When I got the press kit for Grasshopper Manufacture’s Sine Mora I was super-excited to get my hands on it. For starters, it’s a bullet-hell-shoot-‘em-up (my favorite), and second: it has some heavyweight industry contribution. Another side scroller you say? Hardly. Sine Mora has design input from Mahiro Maeda, the legendary anime director of the Final Fantasy: Unlimited, Animatrix – Second Renaissance and most of all, the amazing animated sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Needless to say, his contribution has led to some truly detailed and imaginative backdrops. To accompany the phenomenally creative design comes a unique and engaging score created by Akira Yomaoka (Shadows of the Damned and the Silent Hill series) which matches the frantic game-play like glow sticks at a rave.
With hyper-stylized design it’s apparent the developers wanted to incorporate a heavy steam-punk look and feel to the game. The sets, ships and bosses are all overtly mechanical in composition and remind me of classic Japanese anime. The levels tend not to be overly linear in their progression with some off-axis and maze-like navigation required in a few scenes and boss fights. The game also boasts an in-depth story line which is unorthodox for this type of genre; this really sets Sine Mora apart. I found myself at times having to wrap my head around the complex non-linear style of storytelling that the Japanese are so good at.
Sometimes there are tons of bullets on the screen. Sometimes there are not. Guess which situation hurts more?
Aside from your standard fare, there is a curious twist in game-play: instead of your typical one-hit-wonder -as I like to call it (one hit and you’re dead)-, Sine Mora deploys a fascinating and clever system that revolves around time. Time travel is a reality in the game and your life depends on it. You have a clock that is constantly ticking down; the more hits you take, the more the timer is depleted. Killing enemies and picking up time gems replenishes the clock. As long as you don’t take too much damage in a level, you generally don’t have to worry too much about the clock. You also have a limited ability to slow down time –slow motion style-, which helps in situations where the bullets on the screen look like a sky full of fireworks on the 4th of July.
Gorgeous aesthetics and above-average difficulty make Sine Mora a must have for the XBL. There are fair bit of story and unlocks which will keep even the most hardcore gamers coming back for more. Aside from wishing that I had an arcade stick at times (to be able to perform micro adjustments during some of the more hectic boss fights), I can’t find a single fault with this title. If you have an Xbox be sure not to pass this one up, it’s definitely one of the better titles that I have played in a while.