Sine Mora is a dieselpunk shoot 'em up with a large focus on time manipulation as a gameplay mechanic. It caters primarily to those first getting into the genre while retaining enough difficulty in other modes to reel in seasoned players.
As a sidescrolling shoot 'em up, the very basic premise is a standard arcade game. Fly around from one direction to the next, shoot the enemies, gain powerups, fight bosses. Powerups range from adding more time to the level, extra firepower and weapons to one-time use shields and saves from death.
The first noticeable feature is time as a health bar. Rather than getting hit once and immediately dying, getting hit reduces the time limit and scatters your powerups. Conversely, destroying enemies adds time to the stage. This is one of the main reasons why this makes an excellent start into the genre - a lighter degree of difficulty and not as severe a punishment for death.
In addition to limited-use subweapons, time continues to make an appearance in the capsule, which allows you to deploy an ability in case the game's difficulty catches up to you. Options include slowing down time to evade better, rolling back time to take another swing at a difficult pattern, or deploying a reflection shield to protect from bullets.
The game fully expects you to play from start to finish, and thus you are able to keep powerups from one stage into the next. Starting halfway through the story will bring you in without any powerups and may make some stages harder than they have to be.
The story follows two separate paths. The first path follows Ronotra Koss on his quest for revenge against the men who killed his son. The second path follows Akyta Dryad and the Resistance against the Empire in what is dubbed the Eternal War. Both stories are told at once, with half of a stage going to a given path.
With time playing a large role in things, stages are revisted and differing points of history, flying through the same or similar stages, only with different enemies. For example, what was once a militarized canyon in revisited in the next stage as a lightly inhabited lagoon.
While there is some dialogue in the stages themselves, most of the story presents within subtitled exposition points at the beginning and end of the stages. Once again, with time playing a large role, the story can be somewhat disjointed, and it's up to the player to put it together in the correct order.
There are three major modes within Sine Mora and four separate difficulty levels. However, all difficulties are not available in any mode.
Story Mode is the entrance into the game, and as such can only be played on Easy and Normal mode. Pilots, planes and the Speed Up capsule are all selected for you, giving a good feel for each pilot and plane before taking on a more difficult mode. Neither difficulty is very demanding, as the game is very liberal in granting handicaps, especially at early levels.
Arcade Mode removes all story elements from the game and is for more serious players, only available on Hard and Insane difficulty. Pilots, planes and capsules are left up to the player's discretion. Score Attack is similar, but only lets you play a single stage. Hard is the game's intended difficulty, and the only difference on Insane is that enemies explode into more bullets. Once you get used to Hard, the game doesn't offer that much more.
Finally, Boss Training is exactly what it says on the tin - lets you practice against bosses. Planes, pilots, capsules and amount of powerups can be set in order to recreate a fight against a boss.
The grahpics certainly do not fail to disappoint. From the details of planes and enemies to the intricate backgrounds, especially in later levels, Sine Mora delivers with breathtaking beauty. They are well aware of this as well, taking a few cutscene moments per stage to circle around an area or enemy to deliver a full view of their work.
The background music typically matches the stage fairly well, with the music shifting as bosses are fought. The voiceovers are dubbed in Hungarian, which gives the game more of an indie feel. With the action on screen, without adjusting settings, the music has a tendency to disappear behind the firefights.
Sine Mora approaches this in a different manner - ten of the twelve achievements are obtained by Esteem Levels. Each level has a list of objectives to meet before unlocking the achievement, and levels two through ten include the previous achievement as a prerequisite, meaning they cannot be obtained out of order.
The objectives are, for the most part, sensibly placed and balanced in terms of difficulty. There are a few objectives requiring a grind, like spending a total twenty minutes in speed up mode, but these are mostly concentrated in one area and aren't especially prevalent.
This will be a tough completion, especially around the seventh Esteem Level, which is where the game asks you to start beating Arcade Mode. The game will take a bare minimum of 24 hours to complete due to an objective asking for that long, but will likely take closer to 30 or 40 hours.
Sine Mora is an excellent starting point into the genre, granting many handicaps in an attempt to be more inviting outside of its core audience. Veterans expecting a crazy ride with barely dodgable patterns, however, may be left wanting more from the experience.