A brand new way to play with Dinosaurs emerged in 1988 when Tyco introduced the Dino-Riders. This new toy line emphasized museum-quality dinosaurs paired with heavily armed armor and articulated action figures. The attention to detail and painting that Tyco gave these creatures garnered attention from academic associations like the Smithsonian Institution. Moreover, many of the toy dinosaurs, especially the large ones, featured electronic walking action to make them feel even more real.
Tyco’s marketing VP, Jim Allie, was the brains behind the concept. He felt that there should be a good way to combine the excitement of dinosaurs with the typical action figure toy line. In the end, he envisioned aliens who outfitted dinosaurs with weaponry back in the Cretaceous age. Thus, they’d have the perfect weapons, both having powerful fangs, teeth, and brute strength as well as advanced technology.
The company then set many of its greatest creatives on the project. One of their illustrators, Paul Kirchner, helped design the backstory and create comics that would come with each toy. His work included creating the brain boxes that would keep the dinosaurs under the control of their drivers. Meanwhile, Tyco contacted a paleontologist, Dr. Robert Bakker, as a consultant so that they would create some of the most accurate dinosaurs in toy form.
The toy line featured two groups, the Valorians who were the titular Dino-Riders. Usually, the boxes for these characters only listed them as Dino-Riders. Then, there were the evil animal-like Rulons. While many Rulons were reptilian, some resembled ants and sharks.
As the 1980s set the standard that a successful toy line required a cartoon series, Tyco made certain to send Dino-Riders to television sets around the nation. They turned to Marvel Productions to help them craft the perfect cartoon series to help them market their new toy line. Thus, the Dino-Riders cartoon series aired as part of the Marvel Action Universe programming block in 1988.
As the toys had been developed first, Marvel Productions had to use them as the backbone of the series. To help draft the story for the series, comic book veterans, Gerry and Carla Conway, brought in their writing experience. They understood how to draft a story that needed to connect to and sell a toy line and also loved dinosaurs.
In the series, the Valorians had peacefully lived on their home planet, Valoria, until the Rulons, led by Krulos, invaded. So, their leader, Questar, led them to safety in the Space Time Energy Projector (S.T.E.P.). Even though they initially planned to only flee to safety, the machine instead sent the Valorians to a prehistoric Earth, 65 million years in the past. Moreover, they did not even escape the Rulons, for the flagship, the Dreadlock, followed them through the machine.
Rather than flee again, the Valorians decided to make Earth their new home. So, they befriended the dinosaurs in the area with their Amplified Mental Projector (AMP). These dinosaurs then happily helped out their new friends by allowing them to ride them and arm them with Valorian weapons.
In stark contrast, the Rulons used brute force to make Dinosaurs their mounts. They brainwashed these creatures with their brain-box devices. Thus, they built a force filled with some of the most dangerous creatures around, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops.
With dinosaurs on both sides, the Valorians and Rulons continued to fight each other while riding on top of their dinosaur companions. While these creatures were dangerous alone, they became walking tanks and war machines with the advanced technology of these groups.
Along with the cartoon series, Marvel released a 3-issue Dino-Riders comic book series in 1989. Notably, this series presented a darker tone than the cartoon series.
The first series of Dino-Riders toys from Tyco featured six dinosaurs on each side of the conflict. The Valorians launched with the Diplodocus, Torosaurus, Deinoychus, Styracosaurus, Quetzalcoatlus, and Pterodactyl. Meanwhile, they released the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Deinochys, Monoclonius, Pteranodon, and Ankylosaurus for the Rulons. For the dinosaurs that appeared on both sides, like the Deinochys, Tyco created unique armor but used the same mold and color scheme for the dinosaur.
As the series moved to the second series, new dinosaurs were produced for the line. Thus, they released the Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Edmontonia, Dimetrodon, Pachycephalosaurus, Struthiomimus, and Protoceratops for the Valorian forces. Meanwhile, the Rulons received only three new dinosaurs: Kentrosaurus, Saurolophus, and Placerias.
The production began to slow down as Tyco hit the third series. This time around, the Valorians only received two new dinosaurs, Pachyrhinosaurus and Chasmosaurus. Meanwhile, only the Quetzalcoatus came out for the Rulons.
As the toys neared the end of their development cycle, Tyco released a brand new selection of mounts. Rather than introducing more dinosaurs, they opted to introduce other prehistoric animals like the Saber-Tooth Tiger. They called this phase the Ice Age. Likewise, the animated series released a special bonus episode to show off these new creatures.
Like the third series, only a few new creatures were created for the line. Moreover, each of these toys was created for the Valorian side of the conflict. These new toys featured the Wolly Mammoth, the Giant Ground Sloth, the Killer Warthog, and the Saber-Tooth Tiger.
After the animated series and toy line was discontinued, Dino-Riders disappeared for several decades. While some pop-culture creatures, like Rex from Toy Story, paid homage to these toys, there were no signs of a reboot. However, that changed in 2020 when Mattel released the Dino-Riders Rulon Warriors Battle Pack. While this special set featured the Dino-Riders toy line, it was not a proper return for the line.
Rather than rerelease the old molds from the 1980s, Mattel produced a small collection of PVC figures that paid homage to Dino-Riders. It featured six dinosaurs with built-in armament, including the Brontosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Fifteen tiny PVC figures that resembled the action figures from the line were included in the set. Despite the name of the set, both characters from the Valorians and the Rulons were present in the set.
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