Sine Mora EX is a captivating fusion of military aircrafts and time travel. Conceived from the equally fascinating partnership between Hungarian developer Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture, the team behind No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw, the game tells a time-bending story about the realities of war under the guise of a hardcore shoot ‘em up.
The first thing to note is that this is a mature game, and not for the reasons you’d expect. The story is quite dark, telling a wartime tale with heavy themes of genocide and slavery, among others. The emotional depth surprised me, considering the characters are furries. Unfortunately, the plot’s also hard to follow. This is partly attributed to the fact that you are controlling two different factions throughout various eras in time, and the game constantly jumps between them. Factor in large doses of time travel to twist your understanding, and it quickly becomes convoluted. The bulk of it is told through voiced monologues between levels, and although it’s an interesting form of storytelling, both the speeches and English voice acting sound dry. Regardless, the way these stories come together in the end left me wanting to know more about the intricate workings of the plot, a sign of well-written fiction.
Of course, the gameplay is the real attraction here, and Sine Mora EX is no slouch. You control a fighter plane through lush 2D sidescrolling environments with impressive cinematic angles. It’s not quite your typical shoot ‘em up, though. The game is more closely related to the “bullet-hell” subgenre, characterized by barrages of bullets filling every part of the screen. To get past each glorious bombardment, you are equipped with the ability to slow down time for everyone but yourself, allowing you to gracefully dodge bullets and fire back at full speed.
The utilization of time travel mechanics in gameplay don’t end there. Your health meter is defined entirely by the on-screen timer. If you get hit, seconds are shaved off your clock; and if that timer hits zero, you lose a ship. You combat this by killing enemies, which rewards you with valuable seconds. As a result, there is a gratifying push and pull as you avoid getting hurt while taking risks to kill enemies in an attempt to literally beat the clock. And since getting hit isn’t instant death, you can pull off that literal last-second kill to avoid running out of time, which is sure to give an amazing adrenaline rush. I appreciate that the entire game is a thematic race against time. It’s a superb implementation of clever mechanics that serve both plot and gameplay without making it feel gimmicky.
Other than the unique time travel elements, Sine Mora EX is pretty straightforward, though not necessarily in a bad way. You can upgrade your own firepower by collecting red orbs dropped by enemies. And subweapons like huge energy beams and missile launchers are stylish damage-dealing options. However, your time manipulation powers and subweapons are limited. You also lose your main weapon upgrades upon getting hit. This leads me to my main gripe: a lack of resources can make some boss battles unfair. You can get stuck on a difficult boss if you’ve already exhausted your powers during a lengthy stage. Certain boss’ bullet barrages are impossible to get past without time manipulation. At least you have several opportunities to retry a boss encounter, though doing so doesn’t refill your much needed upgrades.
Gripes aside, the bosses have amazing designs. They’re all giant robots and battleships along the likes you’d see in anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is no coincidence considering the designer worked on that show. They can be unfair with one-shot kills, but they know how to put on a dazzling performance. Thank goodness you can play against any boss for practice or for kicks in the main menu.
The game has seven levels that span roughly two to three hours, which is a decent amount for the genre. However, beyond that, there just isn’t much replay value for casual players. It’s the hardcore fans that will benefit most from this package, thanks to the “Challenging” difficulty, a true test of twitch reflexes. And Arcade mode and Score Attack feed into that innate desire to achieve a perfect run with crazy formations and less chances to retry. Here, you can mix and match powers, characters, and ships – even incorporating new powers like rewinding time, which is a pleasure to use in battle.
The EX version also includes several additional modes, though they feel cheap compared to the main campaign. The first allows you to play the entire game in two-player co-op. However, it’s not as robust as it sounds. Instead of flying another fighter plane, the second player is relegated to a spherical drone. While it can perform neat actions like fire in all directions and produce a shield, it feels like a cheap downgrade considering you can’t even upgrade its powers. Even Luigi has it better than this drone. If you’re playing with a more casual partner, this may actually be to your benefit since the time loss penalty for the drone getting hurt isn’t as harsh.
Comparatively, versus mode is even more hastily put together. There are three short minigames, none of which have any substance. They consist of two variations of a drone deathmatch and a race between two planes, with the catch that you instantly lose if you hit an enemy. Not fun at all. The final exclusive extra is Challenge mode, which is comprised of bite-sized missions that usually involve beating the clock without getting hit. They’re not bad, but they’re also pretty shallow experiences.
As a whole, Sine Mora EX excellently interweaves the age-old time travel trope into both its complex paradoxical plot and unique time manipulation mechanics. And all seven levels are a spectacle, hosting beautiful environments and impressive gigantic bosses. The ability to slow down bullet barrages, combined with a fair checkpoint system, makes it more approachable than others in the genre. Regardless, most won’t get mileage outside of the main campaign, which ultimately makes this a hard sell for anyone but enthusiasts. And although the Nintendo Switch edition has that trademark portability, it’s tough to justify that higher price compared to other systems’ versions. Nonetheless, it’s an exceptional experience that will offer hardcore shoot ‘em up fans a great time.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!