Attempting to breathe new life into shoot-‘em-ups, Sine Mora, co-developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality, blends old-school gameplay with some mechanics never before seen in the genre. Although it might not be enough to entice those unfamiliar with the genre, Sine Mora has plenty to offer those who already have plenty of experience.
The gameplay is what you would expect from a side-scrolling shooter of this ilk. You move from left to right, you shoot, and you have a special attack which can be re-charged through pickups (or when moving to different levels). The thing that separates this from others in the genre is just how much time factors into the game. You are able to slow down time whenever you want, allowing yourself to easily avoid enemy fire or grab power-ups you might miss out on otherwise. This is a mechanic that can be used to nimbly avoid mistakes that you might easily make in other shoot-‘em-ups.
Aside from time being a useful in-game mechanic, each level is timed, and the time is tied to your ship’s health. As you destroy enemies, the time increases, but if you take hits, it decreases. You can take as many hits as you want as long as you have enough time, and you can always replenish it assuming there are enemies you can destroy. When the time runs out, your ship blows up and you are forced to continue from a checkpoint. It’s a fascinating change-up that really keeps you on your feet, making sure you’re always paying attention to that clock on the top of the screen.
You are also able to “upgrade” your main gun by picking up power-ups that drop from enemies. The downside to this is every time you get hit, you drop most of those upgrades. If you’re quick enough, you can snatch them back in time, but it leaves you open as you attempt to grab all of the upgrades that might be scattered around the screen. It’s very easy to upgrade the gun and, with enough upgrades, most enemies don’t pose a threat. But it can all be ruined by a single hit, so you still have to stay on your guard. You’ll also be picking up things like shields, which go into effect as soon as you’re hit, and time extensions, which trigger when you run out of time, restoring it to the default time.
Throughout the story mode, you’ll find yourself in control of a few different ships. The only main difference between them is their hit boxes, which alter slightly from ship to ship. You also control several different pilots, each with their own special weapon. While you’re limited to using specific ships and characters in the story, there is a (much more difficult) arcade mode available that allows you to play through the entire game with a ship and character of your choice, as well as specific power-ups. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, that’s the mode for you.
Although there is a “normal” difficulty option available in the story mode for “beginners and players new to the genre,” it still provides plenty of difficult moments. Sine Mora is still friendlier to newer players than most in the genre, you just might find yourself starting levels (or, in some cases, the entire game) over in an attempt to play through it all. Shoot-‘em-up veterans will find plenty of challenge here, especially in the arcade mode.
Sine Mora‘s presentation is gorgeous. This world, while limited to the player, feels engrossing and beautiful to look at. The ships are fully-detailed, there are plenty of explosions, the bosses are gigantic and have a unique visual style to them, and to top it all off, the game’s score by veteran composer Akira Yamaoka really sets the mood. They really went all out with the art direction and it benefits the game greatly.
While it still might scare away newcomers, Sine Mora is a brilliantly designed and paced shoot-‘em-up with plenty to good content to offer players as well as a lot of replayability. The time mechanics mix things up, changing an otherwise ordinary side-scroller into a game that warrants attention.
Pros: Dazzling presentation, impressive new mechanics, basic shmup formula still as fun as ever
Cons: Might scare away newer players