Naysayers who claim that the shoot-em-up genre has nothing new to show for itself should pay attention to Sine Mora without delay. Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture, a Hungarian-Japanese endeavor, have given us this incredibly beautiful horizontal shooter that wowed us with its lavish environments, characterful bosses, hellaciously addictive gameplay and an unexpected innovation that relies on time.
First appearing on XBox Live Arcade in March this year, Sine Mora has finally arrived on the PC platform. And if you ask us, all we would like to say is that it looks set to be the new king of shoot-em-ups.
What you Get
Sine Mora gives you four ways to play the game: Story, Arcade, Score Attack, and Boss Training; the first mode that everyone normally starts off with would be Story mode. Interspersed with the game play are a series of narrated cutscenes involving a race of sentient biped animals. The story is heavy hitting sci-fi that features time travel and has been broken into multiple threads. You will only start to grasp the full picture by the time you complete the game and have read every word of the entire script (and this includes the Encyclopedia).
If you disdain having to go through the story, Arcade mode blesses you with non-stop shoot-em-up action after you pick an airplane and pilot of your choice. Score Attack lets you play through a single level only; great for when you are short on time. Boss Training mode is enabled only after you have defeated at least the first boss in the game and is great for discovering new strategies to defeating them.
Sine Mora is divided into seven stages with the Story mode giving you an extra eighth tutorial stage. You will take control of an airplane that can be maneuvered via the keyboard, mouse, or controller. You immediately notice that you do not have lives in the game, in fact all you have is a timer that ticks towards zero. What happens here is that you get rewarded “time” for shooting down enemies, and will be penalized (by a few seconds) whenever you take a hit by a stray bullet. This is a novel and refreshing approach to redefining the shoot-em-up genre.
Your airplane has a main weapon with unlimited ammo; you also have a sub-weapon with a finite amount of ammo. Your main weapon can be upgraded up to nine times, eventually giving a decent spread of bullets when maxed. Your sub-weapon ability depends on the pilot who is currently flying your aircraft. There are seven pilots to choose from in the game, each employing a distinct “bomb” signature that works really well for destroying swarms of enemy aircraft, tanks, or ships. Extra time and a shield ability are other useful pickups that you will find in the game.
Sine Mora’s story is inexplicably interwoven with the element of time, so it may come as no surprise that there is another time mechanic in the game: your aircraft has a capsule that allows you to tweak time to your advantage. Story mode allows you to slow down time which makes it easier for you to squeeze through a barrage of bullets that are flying your way. The other game modes grant you two extra time manipulating abilities to choose from.
Besides the cool-looking enemy air, land, and sea vehicular models you encounter, you will also meet dangerous life forms (like cave worms) that are indigenous to the world of Sine Mora. The stars of the game however are the magnificent bosses that goad you in a battle to the death. They are introduced in dramatic cutscenes that usually has your aircraft flying around them in glorious 3D. Bosses in Sine Mora (designed by famed Japanese anime creator Mahiro Maeda) are truly mechanical monstrosities; you usually have to attack them in more than one encounter before they are destroyed.
The developers have made an interesting choice of getting native speakers to act out parts in the story’s script. The acting in our opinion is actually not that bad, but it’s just that you won’t understand a word they say (unless you’re Hungarian) and will have to rely on English subtitles. The music in Sine Mora is composed and performed by Akira Yamaoka, who is well-known for the soundtracks of games like Silent Hill and Gradius (another respectable shmup series). The sound effects provide a dizzying array of weapon firing sounds that will keep you alert throughout the game.
Sine Mora’s translation from console to PC has been done rather well. Keyboard and mouse play felt very natural, but we did notice there was no way to change the resolution setting. We winded up having to accept the two black bars you see in all the screenshots. Furthermore, we encountered a very minor menu flashing glitch after playing for a while, and also felt that there might be slight slowdown on the highest graphics quality setting. Make sure you have a powerful enough rig for playing this Sine Mora. All in all, nothing too serious to detract us from enjoying this excellent game!
We felt that the game is not a true bullet hell game, but follows more closely to a traditional shoot-em-up game. Here’s why: Firstly, cannon fodder usually comes in groups of three to five small vehicles – these don’t pose much of a challenge at all. Second, the game throws obstacle courses at certain points in the game; these simply don’t feel like they belong in a bullet hell game. Finally, the on-screen bullet count is not plentiful enough except for the last boss when in its final death throes and one or two of the earlier bosses.
Publisher Kalypso Media definitely has gold on their hands with this incredibly fun shmup. We thoroughly enjoyed the game and feel that Story Mode makes it very accessible to players who would like to try the shoot-em-up genre. The production values are very high, with the bosses possibly stealing the show all the way to the bank.
And if you ever find the game to be too simple, you can always ramp up the difficulty by playing in Hard or even Insane mode; that last one is sure to get your adrenaline pumping through your veins.