Sine Mora debuted 10 years ago this month. The title is unmistakably a product of eccentric Japanese studio Grasshopper Manufacture, however it wasn’t actually developed in-house. A team called Digital Reality take that honour. A team at Goichi Suda’s highly praised studio developed a premise, concept art and sound design, and handed the title off to the external team. But just in the same fashion that every videogame featuring Mario would have the distinctive hallmarks of Nintendo’s influence, so too does Sine Mora prove to be a title on over which Grasshopper Manufacture has waved a magic wand.
Every element of Sine Mora has a creative hand cast across it. From the opening title screen to the boss design. Right from the very start Sine Mora decides to buck the trends of its arcade game influences. Rather than diving straight into a pre-captured demo of the action upon being left alone, the game offers up one of three first-person narrations of the story thus far. Three different perspectives of what is important to the characters.
The plot is overly complex and largely incoherent, just as with any good Grasshopper Manufacture title. Ronotra Koss is a serial killer with designs on genocide. In an effort to further his plans he has obtained control of an army of military grade AI robots and kidnapped a young girl of great importance. As a group of time traveling partisans, it’s up to the player to infiltrate Syriad. A floating fortress that guards the planet, keeping peace and prosperity alive.
Sine Mora Bucks the Trends
Sine Mora features three gameplay modes – Story, Arcade and Score Attack (with a supplementary Boss Training mode to unlock). The first of these is playable on two difficulty settings, Normal or Challenging. Playing through the Story mode unlocks new craft and levels for play in both Arcade and Score Attack. It could easily be argued that Sine Mora is not the fashionable ‘bullet hell’ style shoot-‘em-up that gamers expect. Instead it favours standard early ‘90s design. It’s more a case of dodging repetitive and overlapping waves than learning attacks patterns, which surprisingly makes Sine Mora a rather unique experience in modern times. The different between the two difficulty modes is significant however. All players are recommended to begin on Normal, at least for one level.
The Prologue eases players into the game, teaching the basics of movement, shooting and additional abilities. Using their selected Capsule (or the one presented by default in Story mode), the player is able slow down time for a limited period, dictated by a meter, which is normally long enough to avoid a few strings of bullets in play. They may be able to generate a shield or rewind time, dependant on their choice of Capsule. From this point on however, the level design is just as eccentric as you might expect. From bosses with migrating weak spots to manually selecting alternative routes, to finding yourself encountering small boss runs without warning. Sine Mora never has you doing one thing for too long.
The game features power-ups for all aspects of your abilities. Those which upgrade your basic weaponry will remain in play throughout the level until the player is hit by an enemy projectile or vehicle, at which point they will scatter from your craft and must be collected before they float of the screen. This simple mechanic offers a tense balance of striving to regain your upper hand and exposing yourself to enemy fire. Hastily pushing forward can quickly spell doom.
Arcade Mode is a Race Against the Clock
While all the gameplay modes have a clock ticking down (also representing your health), it’s in the Arcade mode that it becomes a real factor in your combat plan. In the Arcade mode time is much stricter. Players must ensure they defeat a constant string of enemies in order to make it from one checkpoint to the next. The Score Attack mode offers only Hard and Insane difficulty, with a ‘one-hit kills’ entry-level. Needless to say, this is where the real challenge lies.
There’s More to a Character than a Fancy Looking Ship…
Sine Mora features some fantastic character design, with plenty of vibrant colour on its chunky models. The delicacy of Sine Mora’s distances has a grand, understated effect on the way the game is played. Enemies can swoop into the battle from the background or foreground, keeping players on their toes throughout the campaign. To put it bluntly, no screenshots could ever do justice to the immaculate presentation of the game. The sound quality is also fantastic, with the futuristic clashes of metal-on-metal and laser-on-metal complimenting the eerily calm soundtrack perfectly.
Sine Mora is one of those rare breeds of videogame: a title in which you know you’ve seen it all before, and yet it still feels fresh. Perhaps it’s that magic touch presented by Grasshopper Manufacture’s design. Maybe it’s the interesting presentation of the videogame. Or of course it could be just a simple case of high quality production values. Sine Mora is a side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up, the type any gamer worth their salt will be familiar with, and yet it stands out from the crowd as something truly unique, and well worth investing in. Thankfully, Sine Mora is still readily available to play on modern hardware, with a revised Sine Mora EX release out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.