Sine Mora

Developers – Digital Reality, Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher – Microsoft Studios
Platform – Xbox 360

Grasshopper Manufacture seems to be having trouble getting a grasp of qualitiy titles in recent years. What was the last good game from that developer that didn’t have Suda51′s name slapped on it? Considering their horror game Zero never made it’s way to America, Contact would have to be it, and that was six years ago. Sine Mora, a bullet hell shmup (shoot ‘em up), aims to fix this trend. With no trace of the demented autuer in sight, the game represents the first earnest attempt from Grasshopper to show off it’s own talent.

Sine Mora tries to be different from the typical bullet-hell shmup by utilizing a unique mechanic the replaces where a lifebar would go with a timer. Once you’re hit, the timer begins to tick down and never stops. To add more time onto it, you have to destroy enemies and take their remains or build a combo. It gets quite hectic, but to aid this, the game also has a time slow mechanic which allows you not only to slow your timer down, but also dodge incoming fire.

The game is fairly typical outside of that. It’s a horizontal shmup, so the game flows from left to right. Your ship has two firing methods: Primary weapon and secondary weapon. The primary weapon has unlimited ammo while the secondary weapon can be regained by building up a combo. If you do utilize secondary fire though, the combo ends. As the game goes along your ship collects power ups to enhance it’s primary fire, up to 8 max. If your ship gets damaged, the power ups scatter in a Sonic-ring fashion, giving you some time to pick them all back up. Then there are bullets, lots of them, all different colors, shapes, and sizes.

The gameplay is complimented by some quality, subtle music from Akira Yamaoka, one of the great gaming composers of our generation. However, on the grand scale of Akira Yamaoka pieces, I’d say this soundtrack falls a bit short. It’s not so bad, we’re dealing with greatness after all, and it gets the job done. It just never really stands out.

For those looking for a multiplayer shmup fix, you’ll have to turn the other way. The game only features only 4 game modes, all single player. There’s story (who plays shmups for story?), Arcade, Score Attack, and Boss Training. All of them are fairly self explanatory. Story is Arcade with cut scenes and more continues, Arcade is the bare-bones shmup play through, Score Attack has you competing in online leaderboards, and Boss training has you figuring out bosses.

As I stated, who plays shmups for story? Sine Mora does have one and it’s quite confusing initially. The people who inhabit the world are anthropomorphic animals. It took about 3 levels later for me to realize that this is a time-travel story, which  I figured out when I heard a pilot say the same lines that he said over the radio earlier at a different time and at a different place. It’s really hard to explain, but the gist of it is is that they go back in time in order to save the world and they only have a certain amount of time to do it. That’s why your time is your health. It’s neat, but again, who plays shmups for story? This wasn’t executed well enough for me to think otherwise.

Sine Mora also boasts boss designs by Mahiro Maeda. They’re pretty epic, especially when the game goes from 2-dimensional to the 3-dimensional boss fly-throughs. The gameplay doesn’t switch to free-roaming 3D, but the transitions are, and it gives the player a sense of the boss’ scale. Compliment it with Grasshopper Manufacture’s stage design and it turns out to be a nice touch, nothing mind-blowing though.

The game stands out a bit for an Xbox Arcade title, but I doubt fans of the bullet-hell shooter genre will find anything completely new here. Still, it’s a nice one for those not looking for anything new, but something that follows traditional bullet-hell mechanics.

Rating: 3/5

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