Dart Escape brings Nerf gun fun to Oakdale

Solomon Gustavo photos/Review Dart Escape — a Nerf gun arena opening December in Oakdale — is run by owners Jason Wheeler and Jesse Stevenson, seen holding the two, top-tier Nerf guns. Wheeler has a semi-automatic electric gun, Stevenson a pump-action 30-round gun called the ‘Artemis.’

Solomon Gustavo/Review The new location for Dart Escape, an arena for playing with Nerf guns that opens Dec. 1, is at 3115 Hadley St. N. in Oakdale.

Wheeler and Stevenson fire foam Nerf darts at each other in the padded and barrel-filled play area.

With hand signals and in military formation, a group of Boy Scouts squared off against and eliminated a group of Boy Scout parents with tactical precision during a recent soft opening at Dart Escape on Hadley Street in Oakdale. 

The recreational weapons of choice on the day of this drubbing, as opposed to more intense alternatives like paintball and airsoft guns, were foam-based Nerf dart guns. 

Dart Escape, which officially opens Dec. 1, is a unique arena for people to run around and play with Nerf guns. 

“We mixed up the teams after that,” said Jason Wheeler, 38, one part of the Dart Escape ownership team, as he remembered the way the Boy Scouts moved in on the adults and tagged them with merciless glee.

Like any active competition, the game of Nerf dart has a sweet spot between lame and violent, between no shot clock and a hockey brawl. Dart Escape has referees for making sure people who are hit actually clear out, for helping teams be more evenly sided, and to find a balance between players ‘camping’ behind barrels and colliding into each other. 

“We had an adult dive over a barrel,” said Wheeler of a man in his 20s crashing over a barrel to avoid a dart. “Never thought it would be an adult.”

All ages tend to get pretty turned up in the heat of a choice Nerf battle, observed Wheeler, adding the sweet spot for Nerf darts is about between eight and 12 years old. 


Nerfs up

The play area has padding on the floor and walls, as well as barrels and walls to dodge behind. There are two dugouts where players go when tagged. Wheeler said there are also different types of games with variations like captains and flags and shields and hit counts.  

To play at Dart Escape, customers buy “poker chip-like chips” that give them access to different tiers of Nerf guns and a certain amount of play time. 

The lower tier foam darts are the classic tubular dart with a suction rubber end. The higher-end, more accurate Nerf guns shoot foam balls. 

The top tier has the 30-round, pump-action ‘Artemis’ that Wheeler said is the most accurate and never jams. There’s also an electric, semi-automatic gun with 12 darts in the chamber and an extra, 12-dart sleeve that spits out darts faster than any other gun. 

Wheeler and partner Jesse Stevenson, 34, both enjoy paintball and airsoft. But, both with children themselves, realized those are not very safe activities for younger kids. 

They said the foam Nerf dart may sting a bit at close range, but hardly. And, in the cloud of foam dart fomentation, said Wheeler, players pumped with adrenaline don’t feel a thing. 

However, Stevenson and Wheeler agree the cutoff is about six years old. Dart Escape has goggles for players, and full masks for six- or seven-year-olds that would fare better with a little extra protection. 

Dart Escape will also have a virtual reality bay with hundreds of games, TVs with the game on, a viewing area for parents or other people that want to hang out but not sprint around barrels, and a party room for birthdays or non-birth related pizza refueling. 

The reason for picking Oakdale said Wheeler, who lives in Hugo, and Stevenson, who lives in St. Paul, is because it is nice and is central to a lot of cities with families. 

A grand opening event will be held on Dec 15. 


–Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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