Sine Mora EX Review – Bullet Hell meets Bullet Time
I have a real soft spot for a shmup. Most illicit memories of arcade days come and gone with a difficulty to match. But no matter how difficult some may be there always is a fun factor to them, satisfaction of a job well done even, that isn’t always present in other genres. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel in order to have a good fun shmup, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be variation either. Many of you may already be aware of Sine Mora and its bullet hell / time slowing mechanics. But recently fans were treated to an updated version Sine Mora EX which brings the game to the latest generation of machines along with a few tweaks. In case the original slipped past you unnoticed I will take a look at the game as a whole, not just the new things.
Once upon a time in the past, present and future….
Let’s start off with the story mode. The story is one of genocide, time travel, revenge, loss, subterfuge coupled with more loss and some more genocide, although accidental the last time. Does that sound confusing? Well, maybe a little, but it is laid out fairly well through the course of play. The newly updated EX version now has fully voiced story elements, this actually helps the story make more sense. It’s far easier to follow along with a well voice-acted story than simply reading some text in between missions in this case. While I am of course being rather vague as to the specifics, no spoilers, it is a decent and compelling enough story to pay attention to as the game progresses. I don’t particularly need stories in my shmups, but having an interesting story line is a bonus.
On to the shoot ’em ups please
Right, so how does it all play out. Well, at first glance is your basic side scrolling shoot ’em up with lots of bullet hell. There is of course a twist (there’s always a twist) there is no health only time. Players are given a certain amount of time with which to complete their mission, although it initially isn’t enough so shooting down enemies rewards you with more time. On the flip side, each hit to you removes time in addition to making you drop your all too precious power ups. It’s a side scrolling shmup, so of course there are power ups, although firepower is the only one that you have to go chasing down to get back after getting hit, there are also ones which extend your time, give another us of powerful sub weapons or provide some more time with your “special weapon”. Although the special weapon here is a bit different, when activated it will slow time down considerably, remember this is a bullet hell type game, it will come in more than handy.
So how does that all work together? Mostly it is pretty good although even at full speed the ship movement felt a tad on the slow side for me. High speed can turn a bullet hell shmup into an almost zen like experience when everything is flowing, I never got that feeling with Sine Mora EX, although that does make a bit of sense when a major game play element is slowing time down. Truth be told, regardless of the difficulty level I never felt like the general bullet hell coming towards me was too fast, but instead was rather tightly packed and required the time slowing down mechanic to squeeze in between shots that would other wise be unavoidable at regular time. That sort of bullet dodging, through time manipulation, never quite felt very satisfying and instead at times felt forced instead of being a complimentary mechanic.
Part of what made using the time manipulation feel forced, besides bullet dense patterns was some imprecise movement. Fine movements seemed very hard to achieve. While I could easily just call it smushy and leave it at that, I will at least offer up two possible other reasons for this. The first possibility is that there is some inertia built into it, while that is more realistic I don’t think anyone’s ever complained that a side scrolling shmup wasn’t realistic enough, so that would be an unnecessary thing to have. The second reason may just simply be that it plays better on an actual arcade stick, as opposed to a contemporary controller. The longer arcade stick of course allowing for much finer, intermediate and short range movements.
There is one last quirk to the whole thing as well that ties in and that is hit registry. I was never quite sure when a bullet that hit me was actually hitting me. Some bullets seemingly went down the entire length of my plane without ever registering a hit, while others barely nicked the plane and registered as being hit. I’m not entirely sure why though. You can see where the planes hit-boxes in the selection screen to some of the differing modes, but those never seemed to correlate to what was actually happening in game. Look the object of course is to not get hit, but it’s going to happen. Not knowing for sure if a hit is going to actually be a hit complicates things, as may dash off in anticipation of having to regather your firepower that would be lost, only to not have the hit register and put yourself in a worse situation, and actually be hit anticipating what should have been an inevitable outcome.
Big Boss Battles!
Let’s get back a bit to the fun stuff, the big boss battles! Sine Mora EX does feature some pretty cool boss fights. These multi-stage affairs are the real highlight in gameplay. They always feel quite epic and are a good challenge. While they are of course in the regular game modes, there is also the opportunity to face off with them separately. The large variety in bosses never makes it feel like you are just doing the same thing over and over, they are all unique. Some of them do feature some insta-gib weapons however. That’s not a problem in its own right, but sometimes it’s not entirely obvious as to what happened. There were a few occasions in which I died several times in a row, but truly did not know why. That sort of instant death should probably give more of a clue as to what went on, they are actually there most of the time, but hard to pick up on if you don’t know what you are looking for.
Along with the ability to just go big boss battlin’ there are a few more modes to note including, arcade, score attack and challenges. One thing all these modes have in common is an increased difficulty. While it may seem redundant to say it, the challenges are indeed challenging. The arcade and score attack modes though have some genuine harder difficulty settings. There may indeed be more things coming at you, the difficulty rather seems to be firmly ratcheted up by having far less time and continues to achieve your goals. It’s indeed harder to get through with far less time to start, but at the same token the actual enemies facing you don’t seem to be that much more difficult to deal with. The top difficulty in score attack does throw in some extra bullets upon enemy death though.
So what’s the verdict?
There’s one big thing that I neglected to talk about at this point and that’s the look of Sine Mora EX. It is without a doubt one of the best looking shmups out there. It’s so beautifully done that it does make some of its faults a bit easy to forget. I particularly like how the planes all bare resemblance to some classic WW2 fighters, from BF 109’s to either P-40’s or Hawker Typhoons and of course a P-38. Everything in the levels and the game are so alive and look great. That does a lot to mask some of the gameplay which, while not bad, was slightly disappointing. But I will reiterate, it’s really hard to see past the amazing aesthetics in Sine Mora EX. It’s a challenging game, but a different sort of challenging than others in the genre.
Most players should enjoy this game, there certainly is plenty to like. However, if you aren’t too concerned with looks and have a more rigid set of expectations for your side scrolling shmups then this might not meet your expectations.