Review: Sine Mora EX — A memorable bullet hell

Sine Mora EX is the best version of an already great game. The original version’s debut on the Xbox 360 five years ago was met with critical acclaim, with the consensus being that it was one of the best shoot ‘em ups of its generation, if not the best.

While shoot ‘em ups might be a niche genre that appears to be shrinking as the years go by, that’s still a well-deserved award that carries some weight with it. Sine Mora is a game that makes you wish other developers had the same extreme creative spark that could make a game so distinct and unforgettable. From gameplay that deviated from the genre’s norms (which was handled by the now defunct studio Digital Reality) to the magnificent art and sound (handled by Goichi Suda’s studio Grasshopper Manufacture) it’s not hard to see why this game has the cult following it does.

With that introduction out of the way, there’s no better place to jump into this game than the area it handles best: the gameplay.

Sine Mora EX is a classic side scrolling shooter with a twist. Instead of a traditional health or life system like you might be used to in other games in the genre, Sine Mora turns time into both your greatest weapon and what you’ll end up fearing the most.

Upon entering any stage in the game you’ll see a timer at the top of the screen, which constantly counts down towards your doom. Getting hit by enemy attacks will take time off the timer, but you can earn it back by either picking up certain power ups or simply killing enemies. It’s often easy to gain a good deal of extra time by mowing down some relatively weak enemies, but it’s even easier to lose it all when dealing with some more difficult foes in smaller areas.

There’s plenty of segments in Sine Mora that are brutal, but they’re made much more manageable by your ability to slow down time. This is a limited ability that can be activated whenever you have its meter partially filled, but its heavy power usage is worth it. Sine Mora is an incredibly fast bullet hell, and time warping often feels required to get through certain segments.

You’ll learn as you continue to go through the game that this isn’t necessarily true, but it helps when going through new levels for the very first time. It’s also satisfying to use, but that could be said about most of Sine Mora’s mechanics.

Much of the satisfaction in Sine Mora’s gameplay is directly tied to its visual presentation. Your enemies will often die swift deaths to your plane’s constantly upgrading weaponry, with explosions often appearing in the sky as fast as corn can pop. These explosions might be the result of your primary guns, but each plane has their own secondary ability that will also come in handy. There’s a variety of these, ranging from missile bursts to laser blasts and everything in-between. Each secondary feels distinct, and I found myself excited to see just how devastating the next would end up being.

Your weaponry will also regularly be upgraded through various power ups you’ll find during each level. Some of these are permanent weapon upgrades, but the majority are temporary upgrades that you’ll have to quickly recollect every single time you’re hit. This adds even more weight to the already existing time penalty and to put it simply, this is not an easy game. Even so, practice does make perfect. Sine Mora’s systems are easy to understand, but you often just need to get familiar with enemy patterns and stage layouts to go through previously difficult segments unscathed.

The culmination of all your skills and firepower will face its true test at the end of each stage as you end up going against a massive boss. Each boss fight is memorable, with the game’s interesting designs making each one stand out. Some of Sine Mora’s finest moments are in these battles, where massive mechanical fortresses and beasts get ripped to shreds by one lone aircraft.

Alas, nothing is perfect. Sine Mora thankfully doesn’t have many flaws on its own and the EX release does what it can to improve some areas – for example the 16:10 aspect ratio is no more, replaced by proper 16:9 instead – but some issues do remain. Specifically, the game’s story, which is hard to follow during the intense gameplay and somehow even harder to follow when you take the time to read about what’s going on.

What you’ll manage to understand is that two countries on the planet of Seol are waging all-out war against each other. Following his son’s demise in the game’s opening, Ronotra Koss sets out on a bloody path of vengeance to kill every single government officer involved with his son’s death. If that was the entire story it wouldn’t be too difficult to follow, but it gets far too intricate for the game it’s tied to.

Despite the EX release bringing in full English voice acting for the story, it all becomes background noise that you don’t – and won’t – care about. It’s not necessary to enjoy the game, and you can just jump into arcade mode if it bugs you anyways.

All in all, Sine Mora EX is still a fantastic game. Its flaws are few and its fun moments are many.

Those who played the original might want to note that this is a remaster and not a revolution, but that doesn’t change just how good it is. As someone who played the original years back, getting to go through some of the boss fights once more was a special highlight of the time I spent with the game. Finally playing the game in a proper 16:9 aspect ratio is a nice touch, too.

This is an instant recommendation if you’re even mildly interested in bullet hell titles – it provides both a challenge and a proper learning curve, making it a good choice for both beginners and experts.


Xbox One