For as long as I can remember, I have loved playing shoot ’em ups. To be honest, though, I was never any good at them. I just liked how each one tries to be unique by adding in new and different elements. No matter what was added to the mix, shoot ’em ups have always been pretty difficult. Every one that I have played always had a screen full of enemies and laser fire so cluttered that it was hard for me to locate my own ship. On top of that, I had a limited amount of lives. After I use them all, its game over. Sine Mora holds to that tried and true formula, but like most of the others, it adds its own twists. Thankfully, they are some of the coolest I have seen in this type of game.
While most (if not all) shooters have you strolling along levels dodging a lot of enemy fire, Sine Mora adds the pressure of time. In past shooters, all I worried about was evading enemy fire and getting to the inevitable huge boss waiting for me at the end of the level. Usually, if you are unfortunate enough to be hit by fire, your ship blows up and a life is lost. Well, in Sine Mora you still have to worry about dodging a ton of fire, but you also have to pay attention to the clock. At the beginning of each level, you are given a set amount of time to complete it. The twist here is that, if you shoot an enemy, you get more time. But, if you are hit by one, you lose time.
The gameplay is no different from other shooters: guide your ship through enemy fire, take down as many enemies as possible and face a huge boss at the end of the level. In another twist, there are some levels that have more than one boss. When I played through Sine Mora, I noticed that, while there were a good amount of enemies on screen, and a lot of fire to dodge, the real challenge lied in the boss fights and getting through the level without the clock ticking to zero. Once that happens, your ship blows up and a life is gone. The boss fights provide another whole layer of challenge. Just like in other shooters, they are huge and have multiple vulnerable points to destroy. The whole screen gets filled with fire, and it gets incredibly hard to dodge all of it. This is where the coolest twist in Sine Mora helps: there are different time-manipulating devices you can use to help come out relatively unscathed. Speed up slows down the time around you; roll back allows you to turn back time, even if you get hit or destroyed and reflection activates a shield that reflects most projectiles. To use these time manipulating devices, just hold down LT for as long as you need to. These are powered by a meter, and once it runs out, you have to get power ups from shooting enemies to refill it. Use these abilities wisely. I found that there were times I needed to use it throughout the level, but most stages I was able to save it for the bosses.
Sine Mora has a few different modes to play through, each with its own difficulty level. Story Mode takes you through the world of Sine Mora and tells a tale. I didn’t really care about it, because I believe that stories don’t belong in shoot ’em ups. In this mode, there are two different difficulty setting: normal and challenging. If you are new to this kind of game, normal is more forgiving, but still gives a bit more of a challenge. If you are experienced, then you might give the challenging setting a try. As you complete stages in Story Mode, you unlock ships, pilots and time devices to use in Arcade Mode. Arcade Mode has two different difficulty settings as well: hard and insane. These two are for those that live and breathe shoot ’em ups. I tried to play through Arcade Mode, but lasted something like 30 seconds. In Arcade Mode, you pick your plane, pilot and device to alter time. After that, you are taken to a screen that shows you a grid.
The grid has over 60 spaces, and each one represents how many combinations of weapon and time devices you can make. The catch is that you have to unlock them all first. Choose the difficulty setting and you are on your way. In this mode, there is obviously no story to pay attention to, but you do have to focus your play style, the game adjusts enemy behavior. So, if you think you figured out patterns, you will have to think again. The only problem I had with this mode is, in fact, the difficulty. I wish that the normal or challenging difficulty settings were included, because Story Mode only took me a couple of hours to complete. I wanted to play through Arcade Mode, but it was way too hard. I suppose the same thing could be said about Story Mode. Why weren’t hard and insane difficulties included? Other than Story and Arcade Modes, there are Score Attack and Boss Training modes that can help you improve at playing the game.
Other than all the different things that made Sine Mora stand out from other shooters, the things that really caught my attention were the graphics and the score. The look of this game is amazing. Each world is beautifully illustrated and looks fantastic. The different levels take you from high in the sky to below sea level, and each looks amazing. The colors used, and the amount of detail that went in to each of the levels, is jaw dropping. I never really care about graphics in a game (I rarely mention them in my reviews), but they are worth mentioning here. I have never seen a shoot ’em up look so beautiful. To back that up, is the score. Composed by Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill and Shadows of the Damned), it is the best soundtrack I have heard in a game to this day.
In all, Sine Mora is a great shoot ’em up with some of the coolest twists that really help make it stand out from the very crowded field. While this title is my second favorite (Ikaruga still remains my fave), it comes with some flaws. The biggest ones are the segmentation of the difficulty settings. There are players out there that will breeze through Story Mode in about 30 minutes, because the difficulty is a little too easy. The same thing can be said for Arcade Mode. I really wanted to play in that mode more, but cant make it more than 30 seconds without dying. That frustrated me quite a bit. However, with over 60 different weapons and time manipulation combinations, a great score and look and some cool new gameplay elements, Sine Mora is a shoot ’em up that cannot be overlooked by any fan of the genre.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.