Review and photos by Charles Peckham, edited by Suspsy
I don’t own all the Xtractaurs, and I’m not sure if anyone does, but I feel I’ve been able to amass enough to give a decent overview of the series. Anyone who wants to review an individual Xtractaur for the Dinosaur Toy Blog, included in this review or otherwise, has my blessing.
Every so often, Mattel works up the courage to try their hand at entering the highly competitive video game industry. Some of these attempts are remembered fondly (Intellivision) and some not so much (HyperScan), but perhaps none have been as uniquely ambitious and creative as Xtractaurs, an attempt to combine dinosaur figures with computer gaming.
This isn’t a video game blog, but since the game was a selling point of the toy, we might as well discuss it. Each dinosaur has a socket that can be penetrated with a syringe-like DNA extractor gun, which uses a 2.5 mm jack. This then uploaded the ‘DNA’ to the player’s account on the Xtractaurs website (now defunct). Each Xtractaur had special abilities and minigames that could help it to defeat the Megavores, a dinosaur-like group of monsters that was attacking the world. One would build their own Xtractaur by choosing forelimbs, hindlimbs, tail, torso, and head from any toys they uploaded, and then play a short turn based game against a single Megavore. This process continued indefinitely. Defeated Megavores had their DNA added to the players collection, so that their body parts and special abilities could be utilized as well. There’s a more in-depth review of the game available at Wired. Succinctly, the game wasn’t great. The characters were extremely uneven and the repetitive fights never advanced any plot or became more interesting. The game is no longer playable and the website Xtractaurs.com just redirects to Mattel’s main site. I tried plugging a pair of headphones into an Xtractaur jack as an experiment. The headphones stopped working shortly thereafter. I can’t say if these two events are causally related or not.
The game is gone, but the toys are very much still here. The Xtractaurs line covered a diverse and exciting line of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, though many of the toys in a similar family are the same sculpt with a few minor changes.
The starter kit comes with the Xtractaurs program on a CD-Rom (with no case or sleeve), the DNA extractor, which plugs into a USB port on a computer, and Ultrabite the Tyrannosaurus. This is everything you would need to play the Xtractaurs game. The DNA extractor has a cool tube carrying a double helix on top that lights up and spins when the trigger is pulled. There’s a section of the handle that is clear, but just shows a random bit of circuitry, and I’m not sure why that section was chosen for visibility.
Ultrabite, representing the tyrannosaur family, is a nice, camouflage-looking green with black stripes. I like the solid yellow eyes, and the arms are small while still neat looking. The mouth is articulated, but can’t close fully, which helps to show off the nasty-looking teeth. My major complaint about Ultrabite is that, despite its giant flat feet, it won’t stand up. It’s a cool look, but maybe a longer tail would have helped it to balance.
Representing the ‘raptors,’ I have Snaptor the Velociraptor and Riptile the Utahraptor. There’s some nice attention to detail in these figures. I’m impressed that Snaptor has a loafer-shaped snout and Riptile has the classic theropod snout that is more commonly associated with raptors in pop culture. There was at least some research done on these. The color scheme on all the Xtractaurs is really nice and I like Snaptor’s the best. Dark blue with light blue and red tints make this figure stand out. When their mouths are open, you can see the sinews at the corners of their mouths that I suppose represent cheeks. Again, there’s just a lot of nice detail that didn’t need to be included but really helps to make the figures pop.
The killer claw on both the raptors is a separate piece of plastic that has been attached at the bottom of the foot, and Snaptor’s claw strangely juts out below the bottom of the rest of its foot, making it very difficult to get to stand on its own (balance is kind of an issue with the Xtractaur theropods, apparently).
The only stegosaur I own is Whiplash the Stegosaurus. The coloration on Whiplash is simple, but also very well done in my opinion. I like how the black outline of the plates on the back extends onto Whiplash’s body to create a diamond. The open mouth with tongue makes Whiplash look more silly than fierce, which is unique for an Xtractaur. The thagomizer on Whiplash has spikes that curve out and up like the horns on cattle, which is a unique style choice that I haven’t seen on many other stegosaur toys. Like the other toys, the sectioning on Whiplash seems odd. The plates are molded as a separate piece that is attached to the back and inseparable. It’s not quite as cumbersome as the feet on Snaptor, but it seems to me like it would have been simpler to make the entire body of the animal, plates and all, into one section.
For pterosaurs, I have Wingstorm the Pteranodon and Beakbash the ‘Criorhynchus’ (now classified as Ornithocheirus). I bought Beakbash specially for this review to display what Xtractaurs look like in packaging.
The only differences between Wingstorm and Beakbash are the coloration and the heads. For their bodies, wings, and hindlimbs, the same mold was used. I really like the wingspan on the Xtractaur pterosaurs. It’s long enough that one can look at the toy and really get the impression that it could fly, and soar for long distances at that. Usually wings on pterosaur toys aren’t this impressive. Each pterosaur also comes with a really nice clear plastic stand that holds the figure perfectly. I wish little stands like these were included with every toy of a pterosaur in flight They are very helpful in displaying.
Wingstorm’s color scheme is relatively mundane but acceptably cool. Beakbash’s is much more varied, going from white to brown with an orange head that has some nice red shading.
Ceratopsids are the last family that Xtractaurs included. I own Pindown the Triceratops and Trance the Pentaceratops. Like the pterosaurs, the only differences in them are their heads and their coloration. Pindown is kind of a boring brown color, but has nice spots on his back and an exciting frill with cool designs. Trance has a very strange frill, in my humble opinion. There’s a gap on the top that looks very angular (even for an Xtractaur) and very out-of-place. It’s neat how the brow horns on Trance go up and then curve down, while those on Pindown go straight out. To the best of my knowledge, the shape of any ceratopsian horns is highly speculative, but it’s fun to see toymakers give each different type of dinosaur a unique style.
Xtractaurs are a weird, unique toyline that never saw much commercial success. Most of the toys reviewed here I was able to get at the Dollar Tree about a year after the series launched. Many of the planned dinosaurs for the first series, and all the ones for the second series, never got made. The interactive computer game gimmick failed to inspire much fandom and it’s unfortunate, because I think the unique, angular design of the Xtractaurs is a really great look, and what they lack in scientific accuracy, they make up for in character. It’s a really fun line of toys that deserves more credit than it gets, and I’m of the opinion the toys stand on their own without the game.
And finally, many of the limbs, tails, and heads of Xtractaurs are easily removed, so when buying them secondhand, be aware that the Xtractaur you’re getting might be incomplete, or might be a Frankenstein’s monster of parts from various original figures.