The Shoot 'em up genre, also known as shmup, is defined by levels that involve a literal bullet hell as dangerous projectiles soar all around you. They're typically known for their difficulty, but attract a massive following of players looking to conquer the leaderboards.
Sine Mora EX is a new shmup for the PS4 that originally released on the Vita and PC, but has a new lease on life with a console release. This beautiful game features a dark sci-fi story and some incredible bosses. Is it still ahead of its time, or does this shmup belong in the past?
A Tale of Two Kingdoms
Sine Mora has more story that you would normally expect from a shmup game like this. More so, the story here is much, much darker than you probably expect. With heavy themes like genocide, rape, and betrayal, you'll need to be ready for some of the ground this game is willing to cover.
It's a dark story within an arcade shooter, which almost made me feel like those themes didn't belong in this type of game. Even so, if we look at the story as a whole, it's a pretty interesting time travel tale. You'll need to play it once and then again with an alternate narrative that wraps everything up.
The premise involves two parallel stories that take place in vastly different eras. On the one hand, the story follows Ronotra Koss and his allies. In this story, Ronotra is out for revenge after his son, Argus Pytel is killed at the hands of his crewmates when he refused to drop a nuclear bomb on an enemy city.
His goal is to systematically wipe out the officers responsible for his son's death. The other storyline followed Akyta Dryad and a group of Enkie resistance fighters who are launching guerilla attacks on the empire.
Both the Enkie Kingdom of Atarach, and the Layil Empire possess time travel that is used to great effect during the story and facilitates many of the twists you'll experience.
The difference is that the Enkies can manipulate time naturally, and the Empire does so through artifical means. Despite being a little dark for a shoot 'em up, Sine Mora EX has a very intelligent story that caught me off guard.
Tight Bullet Hell Gameplay and Impressive Bosses
The gameplay in Sine Mora EX is side-scrolling action with time manipulation mechanics. Instead of health, you are given a set amount of time in each area. It counts down as normal until you take damage. Damage reduces the total clock by a number of seconds based on the enemy's attack power.
Killing enemies or wounding bosses gives you time back. You'll also find power ups and pick ups that give you shields, more powerful weapons, and super attacks. These super attacks are screen-filling affairs that can usually turn the tide of any battle.
You can also slow time down on command for brief periods when you need to maneuver a screen full of bullets. Both orange and blue bullets offer a nice contrast for you to navigate your ship. The colors have no gameplay effect, but they are easy to see so you can fly accordingly.
That being said, the senstitivity and hit boxes leave a bit to be desired. Your ship does not navigate as quickly or as smoothly as I would have liked. Bosses can get cheap shots in as a result when you need to cross the screen quickly and can't before they cover the entire area with an attack.
With shmups, it's really important that controls remain tight and sensitivity is high for when you need to book it. The somewhat sluggish feel here hurt the overall experience for me.
The bosses themselves are widely varied in their design and strategy. They often have several stages and range from large to gargantuan in size. I especially enjoyed their design and imposing presence on screen.
While the story mode is designed to not be too difficult, I still found myself dying pretty often in later stages. I'm not a veteran shmup gamer, but I do dabble in them. If you're a casual player, be warned that the difficult can still be imposing.
There's also a co-op mode that allows one person to fly the ship and another to shoot for them. It would have been cooler to have two separate ships, but the addition of this mode is welcome nonetheless.
Beyond the cooperative mode, the EX version adds English voice acting, 3 new versus modes, several arcade difficulties, better graphics, and Native 4K at 60FPS for PS4 Pro.
There's only about 7 stages, so the length isn't amazing, but the price is right at just $10.
Colorful and Detailed Presentation
Sine Mora immediately impresses with its crisp and colorful visuals. The opening stages have lush green mountains and turquoise waters that reall pop in HD or 4K. Later levels have detailed factories and arid desert landscapes.
It's pretty varied between the seven stages, and the frame rate never once leaves the 60fps pedestal. It looks great, and the story is really interesting, if a little dark.
The slightly sluggish controls put a dampter on the experience, but if you play enough, you'll adapt and prepare for the attacks when they come. For the low price point, shmup fans should absolutely check out Sine Mora EX.
Final Score: 8.0/10
A copy of Sine Mora EX was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/7/17