Sine Mora shakes up side-scrolling shooters with a stunning art style that wows when you first see it. It's also got unique Hungarian voice acting complete with subtitles, and a time-based mechanic that changes things up a lot even though it might not seem like a huge deal in theory. The developers found a way to stay true to the genre while still finding something new to do.
All shooters have a sense of urgency to them, what with dozens of bullets spraying down from either a boss or its underlings while you do your best to avoid their attacks. Here though, you have the ability to slow down time – but you can't abuse it. You're limited with how many times you can hit RT and slow down the bullet hell that is raining down on you, meaning you can't use it whenever you want. You still have to learn to deal with tons of things coming at you at once, this will only bide you some time occasionally. Unlike every other shmup I can recall, this game doesn't make use of a life bar; instead, you've got a strict time limit for every area. If you take damage, you lose seconds – sometimes up to five, which can add up pretty quickly in boss battles. However, dealing damage to enemies adds a second or two, so while you don't have to worry about dying after taking one hit, you still have to make sure you take as little damage as possible so your clock has as much time as possible on it.
The risk/reward factor here adds a lot of fun to things because you've got to choose just what to focus on – avoid the enemies and you won't have to worry about getting hit, but you'll also die due to the ticking lock. Face too many, and you'll wind up taking too much damage and running the clock out that way, so the best method is to usually be as offensive as possible and use the time-slowing feature for a second or two so you can save it up for a boss battle.
While all shooters are replayable to some degree, there's more to replay here than in most. There's a surprising amount of variety in Sine Mora. Beyond the story mode (which has kind of long cutscenes you can fast forward through in real time), you can also play through it without the story, but with a catch. Unlike the story mode, you get to choose from a variety of characters with different ships and sub-weapons, and there is no “normal” (read: humanly possible) difficulty. There's only Hard and Challenging. You might want to stock up on 360 controllers before tackling that, or the included boss rush mode, which is an absolute blast. Like most shooters, the boss battles are usually the highlights of the game, with the other stuff largely serving as a buffer between boss battles.
Sine Mora is one of the best-looking side-scrolling shooters I've ever seen. Instead of going for a sprite-based look like many modern-day ones, it's got gorgeous polygonal graphics with a rich art style. There were some 32-bit games that tried to do this, but the technology just wasn't ready for it – now it is and there can be games like this with rich 3D graphics that dazzle you. The game begins with a beautiful sky stage with lush clouds and continues with an underwater stage with mines all around, then there's this dingy, yet impressive, factory. Everything in the game is full of little details, including the screen-filling bosses, which are so intricately crafted that you can even see their bolts and gears.
Sine Mora's audio is something else. The storyline is voiced over in Hungarian, and has some hilarious lines like not being the son of an ass. The sound effects themselves are great, with some booming explosions and effective firepower noises. However, the absolute best part of the audio is the soundtrack. Unlike a lot of shooters, where you'd have a ton of rock and stuff there, this one focuses on melodic soundtracks that fit the beauty in the stages. The slow-paced music stands as a relaxing contrast to the insanity on-screen.
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed Sine Mora. I was initially drawn to it by its graphics, but wound up being surprised by just how fun the core game was to play. It offers up something new with the time-based mechanic, and isn't too difficult as long as you stick with the story mode. Otherwise, it might prove to be a bit too frustrating for some, but it shouldn't be too tough for shooter veterans. If you've ever enjoyed a shooter, you'll enjoy this a lot, and at the least, give the demo a shot to see if you like the time-based gameplay.
This review is based on a redemption code for the Xbox Live Arcade release of Sine Mora provided by Digital Reality.