Sine Mora: ...What?
Sine Mora first sprung to my attention from its association with Grasshopper, of whom I grew especially fond of during the period of No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned being some of the best games to bring back the old-school, insane-yet-fun culture that game’s were originally built around.
I can honestly say that the only reason I even gave this game a second glance was because of this association, as you’ll soon find out, it is one of the most incomprehensible, unnecessarily dark and aggravatingly difficult arcade games ever created, that sucks the fun of arcade titles and the expectations surrounding them, established by games such as Super Meat Boy and Bastion.
I’m not even joking, I find this game a massive insult to any kind of arcade-esque, side scrolling shoot ‘em up to date, for the simple fact that this game doesn’t allow the player to ease themselves into the campaign, learn the tricks of the trade and how to utilise them properly...oh lord no. Instead, the player will be forced to go far too old-school for their own good. What do I mean by that, you may ask? Well let me tell you a harsh truth about this game...if this was the 80’s, this motherhumping game would have quarters being thrown into it every thirty seconds, and would cause an entire generation to require constant surveillance, lest they go on a rage-fuelled killing spree after dying for the thousandth time in this god-forsaken monstrosity of a game.
The story...is about animals that had wars, one race being wiped out in an experiment with their race, the main character, a wheelchair-bound buffalo, is out for revenge for the death of his son, that was caused by his former squad-mates...one of whom is a rapist imprisoned underwater...and the buffalo enlists an ‘Enkei’ or cat person, the victim of the rapist, to help him kill all of them...our hero everybody. But apparently there’s some evil guy trying to find one person to kill back in time, in order to commit genocide...you know what? Fuck that, if they wanted this game to make sense, translate the damn thing properly, instead of having all the characters speaking japanese and don’t just make the subtitles English you lazy shits. There’s also some other characters thrown in there, but the subtitles don’t seem to explain much during opening scenes, the pre-mission screen of text fills you in on the info, and while it does seem a little interesting, it’s so convoluted and dark-for-the-sake-of-it that it doesn’t really resonate with the player at all. It’s just information about characters who you can’t pin one way or the other, and is seemingly a waste of time, something that would have been better had the game actually not been of the shoot ‘em up...and bullet hell genre? Ugh...this is just...ugh.
Graphically, it looks very nice, with plenty of variation in backdrops, enemy types and levels, some tranquil, others centring on large, war-torn cities. Each boss is highly different from the last, and even the mid-game bosses are nicely differentiated from one another. However, none of these things really matter, because you’ll be spending most of your time focused on avoiding enemy fire and praying that the bosses’ stupidly wide-spread area-covering laser attacks won’t knock your time down to zero, and making you very frustrated in the process.
Now that’s not to say that it is, in essence, a bad game, but it is awash with ideas that don’t exactly stick. Sine Mora is a game that tries to combine the old-school side-scrolling and flight score-attack mechanics with the same difficult levels and bosses that games of the old days used to have. Now for some, this may sound like something that may be right up their alley. However, this may not be the case when you hear what else they threw in here: time constraints. This aspect of the game actually allows the player to keep playing as long as they continue to kill enemies and fill up the clock with each kill. The whole bullet-hell aspect means that you’ll be dodging constantly to get stay alive, and it can be extremely difficult, given the finicky nature of the controls that, while simple, are extremely reliant on insanely quick reflexes that the player simply may not have if they just start playing the game, costing the player time, and by extension, life.
Bosses have especially random and wide-spread attacks, and can be seemingly unfair, as your score will be negatively affected by the amount of hits taken by the end of the level, along with enemies killed and time taken to complete the levels. It’s overall a very hardcore shoot ‘em up...but that’s just the problem, no matter what you say or do, it’s only really for the obsessive, hardcore fans of the genre, because even when you complete the campaign and unlock all of the other modes, you’ll never be able to choose anything below the final two difficulty settings...and while that might not seem like such a bad thing, the last setting is aptly named; ‘Insane’. Oh they generously give you a Boss Training mode to help you learn the subtleties of the bosses throughout the game, but as I’ve always maintained, in this day and age, if a player cannot buy a game, whatever the genre that may peak their interest, pick it up and play it with all the tools given to them and the appropriate time period to learn those controls, with full access to every aspect of the content, then what’s the point in even bringing a game out, especially as an arcade title, a sub-section of games that is associated with fun for the sake of fun, not difficult because screw you. Every aspect of this game feels wrong, picking up all of the weapon upgrades, only to lose them when a stray shot hits you that you couldn’t have possibly seen is just irritating, it’s not even funny that they spill all over the screen as you make a mad-dash to get them back, while still trying to do everything you were previously doing, instead now you’re ten times more powerless in the face of increasingly difficult odds, of which even basic enemies are seen as dangerous, as they attack in waves, rapidly gaining speed. You can pick up upgrades as the levels progress, some of which will carry over throughout the campaign, but it’s very rare that that happens, so don’t worry about it.
I can’t really tell you about the music of Sine Mora, other than it really is, in general, good. There are some nice scores in it, and it really does make a point of hitting emotional moments with the right tunes at the right times. Other than that, you’ll hear some radio-scrambled Japanese and the sound of you blood-pressure rising as the game just gets unbearably difficult.
Look, at the end of the day, this is a very niche game genre, but it isn’t designed for everyone. As a title mostly designed for those who are already well-familiar and patient with these types of games, Sine Mora lies at the bottom a pile of Grasshopper Studios titles that really didn’t live up to what it was supposed to be. The plot is a jumbled mess, the gameplay is dedicated to screwing over any potential new player, and the unlockable modes only serve as a constant remind that you have to labour over this title day-in, day-out in order to even play those modes. What some would call challenging, I would call arrogant, to believe that your title is so good that you can’t possibly let anyone play the game in a score-attack fashion, a mode which I love, personally, unless they toil in boss-training mode and replay the game, steadily increasing the difficulty because that’s what the developers want, not what the player wants. What this game represents, is a waste of time and effort, alienating players, and trying to cater to what is a very niche group who wish to play these games. For 1200 MS points, it really isn’t worth it, as unlike SMB or Bastion, it doesn’t give you the option to play as you choose; an element that has been long-since cemented in games for a good decade or so. If you’re like me, and you wanted to see what all the fuss was about, maybe enjoy a good old fashioned shoot ‘em up and have some fun...go look elsewhere, because this game is so far from user friendly, it’s frigging disgusting.
· An extremely pretty game, with some beautiful backdrops and settings
· The music is...good, I guess?
· Incomprehensible story
· Sickeningly ruthless difficulty curve
· Bosses whose attacks take up an entire screen
· Lack of proper tutorial
· Extra content modes force more difficult setting on a player, thus rendering the 1200MS price-tag too expensive
· Controls are very loose
· Japanese voice-actors over English subtitles and screens of text? C’mon!
· Extremely new-user unfriendly
Sine Mora stands as a testament to a genre that has long since become so bogged down in its old-school sensibilities; it cannot evolve with modern times. Difficulty for the sake of it does not equal challenging or fun, as it tends to put players off the title entirely. If it sounds like your deal, go ahead and buy it, but be aware, if you’re new to the genre and actually want to have fun, find another title, this one isn’t worth the headache.
WTF? Moment: So our ‘hero’, who saved the life of a rape-victim, then decides to hold that over her head in order to get her help on his mission of vengeance...or whatever the fuck it was? Yeah...this isn’t wrong at all...