Sine Mora came out of left field â€“ I hadnâ€™t heard a word about it until I had the review dumped on me, so it came as a pleasant - if bullet-filled - surprise. Sine Mora is one of the best examples of the genre and brings a new trick to boot: time manipulation.
As is typical of the genre, you fly along shooting enemies while dodging dozens of projectiles and collecting power ups. The difference with Sine Mora is that it mixes these classic mechanics with limited-time gameplay - similar to SEGAâ€™s Nights into Dreams.
Itâ€™s set up so that, rather than the typical â€˜ship gets blown up as soon as you get hitâ€™ approach, you instead die only when the clock runs out. Your â€˜healthâ€™ timer is constantly depleting, and getting hit by enemy fire takes valuable seconds off the clock - you have to kill ships for time extensions to stay in the game.
It helps that Sine Moraâ€™s levels are very short; one minute youâ€™ll be weaving through hundreds of bullets - the next youâ€™re fighting a boss. While they still pose a challenge, they arenâ€™t so frustrating you want to give up on them. When it comes to Sine Moraâ€™s boss battles, they are fairly standard â€˜shoot their gun mounts and finish them offâ€™ affairs. Blowing up mounts gives you extra time.
The story mode is where you unlock everything for the arcade and score attack modes. Itâ€™s presented via Japanese voice overs with on-screen English translations. You will need to pay attention while the dialogue is on the screen because, although you can pause the game during dialogue, it wonâ€™t let you read it - so you need to pay close attention between gameplay segments. While there are just seven stages, each stage is so difficult it will take several attempts to beat them â€“ even on normal.
For the more experienced players, Sine Mora features an arcade mode, which makes the story mode seem like a stroll in the park (arcade difficulties are limited to hard and insane modes - who needs easy, right?) It sports a number of different planes to choose from, pilots - who serve as little more than different choices in sub-weapon - and capsules (which hold your special abilities.)
These include Roll Back - which â€˜rolls backâ€™ time, so even if your planeâ€™s destroyed it will be repaired, and Speed Up - which slows down the time around your plane allowing you to collect power ups and avoid attacks with ease. The abilities may make Sine Mora seem like a more â€˜forgivingâ€™ experience than most shoot â€˜em ups, however you only get so much of them to use per level and booster shots are rather rare â€“ especially on the harder difficulties.
The rest of the modes include the self-explanatory score attack - in which you replay unlocked missions; boss training â€“ practise against previous defeated bosses, and challenge mode â€“ in which you face various challenges. The latter is the most difficult mode in this game - even the first challenge is incredibly hard; you have to stay alive until the level clock counts down. To keep your health clock going you have to shoot yellow mines. Unfortunately they are tightly mixed with red mines which - if hit - kill you instantly.
Sine Mora really shines visually from the variety of planes you can pilot, to the character art, and the 3D backdrops. Each level looks strikingly different â€“ from bright over sea battles, to dark caves â€“ the game maintains a smooth frame rate, and looks crisp throughout. Youâ€™ll even notice little details, such as a man fishing off rocks as planes fly overhead. Special attacks can consume half the screen while they deliver a lot of damage to surrounding enemies.
Overall, Sine Mora is a unique take on shoot â€˜em ups and if youâ€™re a masochist, the arcade and challenge modes are perfect for you. It's a welcome addition to the genre, and somewhat of a surprise title - especially this late in the console cycle.