It almost feels like a decade has passed since I first experienced Sine Mora on the PlayStation Vita. Back in 2012, I praised the game for its dark and mature story which first seemed out of place for a shoot ‘em up (i.e., shmup) and yet, its humanized drama of anthropomorphized animals battling against a terrible Empire delivers a level of a narrative sophistication I’ve never seen in the genre. Now five years later, it gets a re-release on the PlayStation 4 as Sine Mora EX, making it the perfect opportunity to play the game if you missed out on it twice before.
I don't have to tell you that war is a terrible human invention. Tearing lives and families apart, war has the capacity to destroy homes, cities, and civilizations. Sine Mora begins with destruction on a high order of magnitude. In a bid to eradicate the Enkie race, the genocidal Layil Empire launches a nuclear attack that all but destroys their object of hate. It’s here that the narrative splits. In one timeline, Rontaro Koss, a bison-like humanoid, heads out on a campaign of revenge against the Empire after his son is murdered by loyalists. Broken and spiritually empty, Koss pulls in numerous people and puts them in harm’s way for his personal vendetta. Following not far behind are the remnants of the Enkie that have formed a militia to launch guerilla warfare against the Layil. This unique narrative is played out through static cutscenes that relate the experiences of the Enkie and Rontaro, which conjures up images of genocide, rape, and torture.
Outside of its bold narrative, Sine Mora EX is built on the classic foundation of the side scrolling shmup genre. The action moves slowly to the right as enemy planes and ground vehicles circle the 2.5D environments in formation, shooting at the player with numerous energy pellets. At the end of the stage, huge bosses appear and launch jaw-droppingly beautiful bullet patterns that are easy to freak out about. Fear not, because the playable characters have an ace up their sleeve to make battles more manageable: the ability to control time. At the press of a button, you can slow the action to a manageable amount in order to avoid last minute environmental collisions and weave through complex bullet patterns. The effect doesn’t last long and requires collecting items from fallen enemies; however, it works great in a pinch. Besides more time juice, shooting down vehicles offers additional power-ups designed to increase the ship’s firepower, provide a score boost, and add ammo to its special, more devastating attacks.
Sooner or later, you’re likely to succumb to the continued onslaught of a warmongering Empire. Death is handled a little differently here than most other games of its type. Instead of a health bar or a number of lives, a ticking clock constantly counts down to zero. The progress of the clock is directly affected by destroying ships, which adds time and getting hit, which takes time away. I really like how this system works because you’re not harshly punished if you make a mistake trying to evade enemies and their attacks. Because there are so many targets to blow up that it’s not difficult to get back on your feet after sustaining a few hits.
Sine Mora EX doesn’t do much to differentiate between its older version. Apart from an added local couch co-op mode, new time attack variants, difficult challenge modes, and a boost in visuals, you’d be hard pressed to find anything out of the ordinary. I enjoyed the game more after playing it on a larger television screen because the game’s beauty and detail are done justice on a 55” screen as opposed to the smaller OLED on the Vita. Even if shmups are not your thing, passing on Sine Mora EX for that reason means missing out on a great, story driven side scrolling shooter that has style, maturity, and unexpected plot twists.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.