March 21, 2012

Review – Sine Mora

Review Sine Mora
Time is the fire in which we burn, and pilots seeking to survive the hazardous skies of Sine Mora will want to cling to every fading ember for the chance to learn why the flame that burns half as long also burns twice as bright.

The joint 2D side-scrolling shooter from Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture places the emphasis entirely on that flickering flame, with a time clock often reserved for boss battles in other shooters continually ticking down throughout the entirety of this game.

Make no mistake, every second within Sine Mora counts, because allowing time to slip away is the only way to die.

Review Sine Mora
While the lush scenery encourages taking in the sights, players must keep a constant eye on the countdown clock ticking away at the top of the screen. Rather than taking traditional damage from enemy fire, hits subtract time from this clock. The immediate solution is to earn extra time by quickly destroying the waves of opponents invading the screen, with even the smallest of these adversaries able to unleash large spreads of brightly colored bullets seeking to punch the player’s clock. Dispatching enemies also provides a wealth of pickups to grab between the bullets, including additional time bonuses.

Weapon pickups supply a powerful sub-weapon unique to each pilot that players take flight with, such as wide laser bursts, cluster bomb type attacks, and an energy sword. The player’s primary fire provides a gauge to fill with pickups to increase power, and though taking damage will result in players losing spheres from that gauge, these float away to offer a chance for quick fingers to reclaim them. Additional pickups include score bonuses and a shield that becomes briefly active after collisions.

Keeping time on the mind, there is also a capsule pickup that fills a blue meter, which slows down time as long as players hold the trigger or until the gauge depletes. This is essentially Matrix bullet time for shooters, offering a chance to slip through complex bullet patterns and reclaim lost fire pickups, or simply providing more time to focus fire on the core components of larger enemies.

Review Sine Mora
Separating itself further from other entries in the shooter genre, Sine Mora is strongly guided by narrative, featuring a complex tale of time manipulation that follows a father’s attempt to save his son and another pilot’s quest to save her people. Told with Hungarian audio and English subtitles, each mission is bookended by some rather heavy philosophical monologues about the nature of time, and provides some small insights into this Imperial ruled world seemingly populated entirely by animal-people.

The flow of narrative also features heavily in the play of each chapter of Sine Mora, with each of those chapters broken into multiple stage segments to provide missions directly advancing the story. Because narrative segments and scenarios play out during missions, players are given the option to fast forward through conversations rather than skipping them entirely – this isn’t the most eloquent solution for those looking to immediately get to the business of bullets, but the setup is hardwired into the game’s story mode.

Creating multiple stages for chapters means that players will travel between vastly changing landscapes rather quickly, moving from clear blue skies to fiery industrial zones and then suddenly diving below the water to navigate caverns. And though I’m accustomed to longer stretches of play through larger areas, it’s hard to complain with the results here, which allow the game to continually deliver burst action sequences without delay. This also means that waves of enemies and patterns don’t replicate ad nausea simply to keep the clock alive with fresh kills, opting instead to drop the player into tightly designed kill zones. The shorter stage approach also provides space for more varied environments, with each path leading to one of Sine Mora’s numerous boss encounters.

Review Sine Mora
The boss battles of Sine Mora borrow inspiration from anime, science-fiction and military designs to create a dizzying amount of opponents that are simultaneously familiar and yet freshly imagined through the gloss of the game’s dieselpunk dressings. The term might leave you imagining Mad Max as a shooter anime in the sky, and though it certainly implies an idea of a loud and messy world, much of Sine Mora’s lovely scenery is incredibly pristine, from island locations to an Imperial megalopolis. At the end of the day, dieselpunk means whatever Grasshopper and Digital want it to mean, but there’s certainly space to suggest it is much like steampunk, sans the steam and with a heavier emphasis on mounting weaponry everywhere possible.

Many boss encounters provide large scale but typical military fare, from airships and submarines to battleships and a cargo train, each hiding a plethora of weapons waiting to take players down. But there are also mad anime designs at play, from a giant mechanized robot warrior and enormous insects to construction equipment that will eagerly swing chains and saws at the player while also opening fire.

At one point you’ll fly inside a mega-structure, trying not to crash while waiting for it to rotate with you to shoot power cores, with the game constantly seeking to stress a sense of the physical, particularly with enemies that can push or pull the player.

The scale of boss encounters causes several to split into sections, with a few of these bosses too massive in scale to fit entirely on the screen, and leaving the player to cut through defensive sections before reaching the core. This means that fast hands can overcome sections rather quickly, though every inch of these bosses unleash as many bullets as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Review Sine Mora
When you’re done chewing through the main story, the game also offers boss training modes, score attack, and an arcade mode – the latter offering a notorious “insane” difficulty setting for those in a hurry to crash and burn.

Arcade mode offers a chance to fly through individual stage environments with planes and pilots from the story mode, including their unique secondary weapons.

Arcade mode also presents new options with the time capsule, which can still be used to create the bullet time effect, but can also be changed to allow players to use the capsule gauge to deflect incoming fire, or turn back the clock for a chance to erase fatal mistakes – offering a staggering amount of possibilities to meet your quick fix shooter needs that a helpful screen will keep track of.

Review Sine Mora
While many studios hope to earn the loyalty of the shooter faithful, it’s very rare for a console designed shooter to deliver on the level that Sine Mora does. It’s far more often the case that several of the elements necessary fail to achieve a balance that merits long term admiration or commitment, from the visual and audio to the bullet patterns, enemy designs and tactile sense of interaction.

The visual fidelity here lacks an easily named equal, with gorgeous backdrops of naturalized beauty and gritty industrial areas equally overrun with stunningly designed military machinery, playing out a familiar game against audio composed by Akira Yamaoka. Every mobile unit shows accentuated design flare and unleashes patterns of fire that earn placement with offerings from legendary lords of the genre like Treasure and Cave.

But Sine Mora isn’t important simply because it’s the prettiest stranger at the dance this year, though it certainly is one of the best looking shooters you’re likely to see anytime soon on the 360. There’s never any sense that corners were cut during the production, with small ideas emerging within stages beyond a time manipulation system that encourages the curious to take flight at the same time as giving shooter fans fresh options to master.

Like many great artistic accomplishments, Sine Mora borrows a plethora of varied elements to create an entirely unique atmosphere in a way that makes you forget the bits that inspire it – that makes you believe the entire effort emerged from a vortex of brilliance. And in pushing the expectations for the genre and digital distribution simultaneously, Sine Mora easily joins the very best shooters available, and is unquestionably one of the finest shooters ever created specifically for a console.

Grasshopper Manufacture, Digital Reality


Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade)


Release Date
March 21, 2012

1200 Microsoft Points

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress