Billed as the true shmup for shmup fans and newcomers alike Sine Mora is the joint development of Hungarian studio Digital Reality and Suda 51’s Grasshopper Entertainment, the result is a beautiful and competent shooter that you can get properly stuck into!
Rather than give you bullet hell (see Death Smiles) Sine Mora instead makes you focus on the two most important factors of a shmup; shooting the enemy and not getting hit, these are then given true purpose with the element of time. Shoot an enemy? Gain time! Get hit? Lose some time, Run out of time? That’s Game over.
To reward the better shooters amongst you there is also a complex ranking system in place that ramps up the difficulty when you are playing at Ranks C and above, use a sub-weapon, get hit or use a time capsule and your rank will take a hammering, only the hardcore ‘real’ gamers will get the good ranks. Unfortunately I cannot comment on the effectiveness of the ranking system, I would if I could get above an E!
This is a shooter so there is an abundance of powerups that enemies will drop to aid your bullet-ridden journey, as you would imagine most are pickups to fuel your abilities; so you’ll find sub-weapon pickups, shields, time capsule increases and firepower pickups to increase the potency of your standard weapon. Another neat powerup is linked with your run-of the mill score that chains as you keep going, keep picking up every score drop you see and they’ll increase until you miss one; a great way to increase your ranking, and even the most basic of games teach you that there is no better feeling than picking up scores!
Each pilot has their own sub-weapon, the sub-weapons are basically your special powers, and can do some pretty spectacular damage exactly what you would expect of a shmup; big blue rays, massive explosions and homing missiles-a-plenty. The sub-weapons are your next best friend when you’re in a tight spot, unless you’ve got some juice in your time capsule of course, and then you’ll be able to speed up your ship so that everything else around you is moving so slow you can dodge bullets like a pro, of course if you are playing on a mode other than Story, you’ll also have access to the Roll back and Reflection capsules that allow you to rewind time to prevent your own death, or reflect bullets back; super effective against a cloud of bullets.
Sine Mora has a very conventional story; a typical Shakespearian tale of revenge that follows Ronotra Koss on his journey to infiltrate the evil Imperial forces to avenge his son’s death, at the same time Akyta Dryad is leading a revolt for the Enkies against the Imperials. Everyone knows that all Shakespearian tales end in tragedy, but will Sine Mora be any different? Play through the story on Normal mode and you will not see the true ending which is reserved only for the completion of Challenging difficulty.
Each stage is split into sections, however with a concentration on time manipulation you’ll find yourself going back and forth through points in time to right the atrocities that happened to Argus, and save the Enkies with Akyta and Lynthe. Bear in mind you’ve only got 8 credits to finish each stage or its back to the beginning, and I am not ashamed to say that the game is super tough, even on normal mode!
If you don’t give a damn about story and you just want to shoot your way through 7 fantastic stages then the Arcade mode is for you; with only Hard or Insane difficulty available it is only for the true hitman —pro-gamer, but it does give you free reign of any plane and any pilot, not to mention the choice from all three time capsules. Don’t go picking pilots and capsules willy nilly, the last thing you want to do is play through all seven stages wishing you had picked Argus instead of Durak.
To facilitate the Maniakku in us all there’s not just one difficulty mode; whilst normal is a difficult enough affair for those unaccustomed to the genre, you’ve also Challenging, Hard and Insane. Now this isn’t to say that there are more enemies in the harder modes, neither do they shoot off considerably more bullets, in fact, the developers found the perfect element to tie to the difficulty; time. Play a level on Normal and you can bide your time sending off a couple of bullets here and there to pop off a few enemies, play on Insane and within 2 seconds you will be running out of time, and if you do not manage to destroy every enemy on the screen in as short a time as possible, there is little hope that you will make the next Time Mass Stabilisation; or a checkpoint if you will.
Besides Arcade and Story you’ve got two other pretty sweet modes; Boss Training and Score Attack that both allow you to play a stage or boss with any plane of your choosing —that you have unlocked of course- and any pilot. You can also pick which type of capsule you are using, be it Speed Up, Roll Back or Reflection, just like Arcade mode. However, this is where the Chronome comes into play that tracks exactly what planes/pilots and capsules you have tried the mode in. The Chronome is the perfect tool for the completionist in you, it is just as shame, and a surprise that there does not appear to be any achievements tied to it.
The shmup is by all means a Japanese genre, developers Cave have basically dominated it for many years, and with Grasshopper Manufacture part behind the project it was refreshing to hear that all of the in-game dialogue between characters is captioned in English with Hungarian dialogue, and the narration segments between stages are all also spoken in Hungarian. It would have been very easy and expected to have done this in Japanese, or English, but to keep all spoken word in Hungarian is quite astonishing!
If there is one thing that Sine Mora is, it’s beautiful, from the chilled out score that can transcend into pumping beats, or the beautiful serene landscapes that you encounter that turn into battlefields, to the spectacularly towering bosses that attempt to obstruct you at the end of each stage. Everything is within it's own right a piece of art, and whilst I have not played Journey, this is the most breathtaking game I have had the fortune of playing this year!
Sine Mora is a fantastic and well deserved addition to the shmup genre, with magnificent spectacles of bosses, beautifully rendered backdrops and a host of incredible sub-weapons. Whilst you will finish the story in a few hours, you’ll have your hands full as you attempt to tackle the rest of the game’s content, it truly deserves.
Sine Mora is available now exclusively from the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points, if you have a short temper then Sine Mora may not be the game for you, however if you want to wean yourself in on the shmup genre, there’s no better starting point.