Who says I have to keep reviewing on the cutting edge? Sine Mora, by developers Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture — no, neither of these are really ‘indie’ in the common sense of the word, I know — was released to Steam in November of 2009, dating it a little over three years back. I half-remember adding it to my wishlist at some point; the principal reason I played it this week was because it was on Steam Sale the week before. Plus, with all these low-octane, feelings-heavy Dialogue Simulators I’ve been playing of late — Hamlet, Richard and Alice, Proteus and Kentucky Route Zero — I figured it was about time for something a little more explosion-oriented again. Hence, this Blast from the Relative Past: I don’t care if it’s old, as long as it’s good.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, I couldn’t even tell you if I wanted. Mechanical, not really spoilers as such.)
Sine Mora’s menu is… sparse. Very minimalistically functional. Enough so to draw my attention to it, at least, and to make me write these last three sentences about it. Five, if you count this one and the one immediately following. Here, have an overview:
See? A stacked system of sliding screens, to immediately show you how deep you are in which menu. And black text on a white background, with red for emphasis. It’s all very form-over-function: like it was designed by a team of programmers, who just happened to have one graphical designer visiting that day.
There’s achievements, but they’re in Latin. Significant? You tell me.
And, oh look, there’s a How-to-Play. Which is just rows upon rows of flat text. Really, what can I say about this example that I haven’t already said in several other reviews? It’s just… a terrible waste of space, really. Again, it feels programmer-designed, except this time I mean that as a bad thing.
But whatever. I was already pretty much aware that Sine Mora was a 2D side-scrolling shooter, something that was easily gleaned from any screenshot, so I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going into. A quick check of the mouse and keyboard controls, and then we’re off: Story, Start New Game, Normal or Challenging — Challenging, of course.
Background exposition is projected at my eyeballs. The less said about this, the better.
Okay, not go yet: a small cutscene plays first. I’m treated to a view of a bunch of planes flying in formation, approaching a city of some description through the clouds. It all looks very good, let me tell you. A text box talks in military jargon: Cobalt King this, Headquarters that. Interestingly, while the text is in English, the spoken words are… something? It’s not a language I recognize. I entertain the notion that it could be nonsense, Simlish, but certain words and names are immediately recognizable. Like the aforementioned ‘Cobalt King’. The words have a Scandanavian slant to them, to my ears, but I honestly can’t tell you what this language is or is supposed to be. Danish? Japanese, given that Grasshopper Manufacture is a Japanese company? Latin? The achievements were in Latin, remember. But then why the English names?
As explosions start tearing up the sky, the camera swivels around to place on plane on the left edge of a two-dimensional plan. A timer blinks into view on the top of the screen, and I’m in action.
Sine Mora plays pretty much exactly like I expected it would: mouse movement or the arrow keys sweep my plane across the field, and holding the left mouse button or the S key — okay, that particular choice is interesting — fires my plane’s gun non-stop. Enemies fly in from the right side of the screen, catch my bullets with their airplane-faces, and explode.
A few tutorial popups introduce additional elements. Like ‘sub weapons’, of which I have a limited stock and which I can unleash with another button-push. Two semi-scripted air boats provide decent practice for my current sub weapon, which is in reality just a whole mess of missiles.
Interestingly, Sine Mora doesn’t seem to have a traditional health bar. Instead, the role of ‘health’ is fulfilled by the top-screen timer: if it runs out, my plane explodes. Getting hit loses me time, but killing enemies gains me it. The timer is obviously continuously running, as befitting its status as a timer, putting a fairly direct sense of urgency on the whole thing. I can take as many hits as a want, basically, just as long as I don’t run out of time.
Of course, the timer-as-health thing isn’t just a stand-along thing: Sine Mora has made quite a big deal of it’s ‘time-travel elements’ in promotional materials and in the earlier lore-dump. After more flying, more explosions, more gibberish, and selecting an optional flight path, for some reason, the game decides to show me just how deep this time-travel rabbit hole goes in gameplay terms:
I have bullet time.
Yup, that’s it: I get a limited amount of bullet time with which to slow down everyone but myself. It’s the cheating kind of bullet time, the one where I’m not as affected as anyone else, but I still feel a little underwhelmed. Still, I use it to navigate a tricky corridor to good effect.
I enjoy some more lovely flyi-BOOM
And thus ends the prologue. I’d call the introductory segment here, but the game immediately rolls over to Chapter 1. And Chapter 1 has an interesting revelation:
Yeah, okay, maybe that doesn’t really affect anything. Maybe I did just want to show you mister Cool-for-School Lizard Man. And his kickass sub weapon, the Beam Of Everyone Dies:
Moreover, though, Chapter 1 introduces a lot of things that wouldn’t have been out of place in the tutorial (Or maybe they were there and I missed them, it’s possible). For instance, see that red bullet-themed circle in the above screenshot? That’s a weapon pickup: grabbing it permanently increases my weapon’s power. Not just in an abstract sense, either: the bullets become bigger, I fire more quickly, the spread increases, the works. There’s also other enemy-death-spawned pickups, including more sub weapons, more time on the timer, something that makes the ‘shield’ and ‘extend’ words below the timer light up, and points.
Noticeably, I lose a few weapon upgrades every time I get hit. They fly out in a circular pattern, either for me to pick them up again or for them to fly off the screen. I can’t seem to lose all my upgrades, but it does make the notion of dodging shots a little more immediate.
Chapter 1 also introduces the concept of boss fights. It does so by making my fight Robot Octopus Space Core.
Again, it’s nothing I didn’t expect: big boss, many bullets to dodge, individual parts to break, massive explosion. It’s still pretty cool.
After beating the Octopus Boss, I am suddenly a different underwater plane, featuring different underwater characters. Yeah, sorry, I can’t make it any more clear than that. I’d have expected Chapter 1 to end after the clearly-indicated boss fight, but I find myself having to navigate a water tunnel, dodge some mines and destroy a giant sub — also a boss — before I’m allowed to watch the Stage Completed screen.
Completing the stage unlocks the two bosses I fought for ‘Boss Training’, one of the stages I flew to re-start the story on, and one of the pilots I was — the second one, oddly — for… something.
I’m going to fly some more stages and see if I can get to be yet more unexplained furry-people. Be right back!
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