NRS Aquablaster, $14.95 From the increasingly popular class of water cannons, this weapon uses the same properties as a syringe. Immerse the tip into liquid and draw fluid into the chamber with suction created by pulling out the internal tube. Launch a thick jet of water by compressing the tube back into the chamber. For a weapon operating on such a simple premise, you'd expect the Aquablaster to be easier to use. But you have to get the angle just so to cleanly draw water into the tube using both hands, and then you must quickly upright it to prevent precious ammo from spilling out. When you do fire the blaster, it delivers a devastating surge: Our live target staggered backward from the impact. That blast will expend your payload, though, so constant access to ammo—in the form of a full bucket—is a must. (Aquablasters are a favorite among canoeists and kayakers because the surrounding water is a limitless ammunition supply—they even use it to bail water out of their watercrafts.)
Ease of use: 4
Super Soaker Aquashock Sneak Attack, $11.99 Hasbro dominates a huge share of the water-gun market, and deservedly so: It took them to the next level with pump-action technology in the late 1980s. While seasoned veterans wax nostalgic for earlier generations of Super Soakers, the Sneak Attack still represents all that is admirable about the company's weapons: powerful stream, easy to fire, ergonomic, lightweight, durable. And this year's Aquashock line of armaments features impressive novelties.
What's so sneaky about the Sneak Attack? Of its four firing modes, two shoot 90 degrees to the left or right of the barrel—perfect for hitting an unsuspecting bystander or firing around a corner. The other two settings are a narrow, long-range stream and a close-range buckshot-style spray. Like all Super Soakers, it performs as advertised: Your target indeed gets soaked. The Sneak Attack has decent range—26 feet—and an adequate payload—38 powerful rounds. While it's great that the Sneak Attack fires instantly with each pump of its forestock, that action forces the shooter to always use two hands—a major drawback. Like most new Super Soakers, it features a spring-activated quick-load valve, so you don't have to screw the cap on and off. Simply press the valve up against a faucet mouth and let the ammo gush in.
Ease of use: 8
Stream Machine Double-Barrel Water Launcher, $17.95 Also a syringe-style water cannon, this Stream Machine's twin-barrel design (they also come in single-barrel models) doubles the volume of your assault. We drenched our live target and sent him reeling. It still has the problem of using up too much of its 20-ounce ammo supply too quickly, however, so it's good for only five shots per barrel.
As with the Aquablaster, drawing water into the Stream Machine's tubes without spilling is harder than it would seem. And it's common for one barrel to fill with more than the other, so you end up shooting uneven streams. But the two gunlike grips make handling the Stream Machine simple and enable you to put some muscle into the compression, giving it gravity-defying range. We launched a 40-foot stream, farther than with any other model.
Ease of use: 6
Super Soaker Aquashock Arctic Blast, $19.99 As if being a powerful, high-capacity weapon weren't enough, this gun introduces a new variable: temperature! The extra-wide mouth on the Arctic Blast's voluminous ammo tank lets you load nearly a dozen ice cubes, giving your victims a dose of shock and shiver.
But the Arctic Blast is a high-performance weapon even when its ammo is ice-free. The main setting fires an immensely strong stream that reaches 28 feet and delivers a bracing sting. The top-mounted Flash Flood trigger ejects a wild splosh, ideal for close-range emergencies. In traditional Super Soaker fashion, you lock and load by pumping air into the reservoir and releasing the trigger. (The pump handle doesn't have the most ergonomic grip, so it can leave your hand and wrist a little fatigued.) The 38-ounce, bottom-mounted tank reloads as easily from the bathroom taps as it does from the backyard spigot. A full magazine produces a formidable 79 rounds, though the added weight from all that water makes it hard to maintain steady aim when shooting one-handed.
Ease of use: 8
Water Warriors Tarantula, $14.99 Packing a gun this well-designed almost feels like cheating. The secret of this weapon is an electrical motor that does all the work: Pull the trigger and it continuously fires a powerful stream until its generous 47-ounce tank has been emptied. Its 33-foot, sniperlike reach was the second strongest we measured, and you're guaranteed well over 100 rounds from a full magazine. Its only flaw is that once the rechargeable battery pack is drained, you're a sitting duck. But the battery will last at least three full reloads and is easily replenished (charger included), so you can fight another day. Enemies may attempt to exploit the gun's weakness by dousing its electronics—say, with a water-balloon attack—but a couple of strips of electrical tape around the battery hatch will make the Tarantula impervious to such plots. Its overdone space-age styling may seem a tad embarrassing, but its performance on the battlefield will teach your enemies to show some respect. Strength: 9
Ease of use: 10