Sine Mora Review
It has been a couple of months since Grasshopper Manufacture's Sine Mora hit the PlayStation Network, and in what everyone should be hoping is the new trend, it now comes fully realized to the PlayStation Vita handheld. Other PS Network games like Star Drone, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath and Super Stardust have all successfully made the jump to the game-starved handheld, and the Vita has been nothing but better for it. To be perfectly honest, games like these feel more at home to me on a handheld; these are titles I can't imagine being driven or excited to play on a home console, but when they are on-the-go and always available, I have no issues diving in. But is Sine Mora a Super Stardust - great - or a Star Drone - meh - when it comes right down to it?
Sine Mora is exactly what you'd expect a side-scrolling bullet hell shooter from Grasshopper Manufacture to be, namely totally insane. It features a cast of anthropomorphic animals as fighter pilots in a world that is far more intriguing than it ought to be. See, despite chapter introductions being narrated and that the back-and-forth between pilots, good and bad, is fully voiced, you won't understand a word of it. There is a totally foreign language used to tell Sine Mora's story, and how fully realized it feels adds serious immersion to a somewhat short and confusing plot.
Really all you need to know going into ANY bullet hell shooter is how well it plays, and Sine Mora plays great. The controls are tight and responsive on the Vita, and the game's time manipulation mechanic is perfectly mapped to the shoulder buttons. Beyond just the control scheme, though, the game is just a joy to play - with one exception. We'll get to that momentarily. Fans know bullet hell shooters need two things, tons of shots to dodge and crazy battles with larger than life bosses. Sine Mora's somewhat short campaign gives players huge boss after huge boss to deal with, and each experience is better than the last. Taking a nod from Cave's DoDonPachi series (among others), Sine Mora's bosses are often fought multiple times during a level. For example, when battling a heavily armored train early on, you'll kick off the level by destroying a car or two, fight some minor enemies, swing back into combat with another part of the train, fight some more minor enemies and finally enter battle against the train's lead car. Your tiny fighter might be moving along a predetermined path at all times, but these wild swings in and out of boss fights make each level fun and unpredictable.
Now, remember that "one exception"? I'm sad to report that, at times, one time specifically, Sine Mora isn't as fun as it should be. A few levels in, players are tasked with flying through a waste disposal system of some kind. To avoid INSTANT death, players must match the movement of clouds of debris, effectively masking themselves from the various flamethrowers and other implements put in place, assuming, to destroy trash on its way out. Not that doing so is impossibly tough, but this segment tossed a wrench into how much I would have enjoyed the game otherwise. Going for perfect runs through levels is fun and challenging when it is bullets and enemies you are dodging, but this segment demands a level of precision that sucks out most of the enjoyment you would have otherwise gotten from it. It took me 5-7 tries to make it through, more than any other single part of the rest of the game, including the final boss, and I've been playing games like this for years; I imagine some fickle players may die here once or twice, deem it impossible and move on to some other game, effectively missing some of the best battles Sine Mora has to offer.
What is particularly annoying about this segment is that it doesn't feel like it belongs in the game at all. Remember Battletoads? You were moving along just fine, fighting enemies in true side-scrolling brawler style and all of the sudden - bam - a nigh impossible vehicle segment threw up a roadblock to you getting any further, or seeing any more gameplay in the signature brawler style. Sine Mora's escape through the exhaust chute segment feels the same way; players enjoy the shooting and dodging for a few levels and - bam - a segment that feels nothing like the rest of the game stops you in your tracks. Don't let this stop you if you are on the fence about diving into Sine Mora on either the PS3 or the Vita; skipping this game because f this segment would be a huge mistake on your part. Just know going in that you'll be dealing with some controller or handheld-throwing rage a few levels in. Take a deep breath, get it done and move on to the rest of this exceptional title.
As I'm finishing this review, it occurs to me that I've now finished Sine Mora three times: once on the PS3, twice on the Vita, and, get this, I can't wait to do it all over again. The main story is shorter than I'd like it to be and that single segment drew different levels of annoyance from me each time, but there is no doubt that Grasshopper Manufacture stuck some great chords with Sine Mora. The world is an intriguing one, the bosses are tough and fun to fight, the whole package represents a game that isn't going to set the world on fire, but will keep your attention for as long as it takes you to finish things up. Or, in my case, longer. Three times longer. If you aren't playing Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath or Earth Defense Force 2017 on your Vita and need an excuse to pick it up again, Sine Mora is just the game you've been waiting for.
Final Rating: 88%. The first, second, and third time are the charm.