I know they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but the first time I saw Sine Mora I was instantly drawn in just by how great the gameplay looked. Sine Mora is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up that infuses depth to its story and setting while offering the same old fun of blasting things to bits.
During a short beginning tutorial, you're introduced to two warring factions, the Layil Empire and rebel nation of Enkies. Both groups can control time, but since the Enkies don't exactly play by the time traveling rules set up by the Empire, they are facing genocide. The pilots you are given are Enkies that are trying to get some of their people back and a father seeking revenge for the death of his son, a pilot for the Empire, who was shot when he refused to carry out orders to bomb an Enkie city. In between the levels you get insight into the different characters' lives and what they are personally fighting for. This makes the story more plot-driven and character-based than normal shmups which give you a pat on the back for passing the level and warn you of the next oncoming wave. One thing about the characters and their dialogue though, the voiceovers are in Hungarian so you might want to keep those subtitles on.
The gameplay of Sine Mora hinges on the Enkies' time control ability. Instead of health, you are given time. Your clock is set in the top center of the screen so that you are constantly aware of exactly how much longer you have to live and if it hits zero, whether you're being shot at or not, you die. Each hit you take docks your remaining time, while you gain time for each enemy you shoot down. Your goal, other than shoot down everything in sight, is to reach checkpoints set up throughout the levels that reestablish your "time mass", resetting the clock, and letting you restart from there should you blow up later in the level. But just because you are trying to beat the clock doesn't mean that time is only working against you. Each pilot's plane is equipped with a "time capsule" that holds the power that allows them to slow down the action so you can dodge lasers and take down bosses Matrix-style.
You might be outnumbered in Sine Mora, but you're not necessarily outmatched. Along with your ability to control time, your plane has some tricks up its sleeves. Each plane has its own powerful sub-weapon, ranging from a massive laser beam to an arc of target-seeking missiles . Don't get too trigger happy though, you only have a limited amount of shots with the sub-weapon and you never know when a boss is likely to pop up. But you're not exactly limited to what you start off with. Some enemies release little floating tokens when you destroy them, and picking them up can give you an instant upgrade to your firepower, more energy for your time capsule, or extra ammo for your sub-weapon. You can also unlock several different pilots and their planes as you complete levels. Each plane has its own certain abilities. One's fast, one packs more of a punch, etc. You get to practice with each one you unlock in the training section of the main menu, helping you get familiar with their abilities in preparation for other levels.
The saves are ... interesting. Sine Mora saves automatically at checkpoints along the way to help you out if you run out of time or get shot to pieces. But there are different stages to each level, with the levels being unlocked only after you've finished all the stages. If you get a game over in a stage, even if it's the last stage, the closest area you can restart is at the very beginning of the level. While this is a normal for shmups, if you're new to the genre you might get a little harried by constantly getting shot back all the way to square one. Sine Mora does give you credits, your lives basically, so you get more than one bite at the apple if you do die, but they'll go faster than you think.
Sine Mora offers many different sets of difficulties to challenge its players while offering a story mode to welcome newcomers to the genre. For the seasoned shmup player, the game will test your skill and offer you a real challenge. But as someone relatively new to the genre, I can say Sine Mora wasn't exactly as hospitable as advertised. There were several instances where I just had to quit and come back to it later because it was getting a little too frustrating to be enjoyable. It's definitely manageable but some parts are more taxing than others.
Bottom Line: Sine Mora puts a cool twist on the shoot 'em up genre with its application of time and interesting storyline.
Recommendation: It's a game shoot 'em up fans should checkout for its challenges and environments. But if you're new to the genre, you might want to cut your teeth on something else.
Game: Sine Mora
Genre: Shooter (Shoot 'em Up)
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios