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Sine Mora | review | game | Lollipop
(Microsoft for Xbox Live Arcade)
By Mike Delano
When was the last time a shoot-em-up aspired to be something more than just a fan-pleasing genre entry? That type of game (affectionately referred to as a "shmup") has long been confined to niche audiences, with only stalwart developers like Cave plugging away with any regularity, and the genre's brightest examples (Axelay, Ikaruga) having debuted on systems long since buried. 2011's excellent PixelJunk SideScroller did a lot to reboot my interest in this intense, demanding school of gaming, but Sine Mora sets a new standard for modern shmups. Not since Einhander on the original PlayStation can I remember a game so doggedly determined to drag the shoot-em-up into the modern age and compete among other modern titles as a peer, not a sideshow for nostalgic old-timers.
It starts with the presentation: Gorgeous 3D aircraft and environments nonetheless feel at home in 2D space and don't make any compromises in precision. A dark, minimalist soundtrack by composer Akira Yamaoka gives each of the scenarios a sense of depth, and the wacky cast of characters engage in some charming Starfox-style banter. The gameplay hooks are simple but effective: Shooting down enemies adds time to a continuously ticking clock, and a slow-mo mechanic is the long overdue introduction of "bullet time" to the genre, helping you navigate through hailstorms of bullets provided your meter is sufficiently charged.
Everything comes together to make Sine Mora an excellent, modernized shoot-em-up while still giving some nods to the past. Like last year's underappreciated Hard Corps Uprising, it allows newcomers (or, honestly, anyone without the reflexes of a cheetah) to enjoy the challenge of a forgotten genre with a few modern conveniences to soften the difficulty, while still offering the hardcore the option to kick off those training wheels and earn their bragging rights.