If you grew up in the arcades like I did, you couldn’t have missed the shoot-em-ups. They didn’t exactly stand out to me, but they’ve always had kids playing them. The old-school Galaga and Galaxian-style games gave birth to side-scrollers like Gradius and R-Type, and then other developers took the genre to a whole new level with the birth of the “bullet hell” sub-genre. They have legions of fans dedicated to them, and after playing Sine Mora, I can understand why.
The main menu presents you with a few modes of play. First there is Story mode, which has many cut scenes and a lot of story dialogue to read. It’s a fairly complicated story, and I’m still trying to figure it out; it has something to do with a madman who kidnapped an important woman, and he has robots fighting for him. You are a group of time traveling pilots out to stop him. Story has never been a strong point for these types of shooters, what really matters is the gameplay. You are given two choices for difficulty – Normal and Challenging, the harder difficulty offering an alternative ending. You have five continues to play with in this mode.
If you just want action, Arcade mode may be your thing. You have the same two difficulty modes to choose from, and three continues to play with. There are no cut scenes or text to read – just pure action. There is also a Score Attack mod available where the goal is, unsurprisingly, to get the highest score you can achieve on each level. You can choose any level you’ve unlocked already to play on. The game can be challenging in spots, so there is also a Boss Training mode, where you can fight previously encountered bosses. You can keep trying as long as you want thanks to unlimited continues. For those who want an even tougher battle, there is a Challenge mode as well, which is effectively a Boss Rush mode where you encounter fifteen bosses from the game one after another.
The actual gameplay is rather fun. You have your standard weapon and a sub weapon, which changes depending on the ship you are flying. The game has eight levels to choose from and roughly four stages in each. You can’t choose what ship you want, it chooses for you depending on the level you are in, so you need to adapt to the type of weapon given to you. Fortunately they are all fun to fly despite being different.
Sub weapons are very useful, and are a type of smart bomb that clears a good portion of the weaker enemies and projectiles. You can only use this weapon a certain number of times unless you find power-ups from destroyed enemies. There are a bunch of other power-ups to discover too, such as ones that upgrade your main shot (up to nine times), shield power-ups that protect you from a number of hits, power-ups that give you points, and power-ups that top up your time bar.
And that brings us to the twist in the game, the time factor. You have the ability to slow down time for a bit, to help dodge bullets and safely navigate through the levels. The action can, and will get nasty; and there are levels with very tight spaces, so you will need this ability to help slow down things. Getting hit by bullets, or hitting part of the environment will cause you to lose your power ups and time. When damaged, the power ups float away from you, so you’d better get them before they float off screen.
You can use time to your advantage, but it is also against you. Each stage has a countdown clock. The amount of time available varies depending on the stage, but if it runs out, you lose. You can gain extra time by destroying enemies or finding time boost, but if you take damage, not only will you lose your power-ups as mentioned above, but you will also lose time from the clock. When you finish the stage, any time remaining will be added to your score.
Bosses in the game are large and challenging, but I found it hard to tell sometimes to tell what I was supposed to be firing at. The same can be said about certain enemies, which I thought were part of the background.
This has to be one of the most visually appealing shooters out there. Although the action takes place in a 2D plane, almost all the graphics are rendered in 3D. Backgrounds are lush and full of life, no matter what the theme is. Enemies are excellently animated and well textured, and the bosses seem to have a life of their own. In the Story mode’s cut scenes, characters are represented by well drawn anthropomorphic animals in battle gear, which works and is very entertaining.
The game has a great soundtrack to go along with the game play. Its not your traditional electronic music you find in other shooters like this, but it fits very well. I was surprised to learn that the composer is Akira Yamaoka, best known for his music in the Silent Hill series. The sounds of the weapon fire and explosions will have your heart racing. I found myself turning up the volume on my surround sound system to be totally enveloped in the experience; you will not be disappointed. I should note that the story seen during the Story Mode is displayed in English, but narrated in Hungarian. Similarly, when the characters talk to each other, you’ll hear Hungarian with English subtitles to follow along with.
Sine Mora is not a long game, but it has a lot replayability thanks to it’s several modes of play, particularly if you’re eager to challenge yourself beyond simply finishing the game. I feel this is a title that should be experienced and enjoyed by all fans of the arcade shooter genre due to its detail and production values.