The “shoot ’em up’” (or “shmup” genre, as it is also affectionately known) is one that most players are either really good at or are absolutely horrible at. I personally love shmups and always have but, sadly I am one who falls into the latter category and, ever since the days of R-Type and 1942, I have never been able to master the art of dodging the “bullet hell” that these games throw at you. Needless to say, whenever a new one comes out, for some reason I think that I’ll be able to handle it but, as the release of Sine Mora proved, it’s just not going to happen anytime soon.
Sine Mora, the latest side-scrolling shoot ’em up to hit XBLA from Digital Reality and Suda 51’s company, Grasshopper Manufacture, is a 2D shooter in mechanics, but uses 3D visuals during the various cutscenes and mid-level transitions. Along with the impressive use of these shifts, the game also features seven levels, each of which is a stunning visual to behold, and not the graphical splendor that one would expect from a side-scrolling shooter. The visuals of the game are definitely the highlight of the game, although the gameplay itself comes in a close second.
Through each of the various missions found in the main story–all of which takes about 2 hours to play through– you will take the role of one of the seven characters and pilot their steam punk style planes through numerous varying types of environments. There are times that you will take a tour through caves and others where you will find yourself diving underwater, but most of the time it will be through the high skies, over cities and lush landscapes.
When piloting your plane, time is the biggest factor on gameplay. Instead of having a health bar, you have a clock that ticks down at the top of the screen and each time you get hit, it will knock time off the clock, whereas destroying enemies will add time. There are also pick-ups that you can snag that will, in addition to give you extra time, adds shields, increase your firepower, and give you increased special attacks.
The other feature that your planes have equipped is the very limited use of capsule abilities. These abilities allow you to rewind time, slow down time, or reflect bullets; all of which are extremely handy when facing the games brutal bosses, each of which will try to make your life hell while firing hundreds upon hundreds of bullets at you. When facing them, most of the bosses will spin in a 3D space to allow you to attack more than one side of it, but each of the hulking beasts is a mission unto itself to take down.
When you have defeated each boss, you can then take them on in Boss Training, one of the modes that are available outside of the main story. The other modes available are Arcade and Score Attack, both of which can only be played on either Hard or Insane difficulties, and both of which give you warnings stating that you better have some chops before taking them on. Each mode also allows you to choose the plane type, pilot, and the capsule type, that you want equipped on your plane.
Sine Mora wobbly follows the story of a father who lost his son to a traitorous pilot and seeks revenge on the Empire that did it. Although that is the main plot of the game, the story jumps around quite a bit through each level and gets confusing on just what is happening and where in time the game is taking place. The story is told through dialogue boxes at the bottom of the screen from the anthropomorphic pilots that all have a reason for joining in the same fight against the Empire, such as one who was raped by soldiers and another who had her kind, known as Enkies, wiped out.
It’s definitely not a sitcom storyline, and there are also exposition screens before each level which tell larger chunks of the cruel stories than the character dialogues do, however when the screens are displayed, it is a wall of text that is also being read in a foreign voiceover. As interesting as the texts can be to read, trying to concentrate on reading them while hearing a voice reading them in another language gets incredibly distracting and I found myself waiting for the voice to finish before I started reading.
The story is the game’s weakest link, but for a shoot ’em up, it’s not a deal breaker, especially considering that the gameplay and visuals more than make up for it. Sine Mora is a gorgeous game and a shooter that does frenetic gameplay well with a unique twist added that increases the tension. Having the time regulation as your health makes it so you can’t just sit back and dodge enemies, but you have to actively engage them if you want to stay alive. Although the short playtime and the $15 tag may make those who aren’t all for bullet hell games think twice, Sine Mora is feast for the eyes and a shoot ’em up that is definitely worth the experience.
Title: Sine Mora
Developer: Digital Reality, Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: March 21st 2012
Platforms Available: Xbox 360
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Retail game provided for review