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Sine Mora

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Digital Reality
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

As far as side-scrolling bullet hell shooters go, Sine Mora is one of the best-looking. Everything in this game has been constructed with a very clear sense of visual identity. It often alternates between pure, lush, naturalistic environments and gritty, neutral-heavy, dieselpunk areas. All the greenage and blueage is indeed easy on the eyes, but oppressive colors aside, the dieselpunk stuff is awesome to look at, too. Bosses in particular are wow-worthy, though it's really always fun to watch elaborately-constructed robots do their thing. The dynamic camera always shows you what you need to be shown and isn't above showing off a bit.

Sine Mora's sound design is remarkable. The voice track is exclusively in Hungarian; this is a bit startling at first, but the acting itself is excellent. Despite the fact that all the characters are talking animals, the script is thoughtful, bleak, and very mature in nature. In fact, the game earned an M rating because of it. It will prove too deep for some, and those gamers can skip/fast forward through these parts. The music isn't half bad, but it's mostly ambient material that serves the subject matter well. Sound effects completely sell the impact of all the explosions and weapons fire.


Gameplay:

Story-wise, Sine Mora has some strange ideas. However, these ideas work pretty well, despite an air of slight pretentiousness. And yes, it features an all-animal cast. If you take the time to read the monologues and pay attention to the in-game radio chatter, you may find yourself shocked. These bunny rabbits, moles, and ocelots deal with some serious issues. Abduction, rape, genocide -- Sine Mora covers the bases quite thoroughly. It's a very high-minded story, but your mileage will vary. Thankfully, Sine Mora has it where it counts: the gameplay.

Sine Mora is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up game. You move about a two-dimensional plane, fire your weapon, and collect the power-ups left behind by destroyed enemies. Sounds basic enough, but Sine Mora features one idea that effectively distinguishes it from the pack. You see, your plane doesn't have a health bar. The only currency with which you can measure your "life" is time. At the beginning of each gameplay sequence, a timer starts to count down. Once it reaches zero, your plane explodes and the game is over.

There are a handful of engaging modes to fool around with in Sine Mora. There's the Story Mode, which gives you a number of continues and sends you on your merry way through the densely-spun tale of war and sadness. There's also Arcade Mode, which culls out all the story-related trappings and lets you get straight into the action. You choose from three plane types, an assortment of pilots (each of which sports his/her unique subweapon), and choose a capsule. There are sixty-three possible combinations, or Chronomes. Individual components of these Chronomes must be unlocked through play, though. Score Attack fulfills its promise pretty directly, and I'll save the last mode for the next section.


Difficulty:

Sine Mora is no cakewalk, but neither is it Ikaruga. It's certainly harder than most games in that it's a side-scrolling shoot 'em up. However, in a genre notorious for one-hit kills, Sine Mora doesn't put you in too many situations where that is likely. If your maneuvering space is limited, be extra careful and don't be afraid to use your capsule powers. And once you beat a boss, you should get some practice in Boss Training mode.

The game rarely provides you with a good reason to stop firing, so only stop firing when it is clearly a bad idea. Every enemy killed is extra time on the clock, and you'll never run out of primary weapon ammunition. Do the math.

Capsule use, on the other hand, must be rationed smartly. By that, I mean you should gauge your ability to deftly avoid enemy fire and only slow down time when you feel it is absolutely necessary to. There are moments in Sine Mora in which not slowing down time results in (at the very least) getting hit by something that is impossible to dodge in real time.


Game Mechanics:

Sine Mora isn't exactly replete with mechanics, but it leans on its signature tricks to rather great effect. Most of the gameplay revolves around dodging enemy fire and returning with some fire of your own. Time mechanics aside, it's easily comparable to other genre greats such as R-Type, Gradius, and Darius Twin. You shoot down enemy craft and pick up the occasional power-up. These can range from score bonuses to extra time on the clock to weapon upgrades to more capsule meter.

All of these pickups are permanent with the exception of weapon upgrades. If you are wielding an upgraded weapon and are hit, your upgrades will jettison from the ship. When this happens, you must retrieve them before they escape from your flying range. Sometimes you'll have no choice but to use your Capsule power.

Time is literally your lifeblood in Sine Mora. If you are hit, you lose some time. Every destroyed enemy results in more time on the clock. This provides more than enough incentive to actively seek out things to blow up while remaining vigilant about your defense. The first time you play each level, you won't know exactly how long each sequence will last before the "time mass stablilizes" (Sine Mora's checkpoints). This well-designed risk/reward dynamic is the backbone of the game, and for good reason.

The Capsule allows you the use of three special abilities. In Story Mode, it allows you to slow down time. This can be quite useful for those harrowing moments when bullets fill the screen. In Arcade Modes, two other powers are available: Roll Back and Reflection. Roll Back allows you to rewind time, and Reflection grants you a protective shield.

If you like side-scrolling shoot 'em ups, you simply must play Sine Mora. It's fresh, modern, and quite frankly one of the best ever made.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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