ALIENS VS DINOSAURS

20200527_172613I don’t know about you, but for me “This game contains aliens fighting dinosaurs” is all the encouragement I need to start maniacally hammering that “Buy” button, and this 1993 Mega Drive game delivers extraterrestrials versus extincts skirmishes by the adorable bucketful. Dyna Brothers 2 – unsurprisingly the sequel to Dyna Brothers (also on the Mega Drive), and later tweaked and re-released as Dyna Brothers 2 Special (a Japanese Sega Channel exclusive with new stages and a save system that didn’t rely on passwords, released on the Japanese Wii Virtual Console and Mega Drive Mini) – is officially an “Ecological Active Simulation” game, which means we get to play an RTS-ish (Dune 2, Command & Conquer, Z) thing on a format that isn’t exactly best suited to the task at hand.

Oh dear.

However unlike the more famous examples mentioned above (and Z), this one was designed from the ground up specifically for the Mega Drive and its sleek three-button controller (it’s also compatible with the later six button pad if you have one), and thanks to a combination of the game’s compact pad-based UI and general high quality it joins the slim ranks of console RTS’ that are not just “OK if you’re absolutely desperate and haven’t owned any sort of computer in the past thirty years” but actually worth playing.

This is even with it being not only very cute but also greatly simplified when compared to similar games released around that time: There are only six units to choose from, no structures to build, and only a vague sort of control over your team. The thing is those charming sprites are not just expressive and well animated examples of pixel-flexing but actually helpful: Seeing dinos fighting, panting with exhaustion, and created eggs increasing in size until they’re finally large enough to hatch – these are all visual tools supplying the player with a constant stream of relevant information without having to clog the screen up with a dozen bars and timers. That’s good design! And it only takes a short while to see that Dyna Brothers 2 isn’t simplified, it’s streamlined: Each dinosaur fulfils a very specific, specialised, role and you’ll need to learn how to make full use of them all if you want to see anything past the first few stages. The developer, CRI, was fully aware of how intimidating such demands could appear and that is why the manual opens with a two page DON’T PANIC spread of all the most essential information necessary to get you going in the right direction if you’re completely new to the series, and a useful quick refresher for anyone who’s just a little rusty. The basic flow of the game works like this: You always start with a small amount of energy at your disposal, so it’s a good idea to use it to make some herbivores, who will in turn eat nearby patches of grass and convert them into energy. The next step is to use some of that energy to make it rain, covering the ground in even more grass. After that you’ll want to create some more herbivore eggs, maximising the amount of energy you can gather from all of that freshly-watered grass you’ve just grown. Now you’ve got a good solid energy-creating base to work with – time to make a carnivore or two! Once they’re ready to hatch it’s a good idea to further improve your terrain (removing snow, watering the ground, planting flowers, etc.) and probably send out your new flesh-chewing dino(s) off into enemy territory – that’s all there is to it! Assuming your opponent doesn’t have any other plans, that is…

This cycle of munching and bopping plays out across four different modes: Practise, Story, Original, and Competitive. It’s no accident that practise is the default choice, giving players the opportunity to have some hands-on experience and feel confident with the game’s systems before letting everyone loose on the main modes. To achieve this Practise takes you through a set of tailor-made tutorial missions, with the pre-mission instructions being given out by the dinosaurs themselves to keep the text from feeling too dry. Once you’re in control short text prompts help keep you on the right track (and only if you’re struggling with the task at hand), and your pool of commands are limited to what’s directly relevant to this lesson, hopefully preventing newcomers from feeling overwhelmed. Story mode adds some daft dialogue before each stage (you weren’t expecting a serious plot about ALIENS VS DINOSAURS, were you?), giving some much-appreciated personality to a genre that can at times feel rather flat. While not as artificially restricted as Practise mode, Story does make the effort to ease players in gently with a limited set of abilities that expand slowly over the first few missions before fully opening up. Original is a more straightforward experience, allowing players to run through a gauntlet of easy, normal, or hard stages (broken up by the odd comical interlude) where everything’s unlocked from the off. What’s especially great about this is when you realise the difficulty setting here doesn’t just affect the ferocity of the AI – the stages themselves are completely unique for each setting, which means beginners hoping for an easier time of it will find one, and likewise those hoping for a stiff challenge will face unforgiving levels that are more than up to the task. The competitive two player mode is unusual, but not unpleasant: Rather than split the screen in half it operates on a sort of hotseat system, with player’s constantly swapping between attack turns (the normal game) and defensive ones (you have control over a mini interface that let’s you “secretly” lay your own dinos during your opponent’s turn). It’s better to have it than not, and the only practical solution that still gives both players a reasonable amount of screen space.

Whatever mode you’re playing the core rules remain the same: The player is given an indestructible and immovable “The Egg” (a large egg on a gold pedestal wearing a crown) in a fixed position on the map. All player-created eggs spawn from here (hopefully hatching into dinosaurs before they’re eaten or destroyed by aliens), and although the game never divides terrain or edibles into “yours” or “theirs” this area can be considered your home turf. All spawned dinos have a specific single purpose – they’re either made to attack the enemy in some way or to create energy for yourself – and they will carry out their predefined tasks intelligently and automatically, so you never have to waste lots of time babysitting individual units. This doesn’t mean they’re completely beyond your control though, as you can issue them with a small set of useful but generalised commands at any time (It’s worth pointing out that herd-wide commands mean you’re not constantly chasing units around the screen to select them): Ordering them to move in a particular direction (carnivores will deviate slightly and attack anything they come across without being told to), setting a flag in the ground to make everyone gather somewhere, or ordering units to pick on a specific enemy (at a per-second drain to your energy reserves). If you really must guide a specific individual you can take direct control of them although this comes at the high cost of fifty energy per step, so it’s something best used (and to the game’s credit, only ever needed) in small doses.

The maps themselves are quite small when compared to more mainstream examples of the genre, which helps to keep battles fast and focused – there’s no chance of hiding in a corner quietly amassing an army to steamroll an opponent with here, and also no time wasted sending lonely troops out into a fog of war just to try and work out where the heck everything is. The whole area’s all laid out before you right from the start and you’re even treated to a brief fly-over before things kick off, sparking thoughts not only of the more straightforward energy-gathering first phases but trying to anticipate later problems before they arise too. It’s crucial to keep an eye on everything because some stages feature unpredictable weather effects – sudden snowstorms leaving random patches of snow in their wake, for one example – or even permanent changes to the landscape; rising water plunging units around the edges into the sea or winter turning to spring and all of that harsh snow giving way to lush grass. Thankfully Dyna Brothers 2 has an intuitive and easy to use camera system that can instantly snap to the nearest enemy, your The Egg, a marked target (friend or foe) as well as various other points of interest at the touch of a button. It’s one of those things that’s so simple and effective it becomes almost invisible, saving you a ton of cursor-dragging time and letting you spend all your clicks on actions that actually keep the game moving forwards.

Let’s take a good look at all of your strategic capabilities, starting with the dinosaurs. There may only be six of these prehistoric partners but they all have an important role to play in your eventual success and every one of them has a direct alien counterpart.

  • Stego: These herbivores eat any grass or flowers they find, which is then converted into energy for you to use. They have a voracious appetite and grass doesn’t necessarily grow as quickly as they can eat it, so you do have to be careful and not over-produce them.  If a Stego manages to eat a lot of grass (and not die) they’ll lay an egg all by themselves, essentially giving you a free unit. (300 energy)
  • Tricera: Another plant eater, and just like Stego they exist to convert grass into energy for The Egg. The difference here is that Tricera is tougher than Stego, but not quite as efficient at the whole grass-munching business. (300 energy)
  • Allo: These sharp-toothed theropods don’t move around much unless ordered to, making them good defenders of your energy-generating herbivores. However you’ve got to be a little careful about that, leaving a meat-eater standing around next to a herd of juicy Stegos with nothing to eat… (1200 energy)
  • Tyrano: The group’s bruiser, and the most costly unit of all. They won’t eat grass but they’ll cheerily make mincemeat out of anything that crosses their path. (1400 energy)
  • Ptera: Not the strongest attacker, but as they fly everywhere there’s the obvious advantage of not having to worry about navigating hazardous or tricky terrain. (1200 energy)
  • P-Chan: P-Chan loves eating eggs, so it’s a good idea to set them off towards the enemy UFO (their “The Egg”) to gobble up enemies before they hatch. (900 energy)

It’s also possible on certain stages to evolve each of these dinosaurs into glowing “super” versions of themselves at a greatly increased cost.

No matter how well-balanced your team of dinosaurs are they’ll need some support if they’re to survive and thrive against the alien menace, so you’ll need to back up their map-conquering dreams with a range of weather effects. As with regular real-world natural phenomena most of them can help or harm depending on how they’re used (or overused).

  • Rain: This is the most versatile, and most frequently used, of all the environmental effects. It doesn’t just help grass spring up from watered ground but can also clear up dry earth, light snow, and even put out fires. Repeated use in one spot can cause the terrain to change into wetlands – some units (yours and theirs) really struggle with soggy soil. (50 energy)
  • Sun: Summon the sun to scorch the earth, damaging grass and flowers your enemies are eating in the process, or to melt heavy snow. (800 energy)
  • Lightning: This can be used to destroy path-blocking trees blocking or nearby enemy eggs your P-Chans wouldn’t be able to reach before they hatched. (700 energy)
  • Heavy rain: This will cause heavy damage to creatures weak to water, and continuous use can flood an area. (1800 energy)
  • Storm: This pauses the action for a moment, twirling around everything on the screen and blowing away trees. (1500 energy)
  • Earthquake: The shaking ground destroys eggs, and can even make cracks appear in the ground, causing anything that crosses them to faint. (2000 energy)
  • Meteorite: A devastating screen-wide attack that decimates everything around and leaves massive fires in its wake, which will claim more lives unless put out quickly. (8000 energy)

Your final tactical ability is to sow four different types of plant… which I’ll admit may not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but knowing when to use these well can make the difference between an easy win and a crushing defeat:

  • Grass: Your herbivores need to eat this to live, and you need them to eat it because once eaten it’s converted into energy for your “The Egg”. Use this directly when you’re dealing with terrain where grass won’t spring up simply by raining on it – snow or desert, for example. (300 energy)
  • Flowers: A more nutritional alternative to ordinary grass making it useful if your turf’s already covered in stuff and you’d still like a further boost, or in stages where usable ground is at a premium and you need to make the most of what little space you’ve got. However it’s particularly vulnerable to strong sunlight and heavy rain, so do be careful! (500 energy)
  • Thorns: These will form a helpful defensive barrier, but are weak to sunlight. They can be eaten when they’re at the sprout stage, eliminating enemy defences without taking damage. (700 energy)
  • Trees: When planted a tree becomes an impassable obstacle to friend and foe alike, however they can still be destroyed by fire, storms, or lightning. (2500 energy)

As I mentioned earlier on and you can now hopefully see for yourself: In terms of raw numbers there’s not a lot to Dyna Brothers 2, but everything’s so tightly-interwoven and well balanced there’s always a solution to every problem, and it’s all contained within a game that’s eager to push you as well as its own rules to their creative limits. It gets tricky, and it gets tricky fast, but with the wide variety of practical assistance and different modes on offer everyone has the opportunity to make progress at their own level and at their own pace. Even the use of a password system turns out to be something of a boon, making it easy to hop in and replay a favourite stage, skip one that’s giving you a lot of trouble (after a quick trip to the internet), and just focus on the challenges you enjoy the most. Dyna Brothers 2’s got a strong personality but it’s also abstract and “game-y” enough that having a go at the odd stage every now and then as the mood takes you is enough to satisfy any console gamer’s RTS itch, while still being exactly the sort of thing to seriously sit down with if you’re aching for a more cerebral challenge to really sink your teeth in to at the same time.

This post wouldn’t exist without the kind support I’ve received through Ko-fi!

4 thoughts on “ALIENS VS DINOSAURS

  1. Thanks for the detailed listing of what does what. I could kinda figure out what dinosaur does what when I tried it on the Mega Drive Mini, but I wasn’t so sure about all the extra skills and after two or three levels of relatively easy wins, I got destroyed on the next one.
    Anyway, I really liked what I played of it, so I hope your post will help me enjoy it even more!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s