Sine Mora

The enemy is your own inadequacy

Sine Mora doesn't have the same visual intensity of bullet-slaughter beasts like Ikaruga or DoDonPachi. There are moments of near-tranquility between the over-sized boss battles, where the biggest danger is that you'll relax enough to let your own stream of bullets obscure those of your foes. And the theme soundtrack is positively melancholy, a monophonic tune played gently on a pub piano. Don't believe it. It's deceiving you. Sina Mora wants to rest its mouth on your forehead and slowly chew out your brains.

The most notable new device in Sine Mora is the clock. Your ship can only be destroyed by this clock, which ticks away relentlessly at the top of the screen. You're not a slave to it - destroying an enemy ship adds time. Getting hit shears seconds away. It's a system that means every ship you miss is damage sustained, and it's one of the reasons that Sine Mora doesn't need as many bullets as other games, to keep the tension high. You'll go where the bullets are, or time will kill you.

The shield power-up lulls you into false sense of "you're not going to die"

There are four difficulty settings. Normal and Challenging are available in Story Mode, and they're both absolutely tolerable. These are what we'll call the human levels. They'll kill you, and regularly. But with a generous time allowance, you can scratch through all the levels with the equally generous number of continues. You can even start from the stages you've reached. Progress is inevitable. It's almost like the game doesn't hate you.

Maybe you'll try out Arcade mode. Sure, there's a warning on the menu option. And yes, there's only Hard and Insane modes in here. But hard doesn't sound much more difficult than challenging. does it? They're synonyms, for God's sake.

You know when a cartoon character puts his head into a box, and there's a bomb in it? And he pulls his head out, charcoal-faced, and a stunned, non-comprehending expression on his face? Well, that.

The fifteen second time limit is unforgiving. One mistake makes your job exponentially tougher. Two, and you're dead. The first boss, that you negotiated your way around cheerfully with your redundant time allowance, becomes an impenetrable beast that you'll have to completely reappraise and learn. After a full morning, I'd got to the stage where Stage 1 left me nerves-shredded but ship-intact.

Arcade Mode is true to its name - you can't just dip into any stage you want, like Story Mode. You start from the beginning. Considerately, you can practice all of the oversized bosses on any difficulty.

You've got more options in Arcade and Score Attack modes. Three ships, seven pilots, and three Right-Trigger special abilities multiply to 63 combinations. (Your Right-Trigger ability is locked to Speed Up in Story Mode, but here you can choose the power to reflect bullets, or rewind time to before you got your arse handed to you.)

The wind blows you backwards while your power-ups float away. This is hell.

The pilot decides your limited-use super-weapon, and each of the three ships has a different vertical spread of bullets. The game'll rank you on each of the 63 combinations. The idea of playing all 63 combinations is "a bit much" and "needless", but the matrix of 63 combos is actually a useful way to remember which combos you've played and like.

Two things that are obvious, but worth saying - Sine Mora looks stunning. Undertated animation, a bold palette, and butter-smooth frame rates make it an absolute pleasure to play, in the moments you're not furious and having a nervous breakdown.

The second thing - if the tense, death-grazing shoot-em-up genre leaves you cold, there's nothing here to win you over. Certainly not the narrative, which is a ridiculous obstacle to the action in Story Mode. The ability to fast forward slightly is only a partial solution. The real solution, especially for something you'll play over and over again, is entirely skippable cutscenes. Lobby your MP. Let this be enacted into law.

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