Sine Mora – Review

Title   Sine Mora
Developer  Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher  Digital Reality
Platform  Xbox 360
Genre  Shoot 'Em Up
Release Date  March 21, 2012

While it’s true that any jaunt over to your local videogames emporium will usually end in an apathy-induced depression as you wade through case after case of FPS and racing games, fans of the old-school shoot ‘em up style of gaming probably haven’t ever had it this good. Digital distribution has certainly opened up avenues which were previously only available to the hardcore fans who were prepared to fork out over the odds for imported Japanese titles, and with companies such as Cave and Rising proving there is an appetite for the genre here in Europe, developers and publishers are now able and willing to release new IPs to gamers who previously may not have bothered with shoot ‘em ups.

Sine Mora is one such new IP that mixes a fresh, modern look with classic horizontally-scrolling 2D gameplay and is bound to attract existing and new fans of the genre. The game is a joint venture between the excellent Grasshopper Manufacture studio (No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, Killer 7) and the entirely blaverage Digital Reality (SkyDrift, Dead Block and other assorted shovelware). With Grasshopper handling the conceptual art, Sine Mora should at least be an interesting take on the bullet hell shooter and with the devs claiming that it reinvents and reinvigorates the genre while staying true to gaming roots found in titles such as Battle Garegga and Einhander, there’s a reason why this game has been pulling a lot of hype in shoot ‘em up circles.

However, once you get past the sparse but elegant menu system and into the game, things fall apart quite rapidly. It all starts with the story, a slightly confusing tale of genocidal robots and time travel that combines a Hungarian voice over with English text. Thing is, it’s a shoot ‘em up. These things don’t need plots and after tapping my way through a bunch of text like some sort of DS owner, the pretentious bullshit plot seemed unnecessarily dour and dismal. So much so that the devs decided that all the characters in the game should be animals in order to make things a little more crazy. Not crazy in a good way but rather crazy in a ‘let’s go trainspotting and then do some stamp collecting’ kind of way.

Once you get into the game, first impressions are pretty good. The deliciously hi-res graphics look absolutely spectacular for an Xbox Live Arcade title with the 2D gameplay being presented with 3D textures (similar to how Street Fighter IV works). This gives the camera plenty of opportunities to swoop around before set-pieces but thankfully never during the actual action. The mix of steampunk scenery and vibrant blue skies initially looks absolutely lovely and bodes well for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, despite this technical excellence, Sine Mora soon reveals itself to be one of the least interesting shooters on Xbox Live.

Almost immediately, the enemies are straight from the Xbox Live Bumper Book of Lazy Design. Each of the game’s seven stages are littered with boss battles and if you’ve played more than a handful of shoot ‘em ups, you’ll be able to guess what’s coming. Arachnoid robot boss? Check. Railway train boss loaded with turrets? Check. Giant tanks? Check. Every boss in this game seems to be a mechanical bulletsponge and while the level of detail on each of them is admirable (thanks mainly to the involvement of famous anime artist Mahiro Maeda), there really isn’t anything on offer that you haven’t seen in games such as (and these are from the top of my head so there are probably dozens more) 1942: Joint Strike, Gatling Gears, Renegade Ops, Heavy Weapon and Assault Heroes.

Aside from the generic designs, the two bosses also present two of the game’s biggest problems. First, the level of detail on them makes it difficult to actually identify their weaknesses, which isn’t great when you’re avoiding the waves of bullets they are spewing at you. Second, there are just too many of them with multiple bosses per stage. Given that many of them are, at least in the heat of battle, completely interchangable, it’s a shame that the devs have focused so much of the gameplay on dealing with these mechanical motherfuckers.

Between battles you’ll be taking out smaller enemies and aiming to nab the powerups they drop in order to prepare you for the next boss encounter but with most of the bosses requiring memorisation rather than reflexes and skill, these are the only bits that most gamers will enjoy. Even then Sine Mora will still find ways to infuriate you with scenery-related deaths also posing a problem later on and, to make matters worse, the better you play, the harder the game gets which gives it a level of inconsistency that is at odds with the often memory-based gameplay.

