What a powerhouse combo: Digital Reality and Grasshopper. In a change of pace for both developers, they’ve teamed up to create the new Sine Mora for XBLA. Take the gameplay of DR combined with the Grasshopper flair and you have a force to be reckoned with. Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 (Goichi Suda) are known for their incredibly stylistic games that push a few boundaries. Their track list includes titles such as Killer7, No More Heroes, and the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw Massacre; all of which are known for their crazy approaches to gaming. Sine Mora isn’t much different and follows the similar thematic elements of other games within the Grasshopper library. The gameplay is fantastic, but the story is convoluted and difficult to follow with many of the perspective changes that occur. Maybe it’s a good thing this was a combined effort…
From what I can explain of the game it follows the perspective of a few individuals, but it focuses heavily on 2 sides of a fight – one character is on the warpath to avenge his son’s murder. He is going so far as to try and start the next global war. Yep, he’s pissed. The other side is focused on the people trying to stop him and prevent total destruction. You’re able to pick characters later in the game as it settles into a more straightforward narrative, but early on expect to not know what the hell is going on. The game rapidly switches between characters and story plots, even in the midst of levels, so it can be a challenge to understand. Honestly though all you need to do is focus on gameplay anyways since it’s a blast.
Gameplay is the standard side-scrolling shoot ‘em up affair, but it’s also been reworked with some new gameplay additions and changes that make it feel new and fresh. Sine Mora also falls under the niche section of Shooter Hell based on the difficulty and challenge the game presents – you either get normal which is still tough sometimes, or you get the insane level of difficulty. That roughly translates into “you’re screwed.”
But in all serious, this game is reminiscent of titles like R-Type, Gradius, and even Ikaruga (another “you’re screwed” type game). You fly a plane and shoot down enemies as they appear on screen and players also take on bosses that require a bit more effort to destroy. Here is where Sine Mora veers off from the standard path though – the special aspect of this game relates to the ability to manipulate time. During play you can pull the right trigger to activate a time bubble which slows down everything on screen. This allows players to dodge incoming enemy attacks and prevent them from losing time during the level/section.
There are also a number of pickups to snag throughout the game – the usual weapon upgrades and ammo refills for the special weapons. Each plane and pilot has their own unique special weapon, so it’s important to take the time and learn them. Using them incorrectly or not knowing their attack pattern can have disastrous results.
The game also has timed missions and a ranking system. Each mission has a set amount of time but players can increase it by shooting down enemies – each one will add a small bit to the total time allowing players to continue on. After finishing each level players will also unlock things (usually bosses for the training mode, but also new pilots to choose from) as well as be ranked on their completion of the level. Remaining time and accuracy are taken into account, as is how many times players take “damage.” Damage is transferred into lost time, so taking too much damage not only potentially loses the level, but it costs players their rankings as well.
Sine Mora is described as a 2.5D shoot ‘em up based on the fact the game takes place on a primary plane of 2 axis (you go up/down and left/right, that’s it). The background however is completely 3D and the effort that’s gone into it is spectacular. Player’s attention will be focused on the foreground for obvious reasons, but everyone should pay attention to what is going on in the back as well – not only is it gorgeous to look at but you’ll often see the enemies speeding towards you.
I will say that in its 2.5D state, the game looks spectacularly beautiful. The graphics are crisp and gorgeous in every environment – from the rocky atolls heading inland, in the clouds and sky, and even underwater. Oh yeah, there are levels where you fly a plane underwater by the way. It all looks fantastic and I highly recommend checking out the trailer just to see them. Voice acting for the game is also very well done, though English isn’t much to be had within the game. Regardless of the languages being spoken within the game, it’s all well done. I know I heard Japanese, but I think my ears picked up French and possibly Korean or Vietnamese as well. Then again I could be crazy and absolutely wrong though. The game also boasts some fun music that is very enjoyable through the levels.
Sine Mora is hands down a fun game, if a bit difficult to follow. That honestly doesn’t matter though with this game because it’s still a blast to play. I used to spend a lot of time playing the Gradius series back in the day, as well as other similar titles, and playing Sine Mora was a nice return to that gameplay. Topping that off with the classic Grasshopper signature of crazy story and beautiful graphics makes this game worth the time and effort. Just be careful around that “Insane” setting because it’s aptly named.
Note: The Sine Mora review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher.