Sine Mora Review (Xbox360)

Last November, Rayman Origins hit the stores, reminding everyone just how beautiful a side scroller can be. Now, Grasshopper Manufacture, in collaboration with Digital Reality, have met that bar, if not surpassed it, with their new diesel punk shooter Sine Mora.

The premise of this game is ridiculously convoluted for what it is; an old school side scroller. The story revolves around you playing as a phantom cell of time-traveling animal partisans waging war against an evil ‘serial revenge killer’ named Rontra Koss. Or at least, that’s what the games website says. It could have been about a bunch of anthropomorphic animals who are blasting their way to get to prom on time from all the sense I could gather from the story sections. But the reason for the brain-meltingly complex and weird story is not to add depth to the overall gameplay, but to give a backdrop to the main mechanic of the game.

How comes a bear can smoke in the woods and I can't?!

You see, in Sine Mora, you don’t have a life bar. Instead, you have a timer on the top of the screen, telling you how long you have left to complete the level. Defeating enemies bumps up the time by around five seconds, while taking damage bumps it down. This not only adds a unique twist to the conventional gameplay of a standard side scroller, but it also adds a new strategic element to the game: Do you try and kill as many enemies as you can on screen, taking damage in the process, and hope for the best, or do you try and play it smart, dodging and weaving, and picking off enemies to bump up the time?

It also makes for some pretty intense boss battles too, with the game providing some spectacular set pieces that incorporate both the behemoths that are the enemies, and the 2.5D world to spectacular effect. The general gameplay of a boss battle offers little difference to one you might have played before in this specific genre, but the look of the game and the clock slowly ticking away at the top of the screen would lead you to believe otherwise.

Another feature of the time travel scenario, is you can hold down the right trigger to deploy the time capsule, which in turn, slows down time. This allows you a brief moment of clarity when your screen fills with enemies and bullets, and allows you to nimbly maneuver through a maze of attacks with the clock slowing down rather than having precious seconds knocked off by taking damage, which would have been the case had you not deployed this coup de grâce.

There are, however, some drawbacks to the dynamic backgrounds and camera work. Although the aesthetics of the game are rich and varied, (helped greatly by the fact that the game is spread across both flying and underwater stages), enemies blend into the backdrop, which at times can itself be distracting enough. Not being able to tell if the other ships are in the field of battle or not causes unnecessary difficulty to an already hard game.

And believe me; this game is hard.

It’s not quite From Software’s Demon’s Souls, but you can bet your ass they’ll be a few controllers-through screens that have Sine Mora to thank. It’s an old school difficulty that is rarely seen nowadays in games that hold your hand way past the tutorial stages.

Checkpoints are few and far between - especially in boss battles, where dying causes you to start all the way back at square one. However, you don’t find yourself begrudging the game; it’s supposed to be challenging. Rarely do you find yourself running out of time because the screen is too slow, or fall under an unavoidable onslaught of bullets (although some of the charge attacks do feel unavoidable.) For the most part, the game is tough, but fair. That is, until you lose all your lives and have to start all the way back at the beginning.

Remember when I said it was an “old school side scroller?” (Go ahead and look - it’s the first line of the second paragraph.) Well I wasn’t kidding. In story mode, you have a set number of lives. Guess what happens when they’re all gone? That’s right: A big fat ‘Game Over’ pops up on the screen and you start all the way back at the start, rendering the past however many hours of play totally moot.

Both the arcade score attack modes (which are basically the story mode but without the story) feature two difficulties: Hard and Insane. Arcade mode gives you retries, whereas score attack is just a case of trying to get the highest score in one go. The other difference between these modes and the story mode is you choose your ship, your pilot, and your secondary weapon.

Caution: May cause those with arachnophobia to s**t themselves

Your secondary weapon is a standard screen-clearing move with limited ammo that ranges from a huge forward blast, to a 360 blast of energy. There are also pick ups including shields and time bonuses, as well as, primary weapon levels ups. Getting hit can cause these upgrades fall out of your ship, and picking them up again risks getting hit even more. You find yourself questioning whether or not braving the barrage of bullets to gain a slight advantage is worth it, as level ups in weaponry stay with you even after death. Again, this little extra features, whether intentionally or not, add that extra element of depth to a genre that seemed to be done with innovation.

Sine Mora is not only a breath of fresh air from a developmental perspective, adding new ideas to a old, yet ofter over-used genre, but it’s also fun. Few games nowadays manage to look good, play well, and still offer a level of enjoyment on par with games that haven’t existed since the Nintendo 64 era, but Sine Mora manages it. And for 1200 MP on the XBLA, I can’t recommend it enough.

Top Game Moment: Loading up Score Attack mode on Insane, and dying after less than ten seconds.

Platform Played: Xbox 360

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