Sine Mora EX (Xbox One Review)
Let me preface this review with a confession – I didn’t finish Sine Mora EX for reasons (well, reason actually) that I’ll come to shortly. It’s a game I may never finish, truth be told. However, allow me to say that there also aren’t many games I’ve played in 2017 that I would recommend more.
An extended version of 2012’s Sine Mora, Sine Mora EX is, on the face of it, a fairly standard side-scrolling shoot-em-up. Lots of enemies, lots (and I mean LOTS) of projectiles and plenty of power-ups. It does the basics very well – enemy types are varied, controls are responsive and collision detection is on point.
However, whilst its rock-solid basics put it in the conversation, it’s Sine Mora’s unique selling point – its time-based mechanics – that puts it over the top. Each level sees you start out with a set amount of time that begins ticking down as soon as it begins. That clock basically acts as your health bar – you gain time by killing enemies and lose time by taking hits. You also have the limited-power ability to slow down time by pressing. This proves to be especially handy during boss battles, where the sheer number of projectiles can be overwhelming.
In many ways, the modern bullet hell shmup feels almost defensive in nature – less about the shooting and more about the surviving. By utilising this time mechanic (as well as the ability to reclaim your power-ups after taking a hit, if you’re quick enough), Sine Mora EX flips the script a little by rewarding playing on the front foot. As someone who’s never had the greatest of reflexes, I really appreciated being able to brute force my way through some of the early boss battles and some of the tighter areas, knowing that I was essentially given a second chance.
Elsewhere, Sine Mora’s story is an odd one, being that there actually is one beyond the standard “stop the alien/evil human invasion”. Some voiced-over flavour text between missions fills in the background of the major players. Kudos to the devs for trying something a little different, but I’d be lying if I said that I paid major attention to the storyline. There are also some short in-engine cutscenes. However, in a neat extension of the time motif, these can be fast-forwarded to quickly get you back in the action.
Speaking of the game’s engine, Sine Mora EX is a real looker. With what could be described as a shiny cartoon look, there’s a great deal of variety. Backgrounds and sprites contain a great amount of detail to pore over, during the brief moments of respite. However, the real highlight of is in the design of the bosses. Matching levels of scale with equal levels of intricacy, they’re truly unique. Rather than your standard Lovecraftian or Eldritchian monstrosities, Sine Mora’s bosses all take their cues from a modern take on the Industrial Revolution. This gives everything a steampunk look that fits perfectly with the game’s overall vibe.
And now…to the elephant in the room – my inability to complete this game. With Sine Mora being an arcade-style shmup, it works with continues rather than lives. You’re provided with nine and once those nine are done, you are done. And I mean done. You’re not just kicked back to the start of the previous mission. Oh no, you’re kicked back to the start of the game. For shmup savants, this probably isn’t much of an issue. Hell, they’ll probably not even require one continue, let alone nine. For average Joes like me? THIS IS ABSOLUTELY INSANE. Ahem. Anyway. I have made my peace with the fact that I’m unlikely to ever finish Sine Mora EX. However, it’s worth bearing in mind before you make that investment.
Having said that, I’d absolutely still recommend that many make that investment. Difficulty aside, it’s a unique and fun experience that sits memorable amongst the plethora of cookie cutter shmups. More importantly, it’s just a genuinely good game in its own right. If you didn’t play it in 2012, you should definitely play it now.