Back in March of this year Sine Mora game to the XBLA and blew me away with its stunning visuals and excellent retro shooter action that hearkened back to my days growing up in the arcades playing games like Defender and Zaxxon. Over the next 30 years I would play many more shooters of the vertical and horizontal nature, but none of them have ever come close to achieving the amazing visuals Sine Mora brings to the screen, and with the exception of Ikaruga, none have ever been this difficult.
Sine Mora dazzles you with production values normally associated with AAA console releases. The level of detail in design, textures, and background art is second to none, often creating distractions that will get you killed as you marvel at the visuals while overlooking that incoming pattern stream of weapons’ fire. Combined with a fantastic score composed by Akira Yamaoka that blends adventure, action, and a hint of danger, you have quite the cinematic shooter here, especially when the game manages to seamlessly blend these sweeping 3D camera moves and autopilot sequences between the action shooting parts. And if you don’t care for these, simply squeeze the left bumper to fast-forward them.
Sine Mora has several unique mechanics that sets this shooter apart from anything else in the genre. First is the time mechanic whereby every enemy you shoot puts extra seconds on the diminishing real-time clock. Rather than taking damage, when you are hit the clock ticks down faster, and if it reaches zero before the checkpoint its Game Over. Time can also be slowed down by using the right bumper, and this is an effective tool in dodging complex streams of enemy fire or quickly reposition your ship to target a vulnerable spot on one of the incredibly complex and massive bosses designed by Mahiro Maeda. You have a limited amount of this ability, and even though it can be refilled with power-ups, you still need to use it strategically so you have a bit stashed for the final boss fight in each mission.
Speaking of power-ups, there will be all sorts of floating glowing orbs that materialize from the debris of your exploded enemies. These can give you secondary fire abilities, refuel your time bank, add bonus points and most importantly, increase the power of your primary weapons. As you collect red power-ups your primary weapons become increasingly deadlier and can even adapt to new patterns of fire, but should you take damage ALL of your current power-ups will detach from your ship and you will have to quickly recollect them. Think of it as Sonic getting hit and losing his rings. You have precious seconds to collect your lost red orbs as they float to the four sides of the screen, all the while having to dodge enemy ships and incoming fire.
Each level has a certain ship assigned to it in story mode and once beaten that ship is unlocked for selection in the arcade mode so you can try other ships in other levels. Ships each have their own unique weapons and you can create over 50 powerful combinations to fit your own play style. Sine Mora is brutally difficult. Early on you will be given the option for the Novice or Advanced path, which is a nice touch until you realize that Novice is just delaying your frustrations for a few extra levels. There are seven stages and I have yet to finish the final stage, even on the Xbox version that I started nine months ago. I’ve even brought in other staff members who are much better at these shooters and none of us can get through this final stage. Sadly, the PC version mirrors that console difficulty and this might just be one of those games we never get to finish.
My complaints are few and minor and aside from the overwhelming difficulty that could easily be fixed with a “super suck mode” that allowed for infinite continues or just a reduced difficulty, my only other issue is the Mature rating that might be limiting the potential audience for the game. Keeping in mind that all spoken dialogue is in some foreign language, you will be reading (or overlooking) paragraphs of story material between the levels and reading subtitles of spoken dialogue during the game. None of it is particularly useful but it is peppered with needless foul language. Bottom line, if you could turn off subtitles or if the person playing the game is illiterate Sine Mora would be rated E10+ at best. For some reason, the most needless weapon in this game’s arsenal is the F-Bomb, and the designers drop it frequently, even twice in the same short sentence.
Sine Mora is a fantastic shooter that will provide endless hours of addictive gameplay, first as your simply try to finish the game, then as you hone your skills and starting working on raising your letter grade for each chapter and start to compete for high scores on the game's leaderboards as well as trying to earn all those achievements. This is old-school action with a 21st century facelift and a game that no skilled and patient shooter fan should skip.