by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Once Upon a Time, There Was an Angry Bison...
What do time travel, super powered airplanes, and a vengeful bison have in common? If you said Sine Mora give yourself a pat on the back. Borne out of the teamwork of Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture, developers of Skydrift and Lollipop Chainsaw respectively, Sine Mora marks a new era for side-scrolling shoot 'em ups. Combining an mature narrative with beautiful visuals, innovative gameplay, and painfully old-school difficulty, this is a game PC players and plain old retro-game fans need to play. Launching on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade in March, the game only recently made its way to PC, so let's don our furry suits, brush up on our Hungarian, and prepare for take off.
In Sine Mora, players take up the role of animal-like creatures each fighting their own personal war. Yes, this means angry furries and yes, it is easy to write off – which you can do and still enjoy the game. To do so would be a disservice to all parties, however, as the story is one of the game's most striking elements. Multiple stories weave together and are punctuated with frequent and often crass dialogue as well as text vignettes between chapters. A father out to avenge his son, a rebel faction out to liberate a planet, an artificial intelligence re-programmed with malicious intent; these are the yarns Sine Mora spins. It can be confusing early on when the game abruptly shifts perspectives, but there is a depth here never before seen in this genre, and it's worth the time to explore.
A Plane By Any Other Name... is a Time Machine
At its core, the game plays like many other side-scrolling shooters. Players control an airplane on a 2D field as it moves left to right, shooting enemies as they appear and dodging projectiles as they float by or swarm en masse. The player can move his plane anywhere on this field, providing a wide range of movement. Enemies take many different forms and can unilaterally fire from the air, land, or the background environment, which can make them difficult to spot. What makes this so challenging – and rewarding – is the sheer number of projectiles on the screen at any given time. Navigating the level's terrain, dodging fire, and still taking out enough enemies to keep seconds on the timer all add to the game's challenge.
Translated from Latin, sine mora means “without delay,” which is ironic because slowing down time is a central gameplay mechanic. It is also fitting, however, as the game eschews a health system in favor of a prominent countdown timer at the top of the screen. Killing enemies adds seconds to this timer and taking damage removes them. Slowing down time is important, then, because avoiding missiles often comes down to perfect positioning, which is nigh impossible at normal flight speed. Each character in the story also has his own plane with a unique sub-weapon. These can range from high destruction, screen clearing blaster rays to a time reversal device allowing the player to rewind the action and try again. With the exception of the standard gun all ships come equipped with, these secondary abilities are limited and are rapidly depleted. Using them effectively involves strategic thought and provides for replayability in the pursuit of high scores.
Fire Power +1, High Scores +2
While the secondary systems are limited, the blaster is built upon repeatedly throughout each level. Shooting involves holding down the left mouse button or mapped controller key and, though it is possible to fire a shot per click, it is advisable to simply hold down the button and let fly. Enemies often drop power ups and point boosters that take maneuvering to collect. These power ups come in a variety of forms but the most common is a damage booster that stacks with each collected. Sine Mora has old school ideas on survivability, so lending power to this main gun is important, especially when you're short on time and need to collect as many kills as possible to stay alive. Taking damage causes players to drop their power ups, which are as easily gained as they are lost.
Innovative design, beautiful visuals, rewarding gameplay, lots of replayability.
Can be very difficult.