Here’s a cheap find: Sine Mora is part of the Humble Weekly Sale (through 10/3), and if you’re even remotely interested in the shoot ’em up genre, there’s absolutely no reason not to pick up this gorgeous game. But I’m not going to talk about the standard features that you’ve seen before–instead, I’ll give you some other reasons why Sine Mora‘s worth playing through even if you don’t like scrolling shooters.
First and foremost, there’s the presentation. The menus are crisp and clean, information is segmented into various bars, and a bevvy of customization allows you to determine how to challenge the game. If you don’t want to bother with the story–even though it’s actually a fairly clever split-narrative that involves paradoxes, revenge, and genocide, with levels occurring out of order so as to disorient and better challenge the player–you can run through Arcade mode (although this’ll be at a higher difficulty). Before tackling Score Attack challenges, you can even use the Boss Practice mode to nail tricky patterns–especially important since every boss not only has a variety of phases, but a plethora of individual parts, some of which fire more erratically than others, making strategic prioritization a major component of the game. (It’s not just holding down the auto-fire as you attempt to dodge the bullet hell before you.)
Second, there’s a great deal of replay value here. You can earn promotions (achievements) by completing specific (and increasingly difficult) tasks, which start out by simply asking you to play a given mode for a certain amount of time, shooting down a number of ships, to getting and sustaining certain ranks on levels, finding hidden weak points on bosses, or completing the game without ever using your massively powerful sub-weapon or time-warping capsule skills (so long as your gauge remains charged you can either slow down or reverse time, or reflect bullets). Beyond that, there’s also an alternative narrative to unlock for the Story Mode (and a hidden ending), so although there are only seven levels (each split into two unique stages), shifts in the story and difficulty serve to keep things feeling reasonably fresh, especially once you start mixing and matching pilots, ships, and capsules in the Arcade mode.
Third, there’s the pace of the game, which is fitting given the title Sine Mora (translation: “Without delay”). The closest comparison I can think of is Ikaruga, in that there’s more going on than simply shooting foes. Each level adds a unique hazard, be it oncoming trains, floating mines, jets of lava, or maneuvering past a grid of lasers by hiding within a ball of trash, but refuses to stick to a gimmick for more than a minute. The same goes for what other games consider the meat-and-potatoes: endless waves of enemies. Here, you’ll never seen more than a minute of regular enemy types before a boss interrupts your encounter, keeping the pressure ratcheting up. This also makes it harder to game the scoring system with lengthy (and cheesy) combos; instead, you really have to focus on not taking a single hit.
That said, it’s remarkably easy to casually play Sine Mora. Unlike most shooters, your ship doesn’t explode after a single hit; instead, every stretch is governed by a timer. Getting hit reduces that timer; destroying enemies helps to restore it. Because of this, there’s an acceptable margin of error that allows players to make it through the game without much practice; on the other hand, challenge fetishists will enjoy finding ways to chain ever higher scores by ending levels with as much time as possible, since your score increases if you avoid using your special abilities and don’t get hit. It creates an interesting risk/reward dynamic, as well as a ticking-bomb tension, especially at its hardest, when missing even a single enemy might be enough to wipe out your timer.
I’ve never had so much fun rushing through a game.