Diversity: That is the underlying message behind Sine Mora. Never have I see a shmup with such an assortment of stages, enemies, and projectiles as I have within the world of Sine Mora. Through 7 gloriously detailed maps, I had the pleasure of navigating a collection of ships with an array of unique powers. I don’t generally look forward to shmups coming down the pipeline, but was curious as to whether or not this title would live up to my expectations.
The story is largely forgettable, but that tends to be the MO for games of this nature. Grashopper Manufacture did at least make an attempt to include several detailed paragraphs of narrative between stages, and the dialogue between characters throughout the game is engaging, but even so, it was difficult to follow.
Where a health bar would normally be, you now have a timer that is constantly dwindling down to zero. With each hit your ship takes, more time is removed from the timer. This serves to add tension as well; you’ll want to be taking out as many enemies as you can because each one adds a few moments to your lease on life. This mechanic had me clenching my controller with a tighter grasp at different points throughout my adventure, and not just at the climatic boss battles.
Speaking of bosses, Sine Mora seems to have read the book on excellent design decisions and rewrote it with a number of improvements. One of the final bosses in particular has you maneuvering within the confines of an enormous, rotating ship while simultaneously dodging an array of lasers and bullets as you search for the weak points located throughout the hull. If this sounds overwhelming, that’s because it is, but at no point did I ever die for any reason other than my own impatience, and throughout this event I was always presented with a clear solution to reach my goal.
Despite the story mode’s short playtime, there are a number of additional components to keep you entertained for hours afterwards. This includes a boss battle mode and score rush, where you have the opportunity to select a number of components, such as your ship, special attack, pilot, and ability. I would have enjoyed the ability to select such options during the story mode, but I digress.
The breathtaking visuals will be the first thing to grab your attention when booting up Sine Mora. From beginning to end, you’ll be reminded of the title’s vivid appearance and stark attention to detail after viewing the game’s concept art and realizing how closely it resembles the finished product. You’re made well aware of the staunch environments too, because even though you do the fighting on a 2D plane, in-game cut-scenes present the living, breathing world in the finest of detail.
For all of the great things Sine Mora brings to the table, it is not without its shortcomings, regardless of how few they may be. On two occasions I was caught completely off guard and killed immediately. It was only after I replayed these scenarios again when I finally caught on to what was occurring. The first time occurred while I was forced to masquerade as a pile of trash, while avoiding a flamethrower set to destroy anything else that came by. The other came during an aerial laser attack, sparked by a boss.
If you are even remotely interested in shmups, or have found them to be too intimidating to pursue in the past, then Sine Mora is certainly for you. From top to bottom, this is a finely tuned product worthy of a spot in any gamer’s repertoire, and shouldn’t be passed on, especially at its $15 price point.
Sine Mora was provided for review by Reverb Communications and Publishing, and is available on XBLA for 1,200 MSP ($15).