Side-scrolling shooters, more commonly known as shoot’em-ups, or shmups, all seem to have a few things in common. They all give you a good kick in the ass, they all have crazy things on screen, and they all usually feel pretty tight. Now it may seem wrong to group all the games of this genre together, but it’s the shmups that build on top of these basics and set themselves apart that are truly special. Sine Mora does just that.
The most important thing to know going into Sine Mora is what it does differently than other shmups. You can already expect bullet-hell, side-scrolling, power-up action, but what is on top of that? Sine Mora relies heavily on its time mechanic, which is vastly different than any shmup out there. The game features no health bar, but instead, a countdown timer at the top of the screen.
The time essentially dictates how you play the game. When you take damage, you lose time, and when you destroy an enemy, you gain some of that time back. Time is your most valuable resource as you traverse the levels, and makes dodging in and out of bullets even more tense when you see your timer turn red and your time start to run out.
It also adds a level of risk-reward to the game. You have a choice: blow some of your time and take some hits in order to defeat a tough enemy quicker, or try the safe route, and save some of those precious seconds for later on, when you might need them. The bosses especially will test your time-management skills.
It’s also important to know Sine Mora is a bullet-hell shmup, as mentioned earlier. This makes movement as much a puzzle as it is a way to get around the screen. You will end up watching bullets and memorizing patterns just as much as you watch yourself and test different strategies. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the destruction on screen, and the trick is finding a way to distinguish those unbelievably tight holes in the lines of bullets, and slipping in and out of them without taking a single hit.
On top of all of what Sine Mora adds to the shmup genre, it is an absolutely gorgeous game. It is rendered in a 2.5D style, where you will occasionally fly between the background and foreground. The beauty of the game definitely distracts you from the incomprehensible story and the ridiculous, yet entertaining characters.
The problem with Sine Mora is someone who isn’t a fan of bullet-hell shmups won’t find anything here. Shmups today have become the center of “niche genre”, and Sine Mora, with its hardcore mentality, is just doubly-so on that front. If you aren’t a fan of the genre, you’ll see a 90 minute shoot ‘em up that you probably won’t finish because of the dastardly difficulty and unforgiving nature of the bullet-hell patterns.
Even those who like shmups, but hate bullet-hell will come out cold on this one. It is a love-letter to its fans, with its beauty and its creative twist on your standard shmup gameplay, but it’s a small box that it fits in, with little room for new players.
Sine Mora kicked my ass, and threw me to the ground, like any good shmup does. I was excited to get back in and try new strategies, but I am part of a small minority that still gets excited for this kind of game. If you’re in the minority as well, I think you’re in for a treat.