Fans of hardcore shooters may well lap this up and I can’t ever claim to be a shoot ‘em up expert (although I am well-versed in the genre without ever quite reaching the excellence of true afficiandos) so maybe I can’t speak for them but this game is, at times, staggeringly unfair. Deathsmiles and Dodonpachi Resurrection may be tough as nails at times but they don’t throw in magic bullets that weave around the screen or homing missiles. Nor do they actively punish you for engaging the game’s unique gameplay mechanic, which in Sine Mora’s case is the ability to slow down time. Using that or your secondary weapon lowers your score rating for the level but again you have to note the inconsistency. If you’re going to concentrate on score, make the game a bit more playable and don’t make the game much harder for me if I’m doing well. That’s just a cunt’s trick.

Indeed the bullet patterns here are something of a departure from the classic ‘bullet hell’ template. Instead of patterned waves to navigate through, bosses in Sine Mora have so many different ways to get you (with many of them employing the windscreen wiper of death technique between waves of magic bullets) that trying to memorise them all makes Ikaruga seem like a breezy and casual way to kill an hour or two. It’s not that they are even that difficult to deal with individually (the game isn’t really interesting enough to include feats of desperate skill) but rather that these fucking boss battles pop up just far too often.

The difficulty of the game is something that I, and most other gamers, can accept if the core gameplay is good but Sine Mora really is just a slow grind from one boss battle to another. Everything has a flimsy, lightweight feel to it with your shots seemingly carrying no weight and the gameworld having no real inertia to it. This is apparent when it comes to your standard weapon which is like flinging peas at elephants and hoping they’ll topple over.

Weeks of dedication and practice will maybe help gamers enjoy the game a little bit more but, with such a bland setting and no real promise that it’ll get better, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to bother and with better, cheaper titles on offer such as Guwange and Omega Five, you’d be much better off trying those. By all means, try the demo of Sine Mora but be sure to play it to the end of the demo and then realise that the game will never be any more interesting to look at or fun to play than what you’ve just experienced.

  • A very polished take on the genre
  • Often beautiful to look at
  • Savage difficulty may appeal to people who like that sort of thing
  • A slow, joyless trudge through seven levels of mechanised twattery
  • Uninspired boss battles that turn up far too frequently
  • Cluttered visuals often obscure the action
  • Difficulty can often be far too cheap
  • Too long for a game with so little actual content
  • Makes Ikaruga look like an acid party at Mardi Gras
  • Savage difficult won't appeal to people who play games for fun

Sine Mora is a supermodel of a game. Stylish and beautiful but with no personality at all and absolutely no fun to be with. Overpriced, boring, probably addicted to cocaine and may be dating Pete Doherty. With so many better options available for both casual and hardcore gamers on Xbox Live Arcade, and at a better price, this is a game to avoid.

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  1. Mark Mark_s says:

    The relationship between gameplay and visuals. Imagine if you will a fantastic pair of boobs, they are great fun to play with, the gameplay. Now imagine an amazing lace bra supporting and uplifting those magnificant boobies. The sight of this bra makes you want to play with the boobies even more, the visuals.

    Now imagine those boobs are old and wrinkly, drooping to the knees. That bra may give some support, but fuck you if you think I want to play with wrinkly boobs!

    The end.

    Great review man.

  2. Ian says:

    In other words, not even when it’s on offer for 400MSP in three months.

  3. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Richie. Why isn’t this as good as R-Type? It should be as good as R-Type. It’s the LAW. Shooty scrolly games should be as good as R-Type or just not be put out at all. Remember Project-X by Team 17? It was like R-Type. Nemesis? R-Type. All good.

    There should be a referendum or something.

  4. Edward Edward says:

    I’m not one for the old school shoot ‘em up anyway, with my only foray into it in recent years being the little minigame they had in No More Heroes 1&2, and I sucked at those, too. Though, I did get Jamestown in one of the indie bundles, so based on your review of that I’ll probably give that a shot instead :)

  5. Lorna Lorna says:

    I have to admit that this game is a bit of a siren… it almost lures gamers in to then wreck them on the rocks of poor gameplay. The thing looks absolutely fucking stunning, especially of an XLA title and I love the steampunky theming in some of those screens, but I never was that great with side-scrolling shooters back in the day, let alone if the difficulty has been pulled higher than an Essex girl’s ponytail. One of those games that you are better off watching someone else play… looks great and you have none of the pain of struggling yourself.

  6. Blake says:

    The worst thing about the game’s the controls. Compared to Cave’s tight controls, the planes feel like they’re basically impossible to maneuver throw gaps that would normally be easy to squeeze through.

    Thank goodness there’s always Akai Katana. It’s the polished shmup that Sine Mora wishes it were.

  7. [...] This review is midgety as fuck.  Want more? There’s my full review at GAMING LIVES. [...]

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