Published on April 12th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
2nd Player Review: Sine Mora (Xbox 360)
Not long ago my colleague, and donut eating champion, Greg Bargas threw down his awesome review of Grasshopper and Digital Reality’s modern day shoot ’em up, Sine Mora. Now, that review represents our official stance on the game. However, as an old school shoot ’em up fan; I feel that I can offer a second opinion on this time altering little shooter.
For many years I have played nearly every 2D arcade shooter I’ve come across. Among my favorites are games like Raiden, R-Type, Ikaruga, and Gradius. Most of which spawned entire franchises of incredible shooters that, for years, have given gamers nervous breakdowns as they desperately dodge hellish barrages of multi-colored bullets.
Sine Mora is a more modern take on this classic genre. The game looks astounding with a beautiful diesel punk art style. For an Xbox LIVE Arcade game I was surprised at its sense of scale and detail. In one level water covered the land as far as the eye could see. Later, players must travel through a huge factory brimming with moving parts; the mechanical arms busily and fluidly manufacturing a robot army are almost missed among the hectic fighting. Soon after that the player is flying over an immense city that seems to stretch out for miles.
The diversity of every level keeps the game feeling fresh throughout. At one moment players could be flying through a canyon only to dodge mines under water minutes later. Each level bears a new experience and offers different and unique challenges.
The gameplay behind Sine Mora is easily one of its main highlights. Games of its ilk require pinpoint precision to allow the player to quickly dodge and weave through waves of bullets. The planes move through the air with fluency, allowing players to zip through the gaps between projectiles and enemies effortlessly. Against bosses, which have the tendency to fill the screen with bullets, missiles and other projectiles, recognizing and navigating open paths is essential. However if players can’t dodge, there’s always time control.
The central theme around the story behind Sine Mora is the element of time manipulation. The story itself is a little hard to follow. It centers on a man who seeks revenge against a military that murdered his son. With him is a reprogrammed robot and girl he compels into service. This vengeance plot is paralleled with a second story of rebels, the last of a people known as the Enkies, who set out to destroy an empire that wiped out their kind.
The game’s plot is developed through dialogue spoken between missions by the characters, voiced in Hungarian, the language native to Hungarian developer Digital Reality. The story, however, is inconsequential. It will take several playthroughs to really understand what is going on. Luckily understanding the story has no impact the player’s enjoyment of Sine Mora.
Time also plays an essential role in gameplay. As time travelers, the characters can only stay in a section of history for so long before physics takes over and promptly boots them out. When the plane is damaged it won’t be destroyed right away like what is typical with most shmups. Instead, a countdown timer at the top of the screen will slowly be chipped away. When it hits zero, time is up. Players are also able to manipulate time using Speed Up, which slows down time around the plane. This is ideal for players who get overwhelmed by waves the waves of bullets and need a quick getaway. A blue meter at the top right of the screen shows how much time-altering power you have left.
The meter can be recharged by picking up blue capsules dropped by defeated foes. Other capsules can be claimed that provide points or other awards. Red capsules increase the plane’s firepower up to 10 levels. Orange capsules increase the time limit and green ones add one more special attack to your arsenal. I’ll give you a free hint: out of all the capsules that can be grabbed, the red ones are the most important. Right, right, because more firepower helps, sure. Believe me, having eight red capsules versus four can mean the difference between defeating a boss quickly and saving enough time, or by getting stopped over and over again as waves of bullets knock down your time to zero. I realize it sounds like an obvious move, but trust me, you will lose all your red capsules when you get hit, and when that happens I suggest using Speed Up to quickly gather those capsules or risk continuing a fight that has now turned against you.
Each character in the game offers different weaponry, from the default guns to special weapons, so it’s easy to find a favorite character depending on your play style. The only drawback behind the multiple characters is that the game really doesn’t focus on one character very long before jumping to the next. This limits character progression immensely, giving players little time to form any bond with the character and his or her story. Greg made a point on this and I believe he was spot on. The game has a Mature rating, so expect some characters to not make it to the very end. However, without that attachment I found myself not caring as much as I should when one of the characters sacrificed herself.
Playing the normal difficulty of the game will give players more than enough time to beat the game, which, with this difficulty, will be just under two hours. Increasing the difficulty will increase the amount of time needed, but for those who want more there are other things to try out. The game comes with multiple modes such as Arcade, Time Attack and Boss Attack, along with many hard-to-get achievements. I played the game for around 10 hours but I only managed to gain one achievement, and it was the only easy one to get: fail the prologue to earn an achievement adorned with a piece of crap, a transparent jab at the player’s lack of skill. The designers once said that to earn every achievement in the game it will take around 50 hours. So if you’re an achievement hunter, prepare for the long haul.
Boss battles are prominent in Sine Mora. There are 13 enormous machines to battle, each designed by legendary artist Mahiro Maeda, whose previous work includes Neon Genesis Evangelion and The Animatrix. Skill and tact are needed to take each hulking behemoth down. Players must dodge and attack flashing weak points, which are typically guns that need to be knocked off or weak joints. Each boss fight was a blast to play and I rarely felt that my little plane’s destruction was any fault of game design. To win takes skill, gun power, and a little luck.
I believe Digital Reality missed an opportunity when they decided to make the game single player only. A lot of the fun behind shmups of the past came from playing the game with a friend and enjoying the triumphs, or sharing the misery, brought by the game in co-op play. I understand that the decision was for technical reasons (time manipulation), but it would have been great to have a mode that welcomed players who wanted to play the game together in local or online play.
Sine Mora is a great game that makes many strides to revitalize the aging shoot ’em up genre. Though the main campaign is on the short side and the story little incomprehensible, the main draw is the gameplay and it is solid throughout Sine Mora.
Ultimately, this is not a game for the casual gamer. If you go in expecting a lengthy campaign to justify the 800 MSP purchase you will be disappointed. Sine Mora is a game for the hardcore shooter fans; those who play the game who want to challenge their dexterity and shooter skills.