Side-scrolling shooters like R-Type aren’t as common as they used to be. They’re still incredibly fun to play and the genre has found a very loyal following, despite being a niche game type these days. Now known more as ‘bullet hells’ than shoot ‘em ups, these games are often brutally difficult and require much patience and cat-like reflexes to avoid the apocalyptic number of bullets flying your way.
In this respect, Sine Mora hits all the right notes for the genre. There is a twist however, as hits don’t result in instant death, only the removal of power-ups and the shortening of your time limit. Time is the main factor of this game, as it features even as a part of the story.
Yes, there is a story in this bullet hell. Not a simple, “the bad guys did something bad, go kill them,” kind of story, but a full-on story of war and its effects. It’s an ill-advised idea, focusing on characters that have experienced incredibly brutal and barbaric acts, and using unnecessary harsh language that is totally at odds with the game’s colourful visuals and anthropomorphic characters. It feels out-of-place and, in all honesty, should never have been included in a game that focuses solely on shooting immense numbers of enemies in an arcade environment.
I love stories in games, but Sine Mora would have benefitted from less, or even no, story.
Take away the story and you have a fun, challenging game in which players can enjoy that “one more go” factor that is so important in games of this nature. Visually it’s a treat too, even on medium settings (there really aren’t many graphics options in the PC version), and it’s all down to some wonderful art direction. Colourful and vibrant, even Sine Mora’s backgrounds are a sight to behold, with a constantly animated world living behind the immediate action – sometimes you can find yourself struggling to focus on the action as you’re watching the background.
The visual treats don’t stop there, either. The Dieselpunk style brings with it chunky bi-planes and tanks – nothing new so far, sure, but the boss designs are fantastically over-the-top. Massive submersible command centres with turrets all over the place, a steam train that must be a good few miles long and filled with turrets and missile launchers, industrial-looking aircraft carriers that can turn on a dime and are packing more firepower than an entire army – all these and more are awaiting your challenge in Sine Mora. Bullets and destructive laser blasts fill the screen and force you to stay mobile and still stay focused on each target, making for some strategic battles in increasingly complex boss fights.
The controls are simple enough though, meaning that staying mobile in boss fights isn’t a chore. Best played with a controller (Xbox 360 controller support is standard), you only need to move on two axes on the 2D plane, and you only have two buttons for your standard and special attacks.
Special attacks are entirely dependent on the character currently in use, in conjunction with the aircraft available in each mission. In Arcade, Score Attack and Boss Training modes, you can choose your own combination for the best results. These special attacks are limited in number but can be replenished with power-ups dropped by vanquished enemies in each level.
The only other button used is to slow down time, giving you a chance to dodge a particularly ridiculous barrage of enemy fire, or even to move past obstacles in certain context-sensitive moments throughout the story.
As mentioned earlier, time is a big feature of Sine Mora. The timer constantly ticks down during each level, with kills extending your time and taking damage momentarily hastens the clock’s speed. Although hardly unique, it is nonetheless an interesting mechanic in a genre that usually relies on the simple “get hit and you die” philosophy.
What isn’t unique to the genre is the difficulty. Sine Mora is not an easy game. It eases you in with a decent tutorial and a nice learning curve through the first chapter or so, but soon escalates into a vicious bloodbath. This will be nothing new to veterans of the bullet hell/shoot ‘em up genre, but it may turn off newcomers.
Sine Mora is an exciting and rewarding shooter with plenty of content across four different play modes and various difficulty levels, but it is let down by the odd frustrating difficulty spike and by including a story that is not only clumsy in its telling, but also completely at odds with its gameplay and totally unwelcome in what should have been a game of pure excitement and fun.
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