Sine Mora review

By Damien McFerran - 31 Mar, 2012

Serious shooting action

Serious shooting action

If you told us that a new standard in 2D shooters would be set by a game produced as a collaboration between developers in Hungary and Japan, we’d probably scoff at your prediction and get back to playing Hellfire on the trusty Mega Drive. However, that unlikely scenario has come to pass, and the game in question is Sine Mora.

A joint effort from Digital Reality (Imperium Galactica) and Grasshopper Manufacture (No More Heroes), Sine Mora is a download-only title for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade. Set in a steampunk universe populated by talking animals, it boasts an insanely detailed - and mature - storyline, tackling topics such as mass genocide, murder, rape and revenge. To make the plot even more complex, it is structured randomly - Tarantino-style - with levels shown out of sequence from the perspective of different characters.

As far as shooter storylines go, it’s easily one of the most impressive. However, it’s not the most striking element of the title; that accolade goes to Sine Mora’s compelling gameplay. While traditional shooters either award you lives or grant your ship a health bar, Sine Mora features a timer which represents your life force. Taking a hit shaves seconds off your time limit, while shooting enemies has the reverse effect. When the clock reaches zero it’s game over.

This mechanic is unique in itself, but Sine Mora also allows you to manipulate time to make it easier to dodge the hail of bullets cascading down on your ship. By slowing down time you’re given more opportunity to react and navigate your way through the maze of projectiles, but this comes at a cost. Using the slow-down power depletes a gauge, and this has to be replenished. As a result, it makes you very wary of using the ability unnecessarily.

You’ll need to conserve this power if you want to see the game through to completion. In the best tradition of bullet-hell blasters, this game is as tough as old boots. It’s almost depressingly difficult in fact, and will have casual players running to the hills. However, after a while you learn to adapt to the punishing nature of the gameplay, honing your skills to a point that you’re able to weave through the carnage and maximise your attacks to ensure the timer is always running as full as possible.

Once you’ve bested the gripping story mode you can move on to the arcade portion of the game. It’s here that things become truly serious, as all the plot is stripped away and you’re left with a pure score-based experience. Your best efforts can be posted online, where your prowess is compared directly with other players. This arrangement is sure to bring out the true gamer within you, and bettering your performance becomes an almost obsessive pastime.

It would be remiss to talk about this game without mentioning the exquisite visuals. Sine Mora is easily one of the most visually stunning 2D shooters ever made; although your ship is locked on a 2D route, the camera is constantly zooming in, spinning around and generally making the best use of the complicated 3D environments the developers have crafted. Some of the huge boss characters are a joy to behold, and it’s almost too easy to sit there appreciating their appearance when in reality you should be filling them full of lead.

Sine Mora is an absolute must-have download for anyone who has ever enjoyed a 2D shooter in their gaming career. It’s a difficult proposition, and is sure to test your reactions and accuracy, but it’s one you’ll savour for quite some time. If you can drag yourself away from your SNES or Mega Drive for long enough, this is essential stuff.

Chris Camp - 23 Apr 2012, 15:18 GMT

Brilliant game, am a big fan of 2D shooters and this is one of the best I've played on the current gen consoles. The visuals are stunning, reminds me of the time I first saw Xenon 2 on my friends Atari ST in 1990, back when I still had a Spectrum, and thinking if graphics can get any better than this then I can't imagine them! Well that was exactly my thought as I played through the first few levels of Sine Mora. Definitely worth a look.

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