The shoot-'em-up genre, otherwise more commonly know as the "bullet hell" genre by its fans, has been mostly relegated to PC releases, muted Xbox 360 releases and mobile devices, with only a sliver of the games actually skipping over the ocean to Western territories. With the videogames industry focusing on trying to appeal to everybody at once, the time-tested genre hasn't ventured out too much to appeal to anyone besides its fans.
There is something to be said about a game which knows its audience, however, and that's most definitely the case with Suda 51's Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality's Sine Mora, a shoot-'em-up that takes everything fans know and love about the genre and mixes it with the HD graphics that the home consoles are known for. The question remains: Does Sine Mora have what it takes to appeal to those outside the genre or is this just a prettier version of what fans have already come to expect?
True to form, Sine Mora plays and controls much like you'd expect from a normal shoot-'em-up title. You fly from left-to-right (and occasionally right-to-left depending on the stage) shooting down enemies as you try evading their attacks and picking up the various bonuses they drop using either rapid-fire lasers or a limited special wide-range attack.
The catch is that unlike most games in the genre where you have a set amount of health to work with, you are fighting against the clock during each stage. Get hit, you lose time --- run of of time and you fail the level. Following this motif, Sine Mora gives you a special time-based ability which lets you slow down time temporarily to evade enemy attacks. Initially it doesn't seem too useful, but once you get to the game's bosses this ability becomes paramount as the bosses don't spare any time in spamming the screen in a hellfire of bullets from time to time. There's something refreshing to be said about feverishly trying to shoot anything that moves on the screen when you have only a few seconds left on the screen. It makes it even more frantic wen you're trying to dodge the bullets that will send you to your death and it raises the game above the generic bullet dodging shoot-'em-ups that have been the standard for the genre recently.
This ability is the main draw of the game's story mode which focuses around an initially convoluted story of a man looking for revenge after his son is murdered by the military for refusing to carry out their orders. Generally shoot-'em-ups aren't known for their stories if they even have one at all, so having a decently competent story with fully-voiced dialogue (spoken in native Hungarian, developer Digital Reality's native tongue) is an especially nice bonus. Sadly there are some minor plot issues that arise and the fact that the story doesn't really come together until near the end of the game, but these aren't a huge detriment to the mode in the slightest.Even the best story can't hold a game up unless the music and graphical environments are there to match it, so fans of the genre should be especially pleased to know that Sine Mora delivers handily in this department. The game's world, which is fleshed out with vivid colors and incredibly sharp environments, is played on in 2D world, which is the general standard for the genre. Being an HD console title, however, this is complemented by a 3D engine which periodically pans the camera in and out as the on-screen character flies around a mountain or dives into the sea. This carries on to the game's bosses which are spectacularly massive with parts of their bodies fading into the background and foreground to lessen the plain 2D effect that other games in the genre have fallen into. Needless to say, if you love shoot-'em-ups, but needed a little extra oomph, Sine Mora should be right up your alley. In addition the soundtrack, while not overly memorable to any degree, compliments the game nicely and isn't grating on the nerves.
Of course for hardcore fans while a story mode is nice and everything, what they really want is complete mastery over the game and that comes in the form of leaderboards. This takes place in Sine Mora's Score Attack mode which allows players to mix and match the available characters and ships to make their own combinations that suit their style of play. In addition, two new time-based abilities are available alongside the original one from Story Mode which let you rewind time or deflect bullets back to the enemy.
There has to be a catch to all this newfound freedom, however, and that comes in the decidedly fiendish scoring system the mode uses. Like in all shoot-'em-up titles you get a multiplier as long as you keep evading enemy attacks which exponentially boosts your overall score. In Sine Mora, however, the game penalizes you for using your secondary attack as any use of it will automatically reset the multiplier. In practice it's a simple yet incredibly smart idea as it allows newcomers to get through the mode without too much trouble with enough practice since it doesn't limit them from using it, but instead puts the pressure on hardcore users who want to do things perfectly. Shoot-'em-up fans know full well that this these kinds of games require tons of time learning their inner mechanics and the genius of Sine Mora is that it recognizes this fact and full heartedly embraces it.
In addition to the Score Attack there's also an Arcade mode which reduces the time in each level severely to 15 seconds and forces the player to restart from the beginning each time. Both this mode and Score Attack force the player to choose either the Hard or Insane difficulties instead of the more easier normal difficulty found in the Story mode.
Sine Mora is easily one of the best shoot-'em-up titles released over here in the West in recent years and is an easy recommendation for fans of the genre. Yes, it does have an initially high 1200 MSP asking price, but those who know the genre know they'll be playing this game for months on end honing their muscle memory, so if the game is good they will buy it regardless. And for everyone else who isn't a fan you'll still have rather fun time as long as you put in effort to get accustomed to the game's mechanics. If you're in need of a stand out XBLA title, you should pick up the Sine Mora.
|Graphics are stunning for the genre.|
|The scoring system is novel.|
|Plenty to keep genre fans interested.|
|Slightly high price point.|
|Story has some plot issues.|
|The soundtrack doesn't do enough to stand out.|