So! Sine Mora is the latest Grasshopper game, Suda 51's by-now legendary studio, um, as long as you forget about Diabolical Pitch, and, er, particularly that this game is actually a Digital Reality game that Grasshopper just helped a bit on (with art and music and the like, but not actually any design, as far as I know). So yeah, really when you think about it, it's a side-scrolling bullet hell shooter that's been made by a bunch of crazy Eastern Europeans. And it shows.
Because Sine Mora is bonkers, and not in the kind of "wacky, funny" way you imagine a Grasshopper game to be. Not even in that sort of weird, nonsensically complex storyline way earlier Grasshopper stuff is (think Killer 7.) More... that it's got an incredibly dark, sad and existential story, that happens to be told with anthropomorphic animals who live in a weird, steampunky world.
It's... just strange. And when this sad story is paired to what is a genuinely hardcore shooter, it's kind of hard to know what to make of it full stop. So here's what I'll say.
Sine Mora is not the best bullet-hell shooter you're going to play. In fact, it's sort of damaged by what I feel are a lot of flaws, such as being designed for analogue input, having power-ups that spawn randomly, and bullets that (and this is a classic problem) that are hard to see. Oh, and ships that are significantly harder than their hitbox, which has always been super annoying to me (a little bigger is ok, but when they're massive...)
So the game is hard. Really hard. And pretty much unfair, too, because you'll struggle to complete the story mode on anything except easy unless you start from the beginning each time (starting from a particular stage, with a pea-shooter, is basically a guaranteed way to run out your credits.)
What you really want to be doing (after finishing the game once in story mode) is just to play Arcade mode. But they made a massive, critical flaw. You can only play Arcade mode on hard. So, as a result, I've not even managed to finish the first level. It's idiotic.
Oh, and if you're looking to get the achievements, they're all attached to insanely hard requirements. Each achievement is a Call of Duty-style rank, which means that you have to do between 5-10 things for each rank-up, and unless you're willing to put in a crazy time investment, anything past possibly four achievements will be out of your grasp. It'd be a bit easier if you could play Arcade mode on other settings.
But here's the thing, though. Pretty much any hardcore shooter fan is going to tell me I'm a big, pant-wetting baby with all of these complaints. Of course the game is hard. Of course you need to weave your too-big ship through hundreds of bullets from the first level. Of course you can't rely on power-ups to get you through it. Of course you're supposed to start the game over every time you die.
In a way, that's fair. But the question remains open to me is if the game itself is actually that fun. I suppose I haven't actually talked about what's supposed to be interesting about the game: the unique time mechanic. In story mode you can "slow" time using a meter, meaning that you can more easily weave through bullets. And you never die, you just run down a clock that is replenished by killing enemies. It's... ok? I do sort of feel like if I died each time I was hit they'd have had to more finely tune the level design and enemies, but I can't say for sure.
In Arcade mode, you can use two other special powers instead: either being able to rewind time or to reflect bullets. But of course, that mode is so hard, I've hardly been able to use them to get a good feel for them.
The main thing about Sine Mora is that for a shooter, it's absolutely beautiful. The backdrops are incredible, so lovely that in fact they're sort of distracting. But I just don't think that as a game it's that fun, or that it's been tuned tightly enough as a bullet hell shooter to feel genuinely rewarding.
Alas... perhaps this game has been overlooked because it sort of deserves it.
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