A collaboration between European-based Digital Realities and Japanese Grasshopper Manufacture– a development house known for weirdness– Sine Mora is a new twist on the classic side-scrolling shooter. Initially released for PC, PlayStation 3, and PS Vita, this is a visually striking and surprising game that mixes old school gameplay with new technology to create something impressive.
Oddly, one of the most distinctive aspects of the game is the bizarrely in-depth story. Told through text-based level introductions and cut scenes within the levels, the story is an amazingly layered tale of revenge. Although frequently hard to keep track of, especially upon first play through, it’s a nice addition of dramatic weirdness that helps set the game apart from other shooters.
Beyond that, the beautifully rendered 3D graphics are what truly make Sine Mora memorable. The entire game seamlessly uses the same 3D engine for game play and cut scenes to create an incredible sense of depth to the otherwise 2D game mechanics. This is a pure side-scroller, though, so all the shooting is along a flat plain, but the levels move in and out and up and down as well.
The steampunk setting has a lot of personality as well. Whether fighting in the air, roaming through tight caverns, going deep into the depths of the sea, or any of the other intriguing places the game sends players, it all looks great and provides a solid sense of challenge. Enemies range from small planes and gun emplacements to giant bosses, and they are all expertly detailed and animated.
Sine Mora is a “bullet-hell” style game, but it’s paced well enough to be manageable (in the “casual” difficulty level” anyway) for a wider variety of players than most games of this type. Helping players further is the ability to slow down time for careful maneuvers around the massive amount of obstacles on the screen. There are multiple characters and ships, upgradeable guns, super weapons, and auto-fire as well. All the standard trappings of the genre are here, they’re just done really well.
Another surprising aspect of the game’s port to iOS is the impressive responsiveness of the virtual D-pad. While I can’t say I prefer touch controls to an actual D-pad, Sine Mora is highly playable on mobiles. One oddity, however, is the extreme use of widescreen graphics. On the iPad, the game takes up a bit more than half the screen, with letterboxing on the top and bottom.
Controls are placed in the bottom portion of the letterboxed screen and it’s not a huge deal– the game is actually widescreen on every platform. On the iPhone, the game field takes up about three-quarters of the screen, but the tiny enemies can be hard to see on the smaller screen, making the iPad a bit easier to play. And one really bizarre complaint is that the game requires players to link to their Facebook account in order to save. This could be a major inconvenience for many, but is just an unnecessary complication in an otherwise excellent port. We can only hope this requirement gets patched out.
No matter what platform Sine Mora is played on, it is unequivocally one of the best side-scrolling shooters in years. Gorgeous, challenging, and creative, this is a great game that has been expertly ported to touch screens. Fans of shooters shouldn’t miss it.