I am a fan of shoot 'em ups, a casual fan, a fan who won't stand at the top of any leaderboards in the near, far, or any-point-in-time future. That said, I do love 'em and love seeing the genre continue to thrive and shoot up the present with a hefty amount of support via all platforms, from handhelds to PCs to consoles, and now with the recently released Sine Mora, a new shoot 'em up co-developed by Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture exclusively for Xbox Live Arcade.
The game is beautiful and colorful, full of variety, and does a great job of keeping the visuals fresh with constant jumping between different areas. As hectic as things may get on screen, the game area is always clear and I never once got confused as to what was going on. Accompanying the visuals is a subtle atmospheric score and the sound design in general is rather lovely and only adds to the somewhat haunting atmosphere brought about by the more serious story. Speaking of the story, the previously mentioned jumping between areas is great for keeping the visuals fresh, but it does muddle up the story which, a far as shoot 'em ups go, isn't that bad.
The story is delivered mainly through walls of text voiced by men and women speaking Hungarian. The lines are well-voiced and I don't know if it's because the language isn't as common as other foreign languages, but there is something beautiful about the Hungarian language that helps in setting the more serious mood. The story, as good and well written as it is, is hampered by its existence in a shoot 'em up. Opinions will surely differ, but I find it hard to get invested in a story delivered via giants wall of text surrounding a shoot 'em up.
The actual gameplay is solid—what I expected—but does add a few unique elements preventing it from being just another shoot 'em up; specifically, the use of time mechanics—which include slowing down time, going back in time, or creating a shield capable of reflecting most shots back at their owners. In the story mode only the slow-down mechanic is available, but the other two mechanics can be used in Arcade, Score Attack, and Boss Training modes adding an extra layer of strategy. It doesn't revolutionize the genre, but it keeps the game fresh enough to warrant playing it over other games in the genre. Time also acts as a health system as death comes when the timer hits zero—time is added by killing enemies and lost by getting hit and the natural ticking down of time—which makes the game a tad more interesting and exciting. My one complaint is that at some points during a stage there were segments in which I had to navigate tight areas and I found these few segments a tad frustrating at times, but never enough to give up.
I would have liked to have seen multiplayer in some form, but I understand time-manipulating mechanics don't work particularly well when more than one human person is involved and the game is plenty fun solo to make me forget my desires to play with a friend, not to mention the leaderboards are thorough and, as far as I'm concerned, more important than multi-player in the shoot 'em up genre. 1200 MS Points isn't a bad price and there's plenty of reason to keep replaying stages for those who love chasing leaderboards, but if you're more of a story mode person uninterested in posting and comparing high scores, I'd recommend waiting for a sale to pick up the game as the story mode by itself is unsurprisingly short.
Sine Mora - [XBLA] (1200 MS Points/$14.99)