A forgotten genre comes alive in this visually-impressive rendition of what used to be the bread and butter of early video games: a so-called shoot’em up, a la Gradius.
Sine Mora invites the player with gorgeous visuals, all-the-less-expected in a bullet hell game: lush 3D backgrounds go from cloudy skyways and underwater labyrinths, to robot factories and futuristic towns. While during furious shootouts it may be difficult to take in what developers Digital Reality and Grasshoper Manufacture have painted, the game forces the player to pay attention by integrating the enemies and obstacles with main plane, so the third dimension is only an illusion. Enemy carries start to swoop in from afar, and cut scenes transfer the hero to appropriate directions. Unfortunately, in a few moments the designers cheat, and depending on where the ship moves on the two-dimensional playfield, the ship is able to hit enemies who moved deeper into the screen.
The 3D effect is used more with bosses, often multi-part, humongous beasts or contraptions with an array of turrets and lasers. If not the characters, who differentiate with ship sizes and subweapons, it’s the bosses who are the real stars of the game. Gigantic, mechanical spiders or a hornet-like mecha weapons are only the less surprising examples; an assembly line of robots, an observation tower, and, best yet, a round, rotating labyrinth which requires surgical maneuvering to reach specific parts. The frequent boss encounters liven up each of the six chapters, showing off the design and creativity of the creators. Big pluses in that category.
In between the chapters and subchapters, the loading screens feature narration from one of the several characters. Another sign of modern gaming, Sine Mora features a convoluted plot involving a subdued race by the Empire, which dabbles in experiments with time. In a deliberate plot of revenge, an angry father tries to go back in time to kill the pilot who murdered his son for not following orders. The plot device livens up the action and spurs interest, interspersed with lively dialogue in between shooting sections, giving a variety to the pacing. Although the story has some great twists, it is somewhat difficult to follow, in terms of who is working for who or on what “side” they are. A second playthrough helps clear things up since some early-established elements turned out to be not what they seemed.
Time is a factor in the game, as the timer mercilessly counts the seconds to the ship’s demise: lose all seconds and mission over. Killing enemies and picking up power-ups extends the time, but it nevertheless adds adrenaline to an otherwise old-fashioned shoot’em up formula. And this is what the game boils down to: for some it will be bullet hell, and for others, bullet heaven. While simply playing through the game is not overly challenging, only those with an appetite for angry bullet dodging, score maxing, and time-trial beating will truly get something great out of Sine Mora. The game ranks the player on all accounts, and even though it’s difficult to die, getting hit will prevent a high score. Challenge fiends will encounter those aspects entirely satisfying; others will quickly move on.
The crisp visuals and a few new mechanics make the game standout from other classic arcade shooters. Sine Mora truly steps into the 21st century gaming, and while it may hook nostalgic fans or those seeking to spend their nights maximizing that score, it doesn’t have much of a lasting or memorable appeal. Still, it will give enough entertainment for quite a few hours, if only to take a convoluted path down the revised memory lane.
Special thanks to Digital Reality for providing GameNTrain with a copy of Sine Mora for review.