Sine Mora is Latin for ‘without delay’. As you fight to stay alive you quickly realise that time is short. Everything quickly burns away to nothing and before this happens you will see yourself scrambling for precious seconds before the inevitable. There is no time to delay, as time won’t wait. Sine Mora.
Sine Mora is a side scrolling shooter with a time based gimmick. As scrolls through the beautiful steam punk stages, enemies must be defeated to keep the ticking clock from hitting zero. Each wrecked ship brings a few extra seconds and each attack to the player craft docks a few. To be perfect and destructive leads to plenty of time, but it isn’t an easy ride. Bullets spiral across the screen with little room to manoeuvre through and while you can slow down time to make it past tricky obstacles, there isn’t much to go round so it must be used only in dire situations. The rules bring a fresh new direction for the shump genre, and the fact the player isn’t torn apart in one hit means even inexperienced players will be able to reach the end. I mean, I completed it and I’m a useless human being. Bit harsh.
The time aspect comes into the story too, which is a rather mature tale with heavy narration in-between stages on life, sex, betrayal and a distant father-son relationship. Each narration that crops up provides some striking philosophies on life, but these don’t relate to well to the action on-screen. Dialogue within the actual stages is rather banal tactics discussion and they break up the shooting far too frequently and it never seems to tie together with much coherence. At least the cinematics allow time to admire the gorgeous backdrops of bright blue seas, floating neon cities and stretching fields. This is a real looker and the general artistic design is stunning. Fighting a giant mechanical robot with an organ on its back and a Zeppelin with a colourful fabric innards are certainly more memorable than a typical giant mecha. A dark slow pulse of techno accompanies the action and helps create a daunting and unsettling atmosphere.
Sine Mora does have a few problems to stop it from being a timely classic. The bullet hell chaos sometimes doesn’t appear to have a clear way through to avoid damage, and when hit all those hard-earned power ups pop out of your ship and must be collected before they vanish. Unfortunately this typically leads to even more damage as frantically attempting to grab those powers back usually ends up with your ship eating more bullets. It wouldn’t be much of a problem if the attack patterns were easier to make sense of, but the hit detection can make it all a little frustrating. The extra modes arcade and score attack intensify the action even further and there is a feeling that this game wants to eject those inexperienced players out after they’ve passed the normal story mode. Time is required to gain the skills, but a more progressive balance across the modes or a co-op option would have made it easier to improve. Instead you must struggle and grasp for those precious seconds. Fans of the genre shouldn’t delay though, as this paves a future for a genre which was starting to grow stale.