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Sine Mora Review

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On 03/21/2012 at 02:02 PM by Nick DiMola

Grasshopper and Digital Reality deliver a one-of-a-kind shoot-'em-up.

For those looking to explore the niche bullet hell genre, or experts ready for the latest challenge.

Sine Mora is a fascinating specimen, which should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Grasshopper Manufacture's other work. Once again, the team behind No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned has delivered an experience that shakes up the established norms of a genre and provides a crazy, convoluted story that will have most players scratching their heads. This horizontal scrolling, bullet hell shoot-'em-up introduces a unique upgrade, special move, and timing system that drives the boss-intensive quest. While Sine Mora suffers from a few minor issues, its ingenuity and originality make it one of the best titles in the genre.

Unquestionably, there's some semblance of a story in Sine Mora, but deciphering it isn't all that easy. In the style of other games within the genre, it's inspired by anime, but here it plays a much bigger role than its cohorts. Part revenge and part rebellion, Sine Mora delivers a tale that can be hard to wrap your head around. It's engaging enough to hold your attention but it's hardly important in enjoying the content it directs.

More importantly, Sine Mora eschews the typical constructs of the genre where it matters. Characters aren't your typical anime-inspired chesty females, but instead anthropomorphic creatures with some apparent personalities. Furthermore, none are represented by flat sprites on a fancy backdrop. Everything in Sine Mora is rendered in eye-catching 3D, providing for one of the most beautiful shoot-'em-ups I've ever seen. Though the graphics are an important part of the presentation, it's the art style that truly distinguishes Sine Mora. All of the enemies, specifically the bosses, sport a steam punk look that fits incredibly well with the futuristic world portrayed.

The gameplay is equally untraditional, offering some interesting alternatives to the traditional shoot-'em-up designs. For one, over the course of each level you'll pick up weapon upgrades that carry from one level to the next. They're nothing fancy - each one will provide you with a more powerful shot and a wider bullet spread. Additionally, each ship also carries its own special weapon and the ammo supply for said weapon is carried across level boundaries as well. So while there's no requirement to play the game from the beginning each time, it can be tough to jump straight into a later level with a base level weapon and no special weapon ammunition.

Providing an interesting wrinkle to this design is the health system. Rather than something traditional, everything is based on time, depicted by a timer that is constantly ticking away at the top of the screen. If you're hit, you won't lose life, you'll lose time, whereas killing enemies has an inverse effect wherein you'll gain small amounts of time back. Getting hit will also knock weapon power-ups out of you. This constantly puts you in a position to make a choice as to whether you'll hold the course and let the power-ups escape, or risk losing more time in an effort to retrieve them.

In the Adventure mode, you're granted the ability to slow down time, which proves to be a much less interesting addition than expected. In extremely hectic situations the maneuver can absolutely prevent you from being savaged by bullets and losing massive amounts of time, but outside of one segment in the very beginning, it's never used meaningfully. There, you were forced to slow down time in order to make your way upward or downward to avoid crashing into walls, which would've made for even more interesting level designs throughout the experience had it been used more.

The only reason I suspect this wasn't explored was due to the game's Arcade mode, where your ability can be swapped for a time rewinding ability or a ricochet shield. Unlike the challenging, but conquerable Adventure mode, Arcade mode offers some significant replay value as its focus is solely on making perfect runs through levels for high scores. The most hardcore of shoot-'em-up fans will find plenty to appreciate here as the game allows you to challenge a level with any combination of ship, weapon, and special ability. With the implemented score multiplier, it's pure high score shooting at its finest.

Each and every level of Sine Mora provides something unique and interesting. Enemy and bullet patterns are extravagant and initially unpredictable. Many bullets in the game don't follow the rules of moving in a singular direction as you might expect. Some will stop and reverse at points, travel in waves, or drop like a rock at the end of their trajectory.

Levels are littered with bosses and these are easily the best part of the experience. They feature most of the aforementioned intricate bullet patterns and their grandiose designs are both awe-inspiring and exhilarating to tackle. It's much more fulfilling to constantly battle these behemoth enemies than grind through easier foes to only reach one massive adversary at the end.

Despite its many achievements, Sine Mora suffers from two minor flaws. Given how intricate the backgrounds of the game are, it can be very hard to separate enemies from the backdrops. I had more than a few instances where enemies blended in among all the chaos, hitting me and catching me completely off guard. Given the health system it's not a deal breaker and rarely causes more than minor annoyances.

Interestingly the other issue manifests as a result of disregarding the established health system. A few enemies and environments feature weaponry that will instantly kill you. It's not always clear what carries this intense power, but whenever you die as a result, it's both jarring and frustrating. This is really only a noticeable problem during your first time through the game, but it doesn't match up well with the typical mechanics.

Shoot-'em-ups of this sort have been relegated to a niche, but Sine Mora's unique design makes it approachable for nearly any gamer out there. With the included Arcade mode, experts will have something to sink their teeth into, while the Adventure provides newcomers with a challenging, yet conquerable quest. If you've been itching to jump into the bullet hell subgenre or are ready for the latest, you absolutely cannot go wrong with Grasshopper and Digital Reality's unique production.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Angelo Grant Staff Writer

03/21/2012 at 03:30 PM

The time mechanic you discussed kind of sounds like the one used in the original Adventure Island. In that game, your life meeter is always decreasing and power ups (fruit) need to be pretty much constantly collected in order to remail alive.  Are the systems somewhat similar?

Nick DiMola Director

03/21/2012 at 03:46 PM

I'd have to boot Adventure Island back up to give you a definitive answer, but from your description it sounds pretty similar. However, the one big difference is that killing enemies restores time, but there are pick ups that will restore some as well. Also, this is a literal timer counting down to zero, rather than a bar or a meter.

The other part that I didn't get too far into here is that the level segments are broken up pretty nicely and each time you get past a tough segment it'll award you points for leftover time and reset it to a fresh number to start counting down.


03/21/2012 at 04:44 PM

The name Sine Mora transports me back to the good old days of Morrorwind and the way everything is named in the game. Balmora, Tel Branora, Tel Mora, I could go on lol.

Jason Ross Senior Editor

03/22/2012 at 03:20 AM

I think I'll pass on this one, most notably because I hate not being able to see enemy bullets. Looking at the screenshots we've got and reading it in NIck's review, I'm really not interested in playing another shooter where I can't see something, and then just die. It doesn't really matter how good the game is beyond that, which is a shame, since it looks like it's pretty solid.

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