Reviews April 10, 2012

Sine Mora

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Reviewed by: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: Xbox 360
Genre: Shoot’em up
Rated: M
Players: 1
Cost: 1200 MS Points ($15)
Release Date: 03/21/2012
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture/Digital Reality

Sine Mora, co-developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality, is another digital title that stands out in the crowded gaming market. It’s a dieselpunk shoot’em up in the vein of classic side scrolling games like R-Type and Einhänder. Just like those titles, there is a story but it isn’t a reason for gamers to pick up the controller. That said, Sine Mora’s time travel story is interesting although it is a little confusing at the start. The story is told through different character perspectives and the threads start to close in towards the end. It feels very anime in its abstract flow from one narrator to the next. Enjoyable as it was, it didn’t make me want to keep playing. The unique spin on the shoot’em up genre did!

If you have played any titles from this genre, you know it’s all about taking down a crazy number of enemies while dodging a crazier number of bullets. Sine Mora is no different in that regard. What does make it stand out is how its gameplay mechanics come together to bring about a fresh take on the genre. Over the course of the game you’ll be tasked with battling enemy planes as different time traveling characters. A the top of the screen is a timer that counts down to zero; apparently, because you’re not in your right “time”, you can only survive there for a short period. When the clock reaches zero you die. In order to extend your time, you have to take down enemies; each kill give you a couple more seconds. You have to keep this up till you reach a check point at which your time will reset for the next part of the level. Making things more difficult is the fact that every time you are hit by enemy fire, you lose seconds off the clock. This loss and gain of time adds tension to the already hectic dog fights. You’ll be forced to fight through an onslaught of bullets just to kill one or two ships, but it’s challenging but in a fun way; which is the whole point this genre in the first place.

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Killing enemies isn’t the only way to “stay alive” in this game, there are also power ups. As you defeat enemies, they drop different colored orbs with abilities designed to keep you alive. The orb you’ll be looking for the most are the red ones that upgrade your main weapon, increasing its firepower. This goes along with the time mechanic; if your guns are stronger, you’ll kill enemies faster resulting in more time. The main weapon can be upgraded nine times. If your plane gets hit, you’ll lose all of your upgrade orbs at once and be forced to grab them before they float away (like Sonic losing his rings). Losing power ups in a game like this is nothing new. Losing them in a way where you might be able to retrieve them if you act quickly enough is. Again, this adds more tension. There have been plenty of times where I’ve lost too much time because I was chasing these orbs after suffering a blow. There are two other types of orbs, but they stay with you whether you get hit or not, so no worries there. You still have to be smart about using them though. Collecting blue orbs will fill up a bar located at the top of the screen. When activated, this bar causes the time around your plane to speed up. Everything other than your plane will start to move in slow motion, making narrow escapes from bad situations possible. Another orb grants a screen clearing super move (it clears enemies and they’re bullets). The super you get depends on the pilot you’re using at the time, but each one is very powerful.

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Battling waves of enemies, racking up a high score for the leaderboards, and taking down gigantic, multi-story bosses never really gets old. Then there are the secondary modes like Boss Attack, Score Attack and Arcade (where you can swap pilots, powers, and planes) that help extend your overall play time. Sine Mora brings all of that to the table and adds them to the time mechanic. What you get is a really challenging game that also fun to play. There are so many games that are “hard” in such a way that it feels like the developer is picking on you. That’s not the case here. Don’t get me wrong, Sine Mora can be very tough. Especially on higher difficulty settings; trying to dodge a sea of bullets that move rhythmically back and forth in a circular pattern and a group of heat seeking missiles at the same time is no joke!  

Even if you do become so frustrated that you stop playing, it won’t be due to Sine Mora’s visuals. The developers worked really hard to give this game a high level of detail and polish. Heck, the boss battles were designed by anime director Mahiro Maeda (Final Fantasy: Unlimited, animated sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1). Everything in this game looks great, making Sine Mora one of the best looking games on XBLA! The audio department was equally impressive. I might not be a fan of all of the music, but I can tell the work that went into creating the scores.

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Sine Mora is worth the price for admission. Cool shoot’em up gameplay, awesome graphics, and more await those willing to drop the points!  The only reason you shouldn’t buy this title is because you aren’t a fan of the genre.

Gameplay: 10
Sine Mora is a blast to play. Literally!    

Graphics: 10
One of the best looking games on XBLA!

Sound: 9
You can tell a lot of work went into the audio. Fan or not, there is quality there.

What’s New: 8
The time elements help make Sine Mora stand out amongst other games in this genre.   

Replay Value: 9
After the campaign there is Arcade, Score Attack, and Boss attack modes, each with their own leaderboards. This is good reason to keep playing.

Final Score:

9.2