The shoot-em-up (shmup) genre seems like its a rare breed of games these days. Theres the odd one that will come out here and there, but its definitely quieted since the days of R-Type, 1943, Gradius, Eihander, and many others back in its glorious heydays. Its no secret that one of my favorite games is Ikaruga, and I always love to get my hands on a new shmup since so few come out these days.
Sine Mora may look like any other shmup sidescroller at first look, but theres quite a lot under the hood that Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture did to make this really stand out in the genre. They even go against the grain in some segments and have your ship on the right side of the screen shooting left. Insanity, I know. Sine Mora makes their catch a unique one and quite the challenge as well, where youre constantly racing against time, all of which is determined on how well you play.
Generally for a shmup you dont need the deepest story, as people wants to play it for what it is, not some half drawn out ideas of why they are shooting thousands of enemies. Just like fighting games, you dont usually need a story to care enough to play the game, the same applies here. But, it seems theyve gone against the norm and has included quite a deep and very dark storyline that not only justifies why they are doing what they do, but also tries to make you care about the characters at the same time.
That being said, the story is quite deep, but also convoluted and very difficult to follow. I dont know if thats a product of my brain shutting down to simply enjoy a shmup, but it involves a few different characters and storylines all in one. It starts off being a story about revenge, a father seeking vengeance for his son that was unjustly shot in the head by the military for not carrying out his orders. Another branch tells of a team of rebels that can time travel focused on destroying the tyrannous empire. The story takes very dark turns, like how the father recruits a rape victim with blackmail, and a pilot that that enjoys seeing mass death.
Its a little odd at first when the story takes a dark turn and theres swearing, but the background lore seems to be quite deep and someone looking for a deep story will probably enjoy having that little bit more reason to enjoy the game. As I said, its generally not necessary to have a deep story in a shmup, but there is one here, and its quite a dark tale.
The bulk of your playing will most likely be in the Story Mode, but there are other modes to enjoy after youve completed the game, such as Boss Training, Score Attack, and Arcade Mode, which Ill get into later. The campaign will take you anywhere from a few hours to a dozen, depending on how good at the genre you are and how determined you can be when you die to the same boss for the twentieth time. Sine Mora is played on a 2D plane just like most in the genre, but there are segments that will show off that the game is done in 3D as you see the camera swoop around a mountain or circling a boss from all angles. Story mode will have you playing over a dozen levels with many different planes and pilots, each with their own special abilities. Youre also granted the ability to slow down time to try and survive the massive barrage of bullets eventually set to come your way, but its an ability you need to use sparingly, as its finite, though refillable by picking up powerups. The story is told through text and the cutscene sections can be fast forwarded through for those just wanting to get right to the action.
Sine Mora has a very different main mechanic at its core that sets it apart from other shmups. Normally in these games, you will die after getting hit with one to few shots, but here, everything is based on your time (for the most part). This means that you have a time limit before you die, and getting shot or hitting the environment will take away time from your counter. Shooting and defeating enemies will add time to your clock, so it becomes a fine balance of avoiding enemies to survive, and being aggressive and shooting as many as you can without getting hit. On normal mode, its generally not something you have to worry about until the latter half of the game, so just focus on playing normally in the beginning. During boss fights, the clock can become very stressful, as youll be getting hit quite often, so you need to be precise and accurate to defeat them in time. In one hand, it takes out the frustration of the one hit deaths were used to in the genre, but on the other you become so focused on trying to survive that you may forget you also need to shoot down enemies to continue on.
There are specific spots in the environment will that automatically kill you, like lava or specific laser beams, but youll have to learn the hard way of what kills you instantly and what doesnt. The same goes with the boss fights, as most of their attacks can be absorbed (for a time loss), whereas others are a one shot kill no matter what. During the boss fights youll never seem to have enough slo-mo meter as needed, and youll quite often defeat a boss with nearly no time left on your clock. The bosses are quite a sight to see, as they vary from giant robotic squids, a train of death, and even a gigantic maze that you need to navigate as it rotates to get to its core.
Arcade mode lets you choose your ship, pilot, and even special ability if you want to try something different other than the slo-mo ability. The game keeps track of what levels you have completed and with what combinations as well, so theres quite a lot of time you can sink into this mode if you are a completionist. Arcade mode is much more strict with the allotted time youre given, and youll need to be very skillful at shooting down enemies and avoiding bullets yourself if you want to try and win these stages.
The presentation value and the graphics are absolutely top notch, as the shmup genre doesnt generally look on par with modern games, Sine Mora does. The same goes for the soundtrack, as its composed by the artist that also did Silent Hill and Shadows of the Damned. The only option I found lacking was that nothing is voiced in English, which I found odd, but its no deal breaker as youre probably here to just shoot a bunch of enemies down anyways.
Near the end of the game (and Arcade Mode), Sine Mora becomes controller breaking difficult. I sadly wasnt even able to finish the story mode, as I got stuck on the last stage, even with the given ten continues. Levels are broken into stages, and if you waste all of your continues, you need to start at the beginning of the level again, mini-bosses and all.
For those with incredible reflexes, theres an Insane mode, though I found Normal to be enough challenge as is. There is lots of replayability here for fans of the genre, especially if youre a glutton for punishment. Dont let the colorful graphics fool you though, Sine Mora is a shmup for the hardcore and is a unique entry into the fading genre.