Review: Sine Mora (XBLA)

Review: Sine Mora (XBLA)

Most of you have played at least one bullet hell shoot’em up. Maybe it was Ikaruga or Radiant Silvergun, or perhaps something like Metal Slug or Geometry Wars. “Bullet Hell” is one of the most appropriately coined terms any genre has ever received. Sine Mora, the latest title from Digital Reality, in collaboration with Grasshopper Studios, is another fine example of a bullet hell shoot’em up. This one, however, comes with a bit of a twist.

Sine Mora is both more and less forgiving than its peers. Unlike some of its more punishing contemporaries, Sine Mora does not destroy you with a single bullet. To be technical about it, Sine Mora does not destroy you with any bullets at all…at least, not in the strictest sense. Rather, any damage you take is reflected in time. Whether you take a bullet or hit a piece of scenery, precious seconds are removed from the level’s time limit. This is where Sine Mora becomes less forgiving than the others. If you do not complete the level area within the time limit, you die. I suppose, in a certain way, this makes the time limit your health bar, albeit a constantly dwindling health bar. Defeated enemies will often drop time bonuses, but like any other shoot’em up, the game is really a matter of memorizing timing and patterns.

The issue with damage reducing your time to play is a matter of style, in more ways than one. In terms of playing style, it creates a sense of urgency that may not be suitable for some players. This, of course, is a matter of preference, not a flaw in the game’s design or mechanics, but it is a matter of preference that may be a deal breaker for some consumers. More than any other game, this game requires caution and control. In terms of artistic style, a flaw appears. While a beautiful game, the foreground and background tend to become somewhat indistinguishable in places. This can be particularly detrimental in tunnel areas. As mentioned before, bumping into the environment will damage your time, so something as simple as a piece of foreground that looked like background may end up ruining your entire run.

In addition to removing time, taking damage removes weapon upgrades, two at a time. Similarly to Galaga, weapon upgrade pick-ups can be found from the wreckage of defeated enemies. Each weapon upgrade modifies your main beam into something more powerful than before. When you take damage, two of the upgrade orbs leave your ship, reducing your weapon power. You can recapture the orbs, but you must recapture them before they leave the screen, or re-earn them through the lives of more enemies.

To counter-act the restrictive nature of the time limit, Sine Mora has a time control mechanism that allows you to slow, or even reverse, the flow of time on the screen. While limited by a bar of its own, the time mechanic can be used to undo costly mistakes, or more often than not, prevent costly mistakes before they occur.

For 1200MSP, Sine Mora may be a bit daunting for players who are looking for something easier or more casual. Sine Mora packs a punch, without a doubt. Fans of the bullet hell shoot’em up genre will love Sine Mora, however. It more than lives up to the name, and provides a novel twist on how you play the genre, making you more conscious of time than ever before. For its beauty or for its wonderfully implemented mechanics, Sine Mora is a great game.


Great shoot'em up mechanics
Time elements provide novel twist
Scenery can be confusing
Not very accessibly for some players
85 out of 100
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