Sine Mora Xbox 360 Review

April 10, 2012 by Chris Pickering  
Filed under Features, Reviews, Xbox 360

Publisher – Microsoft – Developer – Digital Reality/Grasshopper Manufacture – Genre – Action – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 16+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

There’s something delightfully ‘old-school’ about the traditional bullet-hell shooter. Maybe because it invokes memories of far off days when games regularly came packed less with difficulty curves, but a thousand mile high difficulty mountain to traverse. Perhaps it’s more that this is a genre that got all the mechanics right 25 years ago, and the last quarter of a decade has been spent honing everything into the perfect shape and feel.

Sine Mora is a classic side-on scrolling shoot ‘em up. Think R-Type or Psyvariar. After the genre seemed to be looking to migrate entirely to the mobile arena and touchscreen controls, it’s a delight to discover that some incredible effort and design genius has been put into helping Sine Mora arrive as something entirely unique.

Time is what matters in Sine Mora. Each stage has you begin with an initial allotment of time. Blasting enemies out of the sky, collecting power-ups, and hitting checkpoints all help add lumps of time to your constantly ticking meter. Get hit by the enemy however, and instead of witnessing your vehicle plummet from the sky, you’ll lose time. And time is the very last thing you want to see slipping through your fingers. As those final few seconds tick down, you’ll be frantically searching for something – anything – to blast out of the sky. A few more hits, another couple of seconds, and the score can continue to tick upwards.

That’s not the only time to consider. You also have the ability to manipulate time to your advantage. While a spewing mass of glowing bullets arc towards your tiny ship, a held button can slow time to a pitiful crawl, allowing you to sublimely manoeuvre your ship through this hail of bullets and arrive at the other side with your overall time fully intact.

Don’t worry about that helping make Sine Mora go against the grain and be far too welcoming to newcomers to the genre. Although the lack of ultimate death can mean even the most ham-fisted of individuals can plough through the Story Mode, Sine Mora can be horrifically difficult when it wants to be. Even the first handful of boss battles can spew bullet patterns that wouldn’t be too out of place in the most tricky that the genre has offered in the past. You’ll get through it all thanks to the mechanics of the game, but you’ll undoubtedly struggle.

The underlying story is surprisingly engaging. At least, it is once you’ve ploughed through the game a few times and got to grips with how the tale is unfurled. It touches on themes and ideas that 99% of games couldn’t even comprehend, and it’s all the better for it. As eager as you’ll undoubtedly be to get logging some scores online, you should play through the story at least twice to delve into a remarkably mature tale. Plus, there’s an absolute mass of unlockables, from powers to new planes with varying hit box locations, to unlock.

In any case, the Story Mode is barely 10% of the total of Sine Mora. Head into Arcade and Time Attack modes to try and register a reasonably impressive score after merely polishing off the Story Mode and you’re in for a horrifying surprise. While Story Mode does an excellent job at introducing the mechanics behind the brilliance of Sine Mora, it’s a relative stroll through a sun drenched park compared to the kind of skill required to post a score even halfway to looking vaguely respectable.

Visually this is an astounding title, particularly for XBLA. The level locations are all varied enough, but share a sense of style that’s difficult to criticise at all. Colours are almost entirely subdued – apart from the regular hail of bullets – and combined with the story that’s told, it invokes a sense of atmosphere that can’t fail to enthral and amaze in equal measures.

While it’s lofty price of 1200 Microsoft space bucks might put off some, anyone who has either a fond memory of spending hours of committing bullet patterns to memory or an interest in leaping into the genre, needs to splash out on Sine Mora. While a single playthrough may take no time at all, the sheer depth of the mechanics at the heart of the game, and the absolute joy that is attempting to beat your previous high-score, means that this is one of the few XBLA titles that could devour just as many – if not more – hours than any triple-A rated blockbuster release.

9/10

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