domstercool's Sine Mora (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

Sine Mora puts great gameplay and nice looks in a shoot-em-up

Even though I’m not the greatest at playing shoot-em-ups, I find the genre’s gameplay thoroughly stimulating. I love the challenge they bring to me as a gamer, testing my skill to the limits of what my eyes and fingers can keep up with. Beyond a few massive titles, the genre never really sold when put in stores as a disc product. Yet with gamers having easy access toPSN and Xbox Live Arcade, the genre has found a place to sell itself. A wave of solid titles hit over the years, including the likes of Radiant Silvergun (which costs a ton to buy on the Sega Saturn on eBay, woo for cheap Xbox Live Arcade prices), Ikaruga, Soldner-X, Super Stardust HD and plenty more. When I heard Grasshopper Manufacture had teamed up with Digital Reality to create a new shooter, I was straight on board. Grasshopper has created some of the more interesting games over the years, and, as a fan of the studio, I was excited to see what their unique blend could bring to the genre.

Typically in this genre, you start with a certain amount of lives and aim to make it through the game without losing them all. Quite hard when you are controlling a ship or aircraft that can only move around on a 2D plane and you need to shoot down enemies and dodge a cluster filled screen of bullets. The concept is simple to grasp, but man, these games are hard to master.

Relying on the genre’s solid foundations, Sine Mora features all what you would expect from a game like this – power-ups, upgrades, HUGE bosses and crazy screen clearing weapons. Every plane has a standard gun that can be upgraded nine times by simply picking up an upgrade coin that falls out of destroyed enemies. Secondary fire is a powerful weapon with limited usage, and each pilot that you pick has a unique one. This customization between pilot and plane comes into play when taking part in game-modes beyond the story, like time-attack or arcade.

Sine Mora furthers the genre through a refreshing key gameplay mechanic – time. Every level starts with a timer that is placed at the top of the screen. As you play, the timer will count down. Killing enemies will add seconds on the timer, but getting hit by bullets or crashing into enemies will reduce seconds. You never want to let the clock run down to zero as this timer is your life. Ticking to zero will cause your ship to explode, ending the game unless you have some continues left. Having a time mechanic also means you have to stay alert in regards to bosses. You can no longer simply spend precious time learning the bullet patterns of bosses because if you sit back too long, you’re going to run out of time. It’s a double edge sword that’s new and clever, but it can be frustrating on bosses that take longer to figure out.

The time mechanic helps create a more user friendly environment allowing for newcomers to recover from errors like accidentally traveling into a bullet, which would normally cause death in most types of the games. Another ability based on time is that the player can press a button and slow everything down on screen but the plane you control, making it easier to dodge the bullets. Slowdown effect is limited, so people cannot abuse it, but it’s another way of helping players around difficult situations in the game. This move can be switched out for others when not playing the story mode, such as time rewind, that allows you to go back before death or other instances that a player might want to wish never happened.

Story Mode is the easy mode of Sine Mora’s game types, with normal difficulty for inexperienced people and challenging for people who want it harder. It’s there not only to tell you the game’s story, but introduce you to the pilots, their abilities and the ships that will be available to use. You need to beat the story to open up all the characters and ships to use in the other featured game modes. Normally, stories don’t take centre stage with shoot-em-ups, but the studio has gone all out to make the set-up for the game interesting. It’s a story about one Bison’s (yes, as in the animal; the entire cast in this game are based on animals) revenge for the death of his son, a son who was shot in the head because he disobeyed a military order. This one Ronotra Koss does whatever he can to get his revenge, even if it means blackmailing a cancer recovered rape victim about her nationality to the Imperialists. He wants revenge on everyone involved, even if it means enacting out genocide on the military – he’s serious!

Another group of pilots is also featured, which can be confusing when the game begins to load and you suddenly control another person without any explanation as to why. Once that initial shock is over, it becomes interesting to see how this separate team’s story crosses over with Koss’ revenge plot. It can be hard to follow, which I guess is why the developers added an encyclopaedia giving you more insight into the world. If you don’t get lost while playing, you’ll find a compelling novel that fleshes out the characters. Wow, who would have thought I would have spent that much taking about a shoot-em-up’s story?

Hardcore fans will love Arcade mode. In here, you can pick your own ship and pilot, allowing for customization of the weapons you want to use. The game will gladly tell you that there are 63 combinations and lets you know exactly which one you have used so far. Just to show it means business, Arcade locks the difficulty choices to hard or insane, and I can see people just spending most of their time here trying to get on the leaderboards rather than replying the story again. The only thing lacking from Sine Mora is the ability to play with a friend, which is weird since these games are great for quick plays with a buddy when you’ve got 30 minutes to waste.

Rounding up this great game are the astonishing visuals. Seriously, this game looks orgasmic, and it’s easily the best looking shoot-em-up at the moment. Even though you are only playing with 2D mechanics, the game is rendered in 3D with every level a distinct environment wanting to pop out of your TV, be it the lush cliff side riverbank, underwater sea battle or the steam punk industrial setting. Colours are vibrant and everything is detailed, which the game likes to show off by swinging the camera around for inactive sections of the game. You’ll have to make a friend play it so you can absorb the beauty that’s displayed. It does all this while keeping a rock solid framerate, even when explosions are happening all over the screen – simply jaw dropping.

If you’re looking for an arcade game and fancy blasting stuff in gorgeous spectacular fashion,Sine Mora is something you should check out. It doesn’t matter how proficient you are with the genre, as the game will teach you the ways of a shoot-em-up. If you are already knowledgeable about the genre, then ramp up the difficulty and see if you can get yourself through its meaty challenge. It will keep anyone entertained, and I highly recommend it no matter what side of the experience spectrum you sit on.

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