If you are in the market for a side-scrolling 2.5D shooter, then look no further than Sine Mora. Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality, this bullet-hell shooter puts you in some of the most impressive and dynamic sets around, and also contains an interesting premise in terms of its use of time, as when you kill enemies you gain time, but when you get hit you lose time. As long as you make it through the stage with enough time on the clock, you can progress to the next stage. But it isn’t just the interesting mechanics and beautiful set-pieces that put this title head-and-shoulders above the competition. Interested yet? You should be.
Sine Mora follows a group of pilots out to prevent antagonist Ronotra Koss from killing millions of people in his plan to rule the world. Koss has smuggled a small army of robots for his plan and turns them loose against you if you try to stop him. You play as one of a few young pilots trying to do their part and stop Koss from achieving his goals.
The story is nothing unusual or noteworthy and is probably the weakest part of the game. Though this genre traditionally has weak storylines, and this game is no exception, it would have offered stronger presentation with a plot that had more substance. Putting this aside, it is rather difficult to come up with a unique story concept when the point of the game is to get to the end of the stage while shooting everything in your path. Though story will sometimes render an otherwise excellent game unplayable, this effect is not as strongly felt with Sine Mora, as this title rises above its burdens and reaches its potential in other ways.
The controls are simple and responsive, and you never feel like the game cheats you out of the few precious seconds you have left. Whether you need to bob and weave around the slew of oncoming enemy projectiles or you need to line up your gunfire with the eye of a boss, the control scheme is optimized for quick movement.
In addition to a superior control scheme, players have access to plenty of abilities and firepower to get the job done. Your main machine gun has unlimited ammo, as one would expect, and you also have access to bombs and missiles, which are much more limited in quantity. Though this is standard procedure for the genre, the visuals associated with these special attacks are simply beautiful. Where Sine Mora breaks the mold is in the concept of time, as throughout the course of the level, you will have the ability to speed up or slow down time for a short while. This will help you navigate tight corridors, dodge enemy fire and speed up the parts of the game that are too slow for your taste. In addition to the manipulation of time, whether you live or die depends on how much time you have left before you reach the end of the stage. If you do lots of damage, you’ll make it to the end with plenty of time on the clock. However, if you take lots of damage, you’ll run out of time before you reach the boss.
If you are familiar with XBLA downloadable titles, you will agree there are few games that look as good as Sine Mora. The backgrounds look crisp and detailed, and although you only control your character in a two-dimensional space, you’ll wish you could cross that third dimension. But don’t worry, because there are plenty of moments where the game will give you a glimpse of the rest of the world. What makes the visuals stand out so much is the use of color. From the backgrounds to the models, the world is saturated with color, and it makes you pay attention. We are all used to greyscale first-person shooters, from the Battlefield franchise to Call of Duty, so to cross into this type of game and this use of color is a shock to the system. When you combine that with wonderfully detailed scenery and enemies, the game world becomes very engaging.
Although the game surpasses expectations both visually and control-wise, it doesn’t forget its audience. There are other modes of play that gamers can engage in other than the main campaign, such as a score attack mode, where players are given one life to shoot down as many enemy planes as possible; and a boss training mode, which allows players to develop their own strategy for defeating certain bosses and going further in score attack mode. In addition to the variety of modes, there is an incredible amount of customization available, including which character you’d like to play as. Other options include which aircraft you want, its armament, time-manipulation devices, stages and difficulty, giving the player literally hundreds of different combinations to choose from.
Overall, Sine Mora is an excellent shooter. It manages to immerse you in a world that you are going to want to spend a lot of time in. The controls are excellent and the level of customization gives players plenty of options to make their experience truly unique. Though the story is not one of the better points of this game, there are plenty of other aspects that make it something you need to get your hands on. If you are into side-scrolling bullet-hell-style shooters, this is the game you’ve been waiting for.
This review is based on a review copy of the Xbox Live Arcade version of Sine Mora by Grasshopper Manufacture