Growing up, I have always been obsessed with time travel. Perhaps it has to do with the feelings of regret that I have had over the years, but time travel as a story mechanic can prove to be fascinating in various works of fiction. Enter Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality with Sine Mora. Sine Mora is a side scrolling shoot'em up title that borrows heavily from past titles in the genre such as the cult classic Einhander. The premise involves war torn characters battling a bigger threat as you shoot down enemies and gigantic bosses in your little plane. Although at its core it's a shoot'em up game, the title makes heavy use of time travel and time altering mechanics in both its gameplay and story which creates a strong interaction between the two elements. In using a specific concept that ties the two areas together, there is a great cohesion to the game overall which makes it a surprisingly strong candidate for downloadable game of the year this far into the year.
Challenging, Yet Addicting - For the longest time, the shoot-em genre has been ushered into the shadows of the industry. It has become a niche market throughout the years, mainly due to the higher level of difficulty associated with such titles. With past titles in the genre, rage inducing frustration often sets in due to high difficult learning curves and enemies that could quite possibly kill you in one hit. Sine Mora doesn't use such tactics with its gameplay. It creates an experience that caters to all levels. This is created through the time mechanic used. There is a running clock that appears on screen. Get hit, you lose time. Kill enemies, you gain time. In this way, it is very forgiving. The emphasis is placed on fun, but there is still skill involved. You'll have a certain number of continues, but these will only carry you so far if you don't dodge effectively and learn both enemy and boss patterns.
Mixed Elements and Gorgeous Bosses - What adds to the gameplay elements of Sine Mora are the mixed aspects. Not only is there straight up shooting, but there are also puzzle sections which vary the action. These puzzles require you to figure out how to exactly proceed which can prove to be quite intense as you watch the timer tick down spelling out your death. For example, at one point I found myself exiting a tunnel, only to be met by a large explosion resulting in my death every time. It wasn't until I figured out that I had to hide in the debris, that I could continue onward in the level. Furthermore, there is the added dodging and flying sections which give you a further break from the action. What is most impressive however gameplay wise, are the bosses. Once upon a time, Shadow of the Colossus made a name for itself with its breathtaking bosses and boss design. While Sine Mora is not in the same class per se, it certainly has beautiful, yet intricate boss designs. This is not surprising given that the boss battles were originally designed by Mahiro Maeda, an artist known for his work on forms of entertainment such as the Kill Bill series and cult classic Neon Genesis Evangelion. What really sticks out about the bosses in particular is that fact that they are all unique but present that element of danger at the same time. In fact, there is even the inclusion of a Boss Battle Mode where they can be fought at varying difficulty levels.
Story Filled With Many Themes - I will be the first to admit that it is difficult at times to follow the story. However, it makes use of so many different characters with so many different angles that it is difficult to not admire the effort put into the story given its status as a downloadable title. You'll find different thematic concepts mixed throughout the narrative including betrayal, loss of hope, genocide, and most uniquely time travel. These concepts somehow work well together as you learn most of the story in paragraphs after stage completion.
SNAGS HERE AND THERE
Marred plot - As great as the content of the story is there is a lack of cohesion to the narrative. You may find that Sine Mora's story events are disjointed as well as the characters, making it difficult to piece together at first glance. It takes a multi-protagonist approach which sometimes hurts more than it helps.
Minor gameplay gripes - As much fun as I found myself having with the gameplay overall, there were hiccups that hurt it in some regards. Often times, I find it quite difficult to determine by which means I took damage which was frustrating to say the least. While this was most prominent during the boss fight segments, it certainly reared its ugly head during other portions of the game as well. Furthermore, the environments lend themselves to confusion in terms of trying to figure out what is and is not an obstacle. This can prove particularly troublesome during segments of the game that require specific dodging skills.
Sine Mora is a great title amidst the rather slow spring gaming season. With the release of few blockbuster titles, Sine More is a more than stellar alternative. Not only does it provide fun, interesting gameplay in a stagnating genre, it tells a tale dealing with complex issues that any serious gamer will appreciate in these days of lackluster story content. While there are problems such as a disjointed narrative, the stags are few and far between and are heavily outweighed by the many positives the game has to offer.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*