I’m the first person to say that you shouldn’t place special significance on any given publisher or developer – you’ve got to keep these people on their toes so they keep producing their best work, after all, instead of falling into complacency thanks to a devoted (and uncritical) fanbase! I don’t always practice what I preach, though. I like Swery’s games, I like Hideki Naganuma’s music, and Grasshopper Manufacture has yet to produce something I don’t love. We’ve got a Grasshopper joint here today, actually, in Sine Mora EX, an updated re-release of their 2012 shooter Sine Mora.
On the surface this is a shmup: fly in one direction, dodge bullets, blast away at baddies, repeat until you’re done. Sine Mora sets itself apart with numerous quirks and unique takes on the genre, though. In particular, it’s difficult to discuss this game without touching on the fact that not only does it have a plot that runs throughout the game, it’s a fairly in-depth story that will require some attention if you want to get the most out of it.
When his son is killed for disobeying an order to drop a nuclear weapon on the capital of the Enkie race, Ronotra Koss goes on a rampage of revenge against the Empire he once served. Koss will stop at nothing to see justice done, up to and including manipulating other victims of the Empire into doing his bidding. Meanwhile, Akyta Dryad leads the last survivors of the Enkie race post-nuking, seeking their own revenge for the Empire’s misdeeds. You’ll control members of both Koss and Dryad’s parties as they tear through the Empire, heading toward a decisive confrontation.
As you might expect from a Grasshopper Manufacture game, Sine Mora’s plot can be a little…exceptional, to say the least. You might need a playthrough or two to really get a handle on what’s going on, especially since the game hops back and forth in time, switching the pilot you’re controlling and when you’re controlling them. This goes so far as to change the subweapon available for your use, since each pilot carries different armaments; I found it was best to not get attached to any one subweapon during the story mode since there’s no guarantee you’ll have it for long, plus ammo for them tends to be rare.
Along with those subweapons – which range from a missile barrage to a powerful piercing laser – you’ve got a standard gun which can be powered up significantly and which will serve as the bulk of your offense. On the defensive side, your ship is technically invulnerable; taking hits results in the loss of your weapon power-ups, but they can be reclaimed. More importantly, you’re racing the clock at all times, and while you can earn extra time by shooting down enemies, you’ll lose it when you take hits. The other time-based aspect of Sine Mora is the ability to control time, typically by slowing everything down to give you a little extra maneuverability when you need it.
Generally speaking this is a well-made shooter, though a few points need to be noted. For one, Sine Mora’s graphics are extremely impressive (native 4K on both PC and PS4 Pro!), but this can sometimes prove to be a hindrance. In particular, on your first run through a given stage it can be difficult to tell which parts of the environment (and even some bosses) are “solid” and will harm your craft if you touch them. Likewise, enemy shots can be difficult to make out against the gorgeous environments. Both of these issues can be addressed by simply practicing, but new players might feel like they’ve taken some unfair hits.
You’ve got the story mode as described above, as well as an arcade mode and challenges to check out; the arcade mode in particular introduces several new time control powers along with providing a less plot-heavy experience. New to the EX version are a co-op mode that allows a second player to control an automated drone and provide extra firepower, additional aspect ratios, an option to play through the story mode on a slightly less intense difficulty and an English voice-over option.
The best thing about Sine Mora EX, of course, is that it’s a free upgrade for Steam users that already own the original game. If you’re in that group, well, you’ve already got the game so go ahead and enjoy those amazing visuals. If you’re new to Sine Mora, though, it comes highly recommended. My bias toward Grasshopper Manufacture’s work might be showing, but I think this game’s fascinating plot and gorgeous graphics more than make up for some of the less polished aspects of the shooting action.