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Developer: Digital Reality & Grasshopper Manufacture
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: 21/03/2012
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points
The shoot ’em up (shmup) genre is viewed by many to be stagnant, because at a cursory glance they all play and feel almost exactly alike, with some aesthetic and design differences. However, purists will tell you otherwise as these games are all about the intricate details that many of us fail to notice and appreciate. Things like hit boxes, bullet patterns, and even the pattern of the type of shot are all intricate details that play a major role in the core gameplay mechanics, and the understanding of which is absolutely crucial to mastering the game. Thankfully there has been some profound evolution in the shmup design philosophy and the best example here is Treasure, as they were able to give the genre a lasting reputation thanks to their groundbreaking titles like Radiant Silvergun (1998) and Ikaruga (2001).
Gamers still seem get a major kick of out the pure gameplay bliss and intensity that shmups provide, and as such still have a demand. The Xbox 360 in particular has become the new home for the genre, particularly in Japan where there are still full priced disc based releases for these games, and also a really good selection on Xbox Live Arcade.
With companies like Cave viewed as current the leader in the shmup market releasing numerous titles like DoDonPachi, and the lack of any new Treasure shooter since the legendary Ikaruga, the genre started to become a niche thing again with most new releases not offering anything more than what only hardcore loyalists would appreciate. That all changed when Grasshopper Manufacture (No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw) and Digital Reality announced a new game called Sine Mora, a game that they claimed was going to breathe new life into the tried and tested genre and take it to the next level.
The buildup for this game looked promising, and it became clear that Sine Mora had a lot of ambition in terms of what it wanted to accomplish. It was over ten years ago when Ikaruga made a profound contribution to the evolution of shmups, and Sine Mora was hyped as the next big thing for the genre. The game has now been unleashed exclusively on the Xbox Live Arcade, does it succeed at what it intended to do?
Sine Mora is backed by this really amazing lore and has a very rich and immersive in-game world. While the game is an intense twitch-heavy shoot ‘em up at the end of the day, it still gives you the feeling that you are part of this really big world without showing you too much of it. Only a few games have managed to invoke that kind of feeling, games like Panzer Dragoon and the first Gears of War game.
The premise of Sine Mora revolves around a large scale war with a time travel twist. What’s compelling about the story is that it sheds a lot of light on the lore, cultures, and inhabitants that make up the in-game world, and it becomes clear how well developed it is. Much focus is on the personal turmoil and journey of the game’s various characters, riddled with themes of revenge, discovery, and personal dilemmas.
The game has a rather interesting cast of characters, you learn much about their past, their experiences, and relationships, and watch how they face triumph, anguish, and absolutely brutal irony. They are really compelling and powerful, and they tell a pretty deep story.
The narration style of Sine Mora is almost identical to that of Panzer Dragoon Orta, as it narrates the story in a very surreal and vague manner that focuses on the perspectives and personal insight of the game’s characters, rather than providing you with a general overview. The world is as the characters of the game portray it to be, and that’s a really fascinating style of narration. There is a large amount of dialogue exchanged between characters during gameplay that is often hard to keep up with but for a fast paced shooter like Sine Mora, this really is the best way to go. Overall, it works and you feel like you’re part of an epic tale amidst all the frantic shooting action.
Sine Mora is an amazing sight to behold in terms of both the graphics engine and artistic direction. The game looks truly remarkable and exceptional, packing a visual punch that will leave you dazed and awestruck.
The art style of Sine Mora is incredible and it has a strong surrealist vibe to it. The game has a fairly large cast of characters and in terms of artistic design, they are unlike the usual Japanese manga/anime designs you would expect as they look truly unique and refreshing. The art direction has this strong ‘Diesel Punk’ essence to it that really shines in the in-game world design, boss designs, and character attire, as they all have the aesthetics of World War period with a postmodern technological twist to them.
All the characters are anthromorphic in nature, humanoid looking animals such as a leopard and a bison. Their art style is truly refreshing, with the character illustrations handled by Gez Fry who introduces a unique surreal style to character designs that are almost akin to what can be found in games like Panzer Dragoon Orta. The designs of the monstrous mechanical behemoths that serve as the game’s bosses benefits from the artistic magic of Mahiro Maeda, most notable for the iconic Neon Genesis Evangelion anime franchise. Fry and Maeda together give life and character to the world of Sine Mora.
The artistic splendor doesn’t stop here as the levels in Sine Mora feature some truly stunning backdrops, unlike most shoot ‘em ups where backdrops are boring and repetitive. The locations that will see in this game include beautiful coastal areas, ancient runes, luscious green jungles, dark and brooding factories, underwater caravans, and even cities bustling with life. There is so much variety and attention to detail in the backdrops, with lots of nice animations and particle effects.
The graphics engine does an excellent job to bring life to game’s art style and attention to detail. It has a nice clean 3D look with some jaw dropping set pieces and character models. The particle effects look brilliant too, particularly the water effects, and it makes good use of lighting and colour tones.
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