Let's blow it up anyway!
if you want to invent something successful, it must rise above the norm. It needs to impress, it needs to be different, without players having the the initial thought of “Oh, we’ve seen that before.” On the contrary, it can’t be too strange or too intimidating that it scares the curious away.
That rings true today as I'm both delighted and confused by Sine Mora's particular brand of Japanese shoot-'em-up as it makes its way to the PlayStation Vita and the open road. In a way, this oddity from Grasshopper Manufacturer and Digital Reality has scratched an itch I never knew I had and my PlayStation Vita is all the better for it.
Sine Mora still relies heavily on time as a mechanic. Take too long to clear a level and you'll die. Avoid enemies instead of blowing them up and you'll die. Take too much damage and your remaining time will be chipped away until you're all out. As an evolution of the schmup genre, I love the mechanic, especially since it negates the way many Japanese schmups turn new players away with an intimidating "one-hit and you're dead" policy.
Every level gives you a different ship with a different weapon and a different secondary fire, making for small variances that don't alienate skilled players and keep things fresh for those of us along for the ride. Sine Mora also retains the "Speed Up" ability that allows players to manipulate time to their own end, oftentimes to get out of swarms of bullets and other tight spots.
The Vita's 5-inch OLED screen combined with Sine Mora's inventive 3D environments makes for a jaw-dropping visual experience on the go. Despite functioning on a 2D plane, Sine Mora oozes visual depth and flair. In one section, you'll have to eliminate lasers before the sweeping beams can deal fatal damage to your ship, but the way the red beams of death pop out of the screen can be fatally distracting.
I've often professed my amateurish love for shoot-em-ups, but Suda 51 and the teams at Grasshopper and Digital Reality seem to "get me" more than other contemporaries of the genre that turn "bullet-hell" into a bullet point on the back of the box. I don't want to go to hell, much less bullet hell, but Sine Mora toes the line beautifully.
Still, the overaching narrative and presentation leave a lot to be desired. I was more entertained by the few seconds it took for my ship to swoop around a train boss than I was in the 30 seconds of dialogue at the start of the level. For all the effort the developers have put into crafting a story with multiple paths and world-ending weight, it's lost in confusion almost immediately.
Sine Mora fills a void in the Vita's lineup. It's an arcade-balanced, twitch title with tons of beautiful visuals and plenty of replay value. Bosses and environments are inventive and challenging, while still leaving room for noobs looking to dip their toes in the shoot-'em-up genre. Despite the unintelligible story and the fact that schmups are still quite niche, it's easy to recommend Sine Mora all over again.