It has been awhile since there was a good old school shooter released on Xbox Live Arcade. Enter Sine Mora, a side-scrolling “diesel punk” shoot em’ up from Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality. Sine Mora provides a fast paced challenging gaming experience accompanied by beautiful visuals and a creepy techno soundtrack. Sine Mora also has an interesting twist on the genre that sets it apart: the ability to manipulate time.
Time is the central mechanic of Sine Mora. During each stage of a level, there is a timer constantly counting down. Shooting enemies will add time to the timer while taking damage will take time away from the clock. Unlike other shoot em’ ups, there is no health bar, once the timer reaches zero it is game over. This adds a surprising level of tension to Sine Mora, as the clock begins to reach zero you will find yourself frantically trying to dispose of enemies while dodging the heavy waves of incoming fire. The element of time management sets Sine Mora apart from other shoot em’ ups in the respect that you cannot survive for an unlimited amount of time, you must be efficient both offensively and defensively.
There is also the ability to manipulate the timer. During each level your plane has limited ability to slow down time, which becomes especially useful when evading incoming fire or attacking an enemy before it fires. There is also the ability to rewind time after your plane is destroyed. With time being such a crucial element of Sine Mora, and your limited ability to manipulate it, you must earn every second to succeed.
The limited ability to manipulate time can be increased via power ups. As is a staple of the genre, Sine Mora is full of different powers ups, bombs and intense boss battles. Each boss is unique, has different weapons and always put up a tough fight. The best thing about the boss battles are their appearances. Whether the boss is a giant mechanical squid, a racing bullet train or a giant robotic ball, they all look as fantastic as they are dangerous.
Sine Mora is a great looking game. It boasts beautiful looking vistas, which vary greatly between levels. The graphical fidelity of the environments and models can easily be forgotten amidst the fast paced combat and the amount of action happening on screen.
The story is also given more depth in Sine Mora than most other shoot em’ ups. While the added depth to the story is appreciated, the multiple view points and fragmented narrative make it a little hard to follow. With all of the dialogue between characters there is a lot of swearing, making Sine Mora extremely quotable.
There are a few different game modes which should greatly increase the amount of time spent with Sine Mora, particularly for those who are ultra competitive. The standard story mode can be played on two different difficulties, normal or challenging. Most should be able to get through normal with limited difficulty but the challenging difficulty can be very tough. Sine Mora’s story mode is very “old school” in the essence that the player has a limited amount of continues before they must start from the beginning.
Arcade mode removes the story but ramps up the competition through the addition of a leaderboard. If you managed to feel good about yourself after beating story mode, arcade mode’s difficulty and leaderboard will make sure you know that you suck. Sine Mora becomes incredibly difficult and is insanely challenging, which is something few games are brave enough to do.
Sine Mora also includes a score attack and boss training mode. The latter of which will become an important tool to those serious players looking to improve their leaderboard ranking.
If you miss the days of old school shoot em’ ups you will definitely enjoy the story mode of Sine Mora. If you crave a challenge look no further than Sine Mora. With its fantastic visuals, creepy techno sound track and the innovative use of time manipulation, I highly recommend Sine Mora. Sine Mora is one of the most challenging and addictive games of recent memory, it may also be one of the best games released on Xbox Live Arcade this year.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of Sine Mora.