Title: Sine Mora EX
Available On: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (Coming to Switch)
Developers: Digital Reality, Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: August 8, 2017
Just over 7 years ago, Sine Mora was announced by No More Heroes and Killer7 creator Goichi Suda aka Suda51. It was released in 2012 and became something of a cult hit for shoot ’em up fans, but never really made a huge name for itself. Five years later, this already gorgeous shooter has been given a graphical overhaul, some additional bells and whistles and re-released as Sine Mora EX on the current console generation.
Fans of the original will love the new one, as it’s pretty much the same thing. They’ve added new challenge levels, for you crazy shooter people, that can navigate a screen completely filled with bullets, local co-op, new versus modes, and new English audio dialog options. If you’ve invested in that fresh display tech, EX will also do native 4K at 60FPS.
For those new to Sine Mora, its fundamentally a classic side-scrolling bullet hell shoot ’em up. You move around in 2D, shooting at all the things while all the things shoot at you. It has the standard trappings of the genre: Weapons that get stronger from power-ups dropped by enemies, a secondary screen-clearing super attack with limited charges, and boss battles where you hammer away against a beefy target with patterned attacks you have to learn how to dodge while watching for exposed weak points. So, for fans of the classics shmups like R-Type, Gradius, 1942, Radiant Silvergun, or Ikaruga, you’re getting what you love.
The thing that makes Sine Mora stand out from other entries in the genre is the time system. The bar which, in other games would only represent health, also represents time. When you get hit, time ticks faster. When you hit enemies, time ticks slower. You can also spend that time by slowing things down to more easily dodge enemy attacks. This allows players to get more familiar with attack patterns and just generally get a feel for things mid-level. It’s a nice way to just slow things down for a second and catch your breath, especially with such an overstimulating screen full of neon lights and movement.
Sine Mora EX is gorgeous and the 2.5D graphics are great, but in a game where you’re supposed to be situationally aware of meters in one corner, enemies coming from all directions, your ship, and whatever else is on screen, those gorgeous visuals become a problem. As you can see from the screenshots, everything has the same level of focus, making your plane get lost amongst the actual enemies, the aspects of the environment that look like they could be enemies, and the millions of neon bullets and powerups you have to either go towards or away from. To a certain extent, it’s the nature of the beast for this type of game and it adds to the challenge… but there’s a line between intentional difficulty caused by good design and accidental difficulty caused by bad design. To me, a lot of the levels felt like they landed on the wrong side of that line.
Complaints about graphics aside, Sine Mora EX does exactly what it sets out to do flawlessly. Controls are smooth and crisp. The hit box on each plane feels pixel perfect. As soon as you get too comfortable, you can crank up the difficulty another notch and get back to feeling that familiar shmup pain. It’s called bullet hell for a reason.
Amidst the exciting and intense score by Silent Hill’s Akira Yamaoka and beautiful backgrounds and boss fights designed by Neon Genesis Evangelion director Mahiro Maeda, you have the game’s story mode and tonally inappropriate story. In a weirdly cyber punk cartoon world with a crazy weapon train and giant robots, you have Star Fox-like animal characters sharing their dark ruminations on slavery and fascism.
The first mission ends with an anthropomorphic buffalo grimly describing how one of the pilots responsible for his son’s death was currently in prison for rape. I don’t know these characters yet, I don’t know this world, but suddenly I’m being tasked with carrying out the vengeance killing of an unarmed rapist currently serving time in custody. It’s, like, insanely heavy. The writing was done by a Hungarian studio called Digital Reality that went under in 2013 after the game’s initial release on PS3/360/PC and the also defunct Ouya. It’s possible the writing lost something in translation or it is possible players are, just, not really supposed to care that much about the writing in a shoot ’em up, but they made some really loud choices with the story mode that are difficult to ignore.
VERDICT: Sine Mora EX flawlessly executes every expected trope of the shoot ’em up genre. It even adds some fun twists and amazing polish that make it a standout from even the beloved classic Shmups. The graphics are fantastic, but provide an extra, possibly unintended, layer of difficulty that makes the entire environment seem like one big enemy. Overall, the only real downside is the story mode’s bonkers plot that is better left skipped.
- Innovative Time Mechanics
- Fantastic Boss Battles
- Gorgeous Art
- Punishingly Difficult (If You're Into That)
- Busy Backgrounds Can Be Confusing
- Bizarre and Dark Story
- Punishingly Difficult (If You're Not Into That)