What do you get when you mix the over the top antics of Goichi Suda(Suda51), a Hungarian developer, furry pilots, touch controls and lots of bright bullets from a giant mecha thing? You get Vita version of the shoot 'em up(shmup), Sine Mora. Sine Mora was a collaborative effort between Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture and Hungarian developer Digital Reality. Suda51, who we know as one of the more ‘out there’ Japanese creators, and a Hungarian developer who mostly has experience with RTS games are both clearly out of their comfort areas, yet still they came together to develop a game that pays homage to the shmups of the past. Is this fusion of East and West a sign of good things to come? Or is the language/cultural barrier still too wide?
Unique Take on Life Meter - Sine Mora has an interesting way of displaying your life. Instead of having extra lives or a health bar, health is connected to the timer. Each time your ship gets it, the timer gets reduced by 5 seconds. The more the ship gets hit, the faster the timer goes down and then it’s time over. This encourages you to try to shoot everything that’s on the screen. Why? Because each time you shoot down enemy you gain 5 to 10 seconds back on the clock. With this take on the health meter, it makes you get bolder and pushes you to take chances. This is a type of risk/reward mechanic I’d like to see more of in future shmups.Amazing Graphics/Detail for Smaller Screen - Playing/watching Sine Mora on a flat screen HDTV is such visual treat: the massive wave of bright bullets racing towards you, the large multipart boss battles, and the very detailed and alive backgrounds of the various stages. With all that is going on in the game, it would be hard to imagine how Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality could fit all of that action into the smaller Vita screen. But they manage to squeeze everything from the console port all into the Vita making it look just as good, if not better than the console version. Seeing bright red, blue and green bullets on the Vita’s 5-inch OLED screen makes the colors pop even more. You can even see more of the detail of enemy planes, bosses, and the levels due to the smaller, sharper screen. While Sine Mora does look great all round on the Vita, I did have a few gripes about the graphics, more on that in a bit.
Tight Gameplay/Controls - Shmups are probably one of the easiest and most difficult games to play. Gameplay is pretty simple; don’t get shot and shoot everything that’s on the screen. But when hundreds of bright multi-colored bullets, enemy planes and a giant mech battleship are all coming at you at the same time, the controls better be tight. One slip of the finger and its game over and back to the beginning of the level for you. Sine Mora has really tight controls that feel smooth when piloting in the sea of bullets. If seeing a bright neon wall of death gets you nervous, Sine Mora also has time altering abilities that you can take limited advantage of. Take for example the ability to slow down the timer and the speed of all incoming objects so that it is easier to dodge and move around them.
Multiple Combinations of Characters, Planes, etc - As you go through the main story mode, you’ll unlock extras for the game. These extras range from new planes, color schemes, pilots, secondary weapons, upgraded main cannon and other power-ups. As more modes open up, you can choose what stage to start off in and mix and match your equipment. In some stages, having a certain combination of pilot, plane and secondary weapon will make the level much easier to play through.
Akira Yamaoka Led Soundtrack - Akira Yamaoka is one of my favorite Japanese composers, right next to Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo. From the chills of from the Silent Hill soundtrack to the over-the-top synth cords of Lollipop Chainsaw, Yamaoka seems to know what music the game needs all just by looking at what the game is about. Since the game is a shump mixed with "diesel punk," most of the tracks he composed in the game have an industrial/electronica beat to them that matches the levels. Each level’s music is different and catchy as hell. Personally I think that you can put this soundtrack on a DJ setlist in a club and people will love it not knowing it came from a video game.
Pixelation More Noticeable Up Close - Even though I did say that the graphics of Sine Mora do look amazing on the Vita’s OLED screen, since my face is really close to the screen I noticed that there was some pixelation in some of the explosions and bullets. This is one of the downsides of the Vita with any game, and while I did notice them, it did not hamper my experience or enjoyment of the game.
Touch Controls Not So Hot - One of the added features for the Vita version of Sine Mora is the ability to pilot my aircraft using the touch screen. While it is convenient to have it on auto fire without having to hold down a button, my finger would get in the way and often cover my plane. This made it harder for me to quickly react to what’s on screen when I can’t see my plane. You may think this might be something to increase the difficulty and that I should get used to it. It may seem like that, but I feel it isn’t. Give me the precision of a d-pad or an analog stick any day.
Sine Mora for the Vita is what the system needs: a quick pick me up shmup that has the awesome sounds of Akira Yamaoka, tight controls and looks really great on the OLED screen. Having health tied to the game’s clock and a loadout system makes this game more than just about twitch reflexes, but a game of risk/rewards and tactics. Being up close to the screen you will start to see some pixelation in explosions and the touch controls are something to be left ignored.
If you love shmups and want a portable experience that you can play anytime, SIne Mora shouldn't be missed. Now let’s hope that this will convince Cave to release more of their games to the US, namely for the Vita.
*This review was based on the PS Vita version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*