Sine Mora, a collaboration between Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture Inc seems like a distinctly unlikely combination. With the former being the studio behind the rather good Sky Drift, and the latter being headed by the charismatic Goichi Suda (more commonly known by his nom de guerre, SUDA 51) who’ve produced esoteric titles such as No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned, the question is whether this pairing pulls together with their new horizontal shooter for XBLA.
With a distinct Dieselpunk vibe set across seven distinct stages, Sine Mora takes place in a world where time is literally everything. All actions are governed by this metric, from shooting down enemies, which adds time to the initial thirty seconds allotted to the player, to the subtraction of time when hit by stray bullets. Once time runs out it’s game over, necessitating the use of a continue.
There are four modes to contend with in Sine Mora; Story, Arcade, Score Attack and Boss Training. Story mode is spread across seven levels while Arcade concerns itself with nothing more than concentrating on securing passage through any given stage – the twist being that they can only be played on Hard or Insane difficulty. Score Attack requires the player to navigating a stage of choice whilst looking to achieve the optimum score, while Boss Training allows the player to practice their skills in dispatching the end of level Guardians in the fastest possible way (perhaps in preparation for a Hard difficulty run in Story mode).
The Story Mode portion of Sine Mora, while providing a stern challenge even on normal difficulty, will eventually be overcome and it’s the other modes that will probably end up providing the real longevity for would-be players. Either Arcade or Score Attack will occupy the most time, swapping fiercely contested places on the leaderboards, but it’s just a pity that there is no option to save or watch replays within the game.
The Insane difficulty level is exactly that, and certainly provides a solid test of skill; one that some might find too tough for them to effectively tackle. Like all good games, practice, repetition and getting to grips with what is asked of the player will soon yield results, providing enough impetus to those dedicated enough to tough it out. It should come as no surprise that we’ll eventually see perfect, no-hit runs appearing on You Tube and other video services as those with the requisite skills show off their handiwork.
The look of Sine Mora is utterly sublime, and is confident enough to mix and match styles all the way through to provide a diverse and engaging experience. Levels set in lush greenery are teeming with detail and as enemy ships fly in a out of the screen it blends seamlessly into dark, metallic production lines, teeming with robots and deadly laser beams tracking the progress of those intruding on their space.
Digital Reality are on record as saying that they were heavily influenced by classic titles such as Battle Garega and Progear No Arashi which is evident at just about every turn. Thankfully this turns into a case of homage to true greats and not a simple copy and paste. There’s an overriding feeling of being unashamed at showing exactly can be done, and it’s a confidence that’s found all the way through the game. Make no mistake, Sine Mora is lean, with no flabby parts to bring the experience down in any way.
While the visual fidelity is splendid, without doubt the icing on the cake comes in the form of the bosses encountered throughout the game. Designed by Anime legend Mahiro Maeda, their intricate detail is only matched by the sheer ruthlessness on display. It can be mesmerising to watch them in action, requiring focus so as to not get carried away by their size and scale for fear of being obliterated in seconds. Facing off against the multi-carriage train Matouschka or Papa Carlo (a giant crane that resembles a Mecanno set gone awry) or even the preposterous, maze-like structure of Domus, the player will be eager to see what is next on the agenda.
And the attention to detail even permeates through to the Achievements earned, asking the player to complete certain landmarks which can be handily tracked to add to the virtual checklist. It encourages and cajoles the player, asking them to attempt increasingly difficult challenges but with the aim of eking out every last drop of what the game has to offer – something very few games tackle effectively.
Sine Mora is a superb title that provides a top tier experience; it dazzles throughout with its confidence, visuals and the quality of gameplay. With all these important aspects covered, it should appeal to both the casual and hardcore shmup fan looking for something new to dedicate their muscle memory towards conquering.