Sine Mora probably wouldn’t have been top of anyone’s list for this generation’s seemingly insatiable appetite for remastering, yet here it is. Released in 2012, and an unusual change of pace for developer Grasshopper Manufacture, Sine Mora was a 2D side-scrolling shooter with attractive visuals and interesting game mechanics. Its real trump card though was in its mature and compassionately presented narrative, a fact that seemed almost purposefully hidden behind its cast of bovine, feline, and amphibian characters.
This being Grasshopper Manufacture, mind you, the narrative takes a while to fully understand, based as it is around time travel, and it’ll take at least a couple of passes through the story mode to unearth everything it has to tell you. A tale of war, revolution, and revenge – which you can now experience in two-player co-op – its often foreboding and philosophical tone occasionally sits at odds with the on-screen action, but personally speaking, that simply adds to an effect that you just don’t tend to find in the genre.
Sine Mora is a world away from the bombast of most other side-scrolling shooters, and the game’s destructive action is paired with a level of quietude that leaves you feeling far more thoughtful than it has any right to. The music plays a key part in the game’s atmosphere, and often drops away entirely, rarely taking on the role of pounding puppet master that you’ll find elsewhere. Even when dance beats come to the fore, they’re dark, ambient affairs that hint at composer Akira Yamaoka’s previous work on the Silent Hill series.
It’s not as though they forgot that this is a side-scrolling shooter, taking the story’s time travel theme and manipulating it into the game’s mechanics. A timer sits at the top of the screen, and while bringing enemies down adds to it, taking damage sees you lose a chunk. It’s a great risk/reward setup, with dying seconds on the clock forcing you to take chances you wouldn’t otherwise; sometimes securing your survival, sometimes just teaching you to try harder next time.
The different difficulty settings allow you to turn it from bullet-hell all the way up to bullet-cowering behind the sofa, and for fans of the genre there’s a ton of replayability as you try your best to make it through sections and preserving your multiplier by not taking damage. Depending on the time-based special ability you’ve selected, you‘re able to turn the odds in your favour, from slowing time as you wind your way through the mass of ordnance to rewinding it to before you took a critical hit. You can’t rely on it too much though, as you’ll soon deplete the gauge, and Sine Mora is fairly stingy about filling it back up again.
Once you’re done with the narrative you can strip out all of the story elements and jump into Arcade mode, which allows you to concentrate on racking up your score without any of the other frippery, while also limiting you to three continues. Besides that there’s also a maniacal Challenge mode and three new versus modes – Race, Tanks and Dodgeball – which mess around with the formula in a variety of ways and let you and another local player go head to head.
The art design is simply stellar throughout, with the diesel-punk aesthetic giving way to some truly memorable boss designs. The key upgrade in this department is a visual bump for the current generation, and for those with a PS4 Pro (the version tested) or a PC with the necessary oomph, it’ll put out a lovely 4K image, mostly displaying at 60fps. There was only one noticeable drop during my time with the game, where a large amount of the scenery was collapsing, but otherwise the game is silky smooth. Just what you need when you’re faced with a screen full of brightly coloured bullets.
Tough, expansive, and boasting a surprisingly mature narrative, Sine Mora EX is a remaster done right. Offering native 4K visuals – if you’ve got the right kit – tons of content and rock-solid gameplay, side-scrolling shooters simply don’t get much better than this.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro