Sine Mora Review

By Michelle Balsan, 6 years ago
Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture, the minds behind Sine Mora, have not been shy when asked about what influenced their production of the title. Referencing heavyweights in the shoot 'em up genre such as Battle Garrega, the favorite of the team, and Einhander, which stepped away from the emerging bullet-hell trend to develop a more inviting shooter, certainly lead to lofty expectations. The question now becomes: Did these studios succeed in creating a game that should be mentioned among those titles it pays homage to?

Box Art

Sine Mora allows you to choose between four types of gameplay; the story mode, from which you can choose novice or advanced difficulties, the Arcade Mode, which also offers novice and Advanced difficulties, but removes the cut scenes, the Boss Training mode, which is populated as you reach and defeat the bosses found throughout the game, and the Score Attack mode, where you tackle a single stage in an attempt to get a high score. The Story Mode on novice is the most forgiving, allowing 10 continues on normal mode, but make no mistake – this game is not for those looking for an easy ride. For purposes of this review, most of the focus will be on Sine Mora’s Story Mode.

Sine Mora, almost surprisingly given it’s a shoot ‘em up, tells a deep and complex story involving a never-ending war. One side of the combatants are members of a race who can travel through time, so they keep doing so to avoid losing their society. It’s a mind-bending prospect, but it plays out well, though you'll likely need more than one playthrough to digest it all. In addition to the overall storyline, the characters have an exceptional amount of depth. We knew Ronotra Koss was a legless bison from pre-release information, but we did not know that his son disobeyed an order to destroy a race of people, thus earning him a bullet to the head. We knew that Myryan Magusa had survived the ravages of cancer, but did not know that she survived rape as well. This is a revenge story, and it has all the dark, uncomfortable trappings of one. Thankfully, the game is better for it.

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Besides having a story that more traditional, story-driven genres would be happy to have, Sine Mora does its best to distinguish itself from its predecessors in the shmup genre by introducing a time-based mechanic. See, in addition to having to duck and weave through gratuitous amounts of bullets and other obstacles, you have to be mindful that your time is very limited. Collecting certain tokens and killing enemies will buy you precious seconds, but getting hit by a bullet or smashing into the side of a cave will take time away. This may sound like an impossible task, but your ability to slow down time for a limited stretch by pulling the RT button (an ability which you can replenish by collecting time tokens) makes the gameplay in Sine Mora unique to its genre. The game isn’t simply about memorizing the complex pattern of the bullets racing toward you, but about time management.

While this time management element does set the game apart and is executed terrifically, it can also be a contributing factor to one of Sine Mora's greatest weaknesses - its difficulty, especially to people who are new to the genre. The developers unquestionably did their best to make the game more welcoming to newcomers by offering novice and advanced playing options, but even at the novice level, the game presents quite some difficulty. It’s also hampered by the fact that, when losing your final continue to a boss in the third chapter, for example, you can either ‘continue’, which takes you back to the game’s beginning, or ‘retry’, which starts you back on Chapter 1.

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You can mitigate some of your losses by choosing to start over at any chapter, but doing so causes you to lose your weapon upgrades. Throughout the game, enemies will sometimes drop red tokens that upgrade your firearms – up to nine of these tokens may be applied to your weaponry. When you get hit, these tokens will fly around the screen giving you a chance to reclaim your awesome guns. When you choose to restart a chapter, however, you are not given the benefit of having the gun power you had, so some introductory areas become difficult to get through. Typically, areas will start with a few waves of smaller ships to help get you some upgrades, but this is not necessarily the case for every chapter and can prove to be a sticking point.

Sine Mora includes seven chapters, all of which are beautifully rendered for view on 2D screens, but also for view with 3D sets. The landscapes crafted by the developers vary from bright, vibrant hillsides to dieselpunk (as promised) gear works to sandy terrains full of all manner of enemy spacecraft. Most notable of all, when discussing Sine Mora’s graphics is the presentation of boss battles. As the bosses are developed by anime titan Mahiro Maeda (Neon Genesis Evangelion), they do not present simple ‘just shoot at him and he dies’ mechanics. Many of them involve you tackling the enemy’s weaponry in stages and the completion of each stage treats you to a fly around where you can see the whole of the enemy in front of you. More than once, the game will elicit in ‘oooh’ or an ‘aaah’ as your pilot weaves through these encounters.

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In addition to top-notch visuals, Sine Mora includes an impressive score composed by Grasshopper Manufacture’s Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill series, Shadows of the Damned). Digital Reality also made the right choice in providing voiceovers in the developer’s native Hungarian. The tone and quality of the voiceovers lend an almost-independent film style vibe to the title. Often, you’ll find yourself having finished reading the text and waiting to listen to the rest of the dialog, which, at least to this ear that is untrained in Hungarian, sounds like it is exceptionally well done.

Sine Mora is not a very long game, with the Story mode clocking in at 4-6 hours. Don’t forget, however, that the playability of the title doesn’t end there, as finishing the game on the advanced difficulty will unlock further story details and the game’s true ending. Also, the time it will take to earn all the achievements will definitely increase the length of game play you get out of the game, but not in a falsely inflated way. You will need to master the game enough to clear it one credit if you want the full 200, assuring that this game will be one for the trophy case should you complete it. A couple of the achievements are easy to pick up, but the rest require some mixture of game progression and completion of specific tasks all of which you can check from the in-game achievements screen.

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In the end, Sine Mora is, on one hand, a lovingly crafted homage to the genre it looks to pay tribute to. On the other hand, the game easily shines on its own, providing solid gameplay and stellar visuals thus earning it the right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best shoot ‘em ups available. If you are a fan of the genre, you simply have to buy this game. There hasn’t been one quite like it and it deserves every bit of your attention for the time the story takes to complete and beyond. For newcomers, especially those of you who are wary due to the difficulty these games are known for, Sine Mora at least deserves a try, as the time based mechanic can serve as an equalizer once you get accustomed to using it.

This review is based off of pre-release code provided by the developer. The reviewer spent six hours playing the game in Story Mode on Normal and another hour dying multiple times on Advanced. Brief forays into Score Mode, Boss Attack, and Arcade were also taken.
Michelle Balsan
Written by Michelle Balsan
Michelle is the Assistant Manager of the Newshounds at TrueAchievements and has been a member of staff since 2010. When not contributing to gaming websites, she makes her living as a mild-mannered librarian. She can be compelled to play just about anything if there's a co-op component, and has been playing games with friends and siblings since the Atari 2600. As it's reportedly healthy to have hobbies outside of gaming, she also roots for some of the most difficult sporting franchises to root for, the New York Mets and New York Jets, but offsets that by rooting for the New Jersey Devils. She's also seen pretty much none of the movies you have, but she's working on that.