuracy, and the $25 Nerf Rival Apollo XV-700, which fires tiny foam balls at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. My targets were a collection of empty Diet Coke cans at a distance of exactly 10 feet from the tip of each blaster.
The N-Strike Elite Accustrike Alphahawk failed to even put a dent in the cans, which is not surprising as you need to upgrade to Nerf’s motor-driven dart blasters to get any real power. The Rival Apollo XV-700 left the cans with a sizeable dent, but accuracy was a big issue there. For every can I successfully hit with it, there were at least ten misses, which was disappointing given I was just 10 feet away from my targets. The PRO MK-1 delivered the most damage, leaving the cans with a deep indentation that gives a good idea of what it would feel like to get hit. (Not pleasant.)
But more satisfying than the PRO MK-1's ability to crush cans is that all that power makes it an extremely accurate blaster as well. During my Coke can tests every single shot from the blaster hit the target, and the included sights, which attach to an actual Picatinny rail on top, work surprisingly well. Prime Time Toys claims the blaster can hurl darts as far as 150 feet, with accuracy diminishing the farther away you are. But accurately hitting targets 50 to 60 feet away was no problem, as the darts leave the blaster with a satisfyingly straight trajectory. The impressive accuracy is the real reason the PRO MK-1 is worth considering.
As a small company, Prime Time Toys undoubtedly has to constantly deal with people referring to its Dart Zone products as Nerf knock-offs. But with the Dart Zone PRO MK-1, the company has finally distinguished itself as being a genuine competitor to Hasbro in this space. Nothing in the Nerf line even comes close to the PRO MK-1's power and accuracy, but at $180 it’s admittedly a hard sell to anyone but the most die-hard dart blaster fans.
- There’s no tip-toeing around it, $180 is a steep price tag for a manually primed, single-shot foam dart blaster.
- The power, range, and accuracy of the PRO MK-1 outperforms anything Nerf currently offers.
- Includes special darts that improve the seal in the barrel to increase velocity.
- The priming mechanism would occasionally repeatedly jam.
- It’s a long blaster, but quickly breaks down into two smaller halves for easier transport.
- Made mostly from plastic, but the more important structural components inside, including the barrel, are made from metal.