NERF Basketball is an America institution. Bedrooms, dorm rooms and offices across the country are adorned with the tiny hoops -- over doors and garbage cans, even occasionally mounted on a wall. But, the open-cell foam rock is undeniably 20th century. In this age, for better or worse, analog just isn't going to cut it anymore. So, Hasbro went back to that incredibly reliable well it used to modernize Lazer Tag last year, and whipped up an iOS app that talks to a digital playset. The NERF Cyberhoop is a re-imagining of the classic game with some serious electronic chops. Most prominently the ability to "connect" to an iOS device wirelessly using inaudible tones. Hasbro was nice enough to bring the set by our office for a quick sneak peek ahead of next week's Toy Fair and after the break you'll find our full impressions.
Looking at the Cyberhoop it's immediately obvious this isn't your parent's NERF hoop. At the base of the cardboard backboard is a black plastic box with a pair of small orange switches on it. The one on the left has three positions: app mode, off and standalone. The right toggle identifies it as basket A or B, for face-to-face competitions. Jutting conspicuously out straight into the middle of the net, is a gray plastic lever that actually registers when you sink a shot. In standalone mode it operates independently of the free app, pumping out sound effects and color commentary as you rack up points. It's certainly effective, though, the surprisingly loud speaker has us crossing our fingers for a mute button in the final version.
The really unique features are baked into the app, however. Once the Cyberhoop is in app mode, firing up the game automatically "pairs" the two without any input from the user. If there's a second hoop in the room, they can be set to hoop A and B to tally scores for two different players on the same device. Rather than "pair" traditionally over WiFi or Bluetooth, the app fires up the microphone and listens for unique inaudible tones that play underneath the sound effects. Relying on audio means the hoop can run for quite a while on just three AAA batteries, but it also limits the distance your iPad or iPhone can be from the toy to just 15 feet. It also means that ambient noise should probably be kept to a minimum for ideal operation.
The app, though still in beta, is already quite polished. There's plenty of ego-boosting commentary and slick ESPN-style graphics (along with some grating Sports Center-like music that can't be muted). There's a few different game modes, including Quickplay that gives you 60 seconds to sink as many shots as possible. Rapid Fire is the same concept, but pits you against an opponent, while Head-to-Head connects two baskets for full court-style play. Dunk Contest gives you 7 seconds to perform a spectacular feat of foam athleticism, while recording the whole thing. Once done, your opponents rate your performance. Lastly there's an Online mode. The feature hadn't been flipped on yet when we checked out the app, but eventually it will hook into Facebook or the Game Center and allow you to challenge friends to a little remote one-on-one action. Just make sure you're facing off against a trustworthy opponent, as NERF is relying on the honor system and it's pretty simple to just flick the lever in the basket to rack up points.
Of course, no modern take on a classic toy would be complete without a few social sharing features tossed in. The app allows you to create profiles for individual players that track challenges, high-scores and even builds a video highlight reel. Those clips can then be uploaded to Facebook, YouTube or shared via email when a little bragging is in order. The $20 NERF Cyberhoop and free companion app will be out in the fall and available at all the usual outlets.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.