‘Sine Mora EX’ Review: Time Keeps On Ticking

Bullet-hell shoot-’em-up games were arcade mainstays in the 1980s. The genre easily translated to the home console market with the NES, in games like Konami’s Gradius and Life Force. Taking a ship and flying in a side-scrolling level, shooting everything in sight and dodging bullets, missiles, and other ships took a careful hand, a calm demeanor, and lots of luck. Sine Mora EX is a throwback to those side-scrolling shoot-’em-ups. Enemies swarm the screen, and the player must navigate the sea of deadly bullets, all the while shooting the seemingly endless supply of ships, turrets, and end-level bosses to advance to the next level.

Sine Mora EX takes the bullet-hell shooter genre and adds an extensive, if not convoluted story mode to the whole affair. I won’t even attempt to summarize the story, as it branches off multiple times, with multiple characters, and even goes back in time without any kind of narrative transitions. Just know that there is a story here framing the events that are transpiring on screen. The story mode also allows for local couch co-op, so you and a friend can team up together to take on the thousands of enemies of the empire.

Sine Mora EX Review

The real meat in the Sine Mora EX dish comes in the gorgeous art and graphics and the tight gameplay. Players are given various weapons and plenty of power-ups for those weapons. There is even a shield that can be used, and time can be slowed down to dodge even the thickest bullet storms. If you take a hit, it’s not an immediate death, but you do lose your power ups, which float away from you. If a player is quick, they can collect them all before they leave the screen, minimizing the damage done. The gameplay is what separates Sine Mora EX from other shooters, as there were times while playing that I was transported back to the laundromat in my old neighborhood as a kid, quarters lined up, as I played these types of games over and over and over. It says much that a game like this can have that effect on me.

Sine Mora EX Review

Time plays a huge role in Sine Mora EX. Levels are timed, and beating the enemies and the end level bosses, some of which are just outright ridiculous in size and scope, within the time limit affects your end score and rating. You lose time with hits and by using certain powers, meaning you have to juggle and sacrifice to succeed. Running out of time is instant death. In a throwback to old school and arcade gaming, the player doesn’t have unlimited continues, and has to earn extra lives by putting up huge scores. If you run out of lives, you have to restart the game from the last unlocked level. It’s not as bad as having to start at the very beginning — let’s face it, gamers are too coddled for that these days — but it is still devastating to have to start fresh in later levels.

Sine Mora EX Review

In addition to the Story Mode, there is an Arcade Mode that sidesteps the story elements and just lets you shoot things for fun. Score Attack lets you play for scores, which are tabulated on a worldwide leaderboard. Any of the 13 unlocked bosses can also be challenged in Boss Training, if you hate yourself, and Challenge Mode lives up to its name. Lastly, Versus mode has three games: Race, tanks, and Dodgeball (each has a more complicated name in the game, but are distilled down to race, tanks, and dodgeball) giving Sine Mora EX much needed legs for after the story is told.

Sine Mora EX Review

The music and sound effects and voice acting, both in English and the native Hungarian, are all very well done, and add to an already impressive game package. The pulsing, techno-beat of the soundtrack is incredible and so deliciously 1980s, and the sheer amount of things happening on screen at any given time shows the processing power of the system you are playing on.

Sine Mora EX is a wonderful throwback to a genre and time that is now mostly forgotten in gaming. THQ Nordic has kept the genre alive with a solid, fun, and thrilling shoot-’em-up that can instantly transport older gamers to a time in the past, and still give newer gamers something incredible to experience for themselves. Games used to be very hard, and Sine Mora EX reminds us that time is very important, and how you spend that time matters.

Sine Mora EX is available for the PS4, Xbox One, Steam, and the Nintendo Switch. This review is based off the Xbox One version, using a code provided by the publisher.

Sine Mora EX Review
out of 5

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