Why hello, bullet hell games! It’s been a while since I’ve sliced between my fingers with this particular cardboard box. Sine Mora EX seemed like an interesting little brew of possibilities given that it hails from Grasshopper, who wouldn’t know normal if it spat in their stash of coke. Then again, I’ve never been great as enduring regular hell, let alone bullet hell. I think that’s the 7th circle, if I remember Harry Potter and The Circles of Hell correctly.
Grasshopper does deliver a story that actually matches the gameplay in direct, heavy ways inside Sine Mora EX. That doesn’t make it the best of times, nor the most politically correct, but given how awkward and sexually deviant other of their titles have been, I can appreciate that the depravity wasn’t worse.
To tackle that little monster straight away, the world of Sine Mora is vast and full of anthropomorphic hatred. The world building overall actually feels amazing considering how compact their window is but Grasshopper apparently just couldn’t help themselves with being edgy. Koss, one of the main pilots you control, tries to show off his hatred with a really poor comparison between blackmail and rape. It stings the ear and reeks of a step that didn’t need to be taken by this text-and-voiceover story through a colorful world. That’s a specific example but there is racism everywhere in the same kind of over-the-top fashion that feels out of place in the best of times.
Re-acclimating to the game’s other content, Koss is joined by a few other pilots that all want to take down the new government for various reasons. This is broken down into a couple hours of gameplay through those very colorful and varied environments that shows off how vast this empire feels. That size and scope is layered nicely as a lot of the early acts happen simultaneously, each at separate pressure points to bring the empirical massive war machine down. You never really feel the same weighty motivations these characters feel, so it’s just nice to feel something attaching to this world beyond the challenge of the gameplay.
Even more than shooting, Sine Mora EX is about time management. You start each level with a chunk of time that decreases normally (you know, as time) but plummets per hit as well. That’s your life bar in an interesting twist on how long you have in these scrolling levels. Time is yours to slow in a limited capacity as you maneuver through copious bullets and tight environments.
Another interesting little wrinkle is the rhythm of enemies and their drops. You want, nay need, to kill every enemy in order to grab at high score marks. Taking out most enemies is still nearly necessary without that goal given their huge boons given such as added firepower, more time, shield, and special attacks. Firepower became life to me more than time because of the disparity between levels. When you’re hit, you’ll lose a large chunk of the gained firepower that you can then try to collect again as they spread but that doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.
That firepower comes in handy for the crown jewel of Sine Mora EX, the boss fights. These suckers are massive, varied, and have more ammunition than nuts and bolts. The entire screen, even in slow motion, can become a sh*storm of death, draining every resource you have until time slips away. Guns on them can suddenly become far too overpowered or an environment can feel unnecessarily tight, but for the most part, these are diamonds of creativity and challenge.
Standard gameplay feels a little more cheap at times. Enemies can shoot back at you after passing off the screen’s meridian, and if you’re an edge-hugger like me, you have no chance to dodge a time-sucking bullet. Some areas ask that you maneuver through extremely tight corridors but there’s not always a good explanation for what’s happening that’s causing damage and how to avoid it. This leads to trial-and-error in a bullet hell game with limited lives, which is a huge issue in my book. High score chases can be completely derailed by this sort of thing. That makes it feel like Sine Mora EX doesn’t always seem to want you to escape unharmed.
Grasshopper, while sometimes finding success with their edgy style, doesn’t seem to have the same ability to thrive here. The tone is too serious sometimes for the dialogue and otherwise the opposite happens, creating unlikable characters inside of a beautiful world that you might not want to see destroyed. Boss fights are a blast while standard enemies can cause headaches alongside their environmental-traversal cousins.
All-in-all, Sine Mora EX is a little bit of a wash, which is its own kind of timeless hell and one that this game unfortunately deserves.
Sine Mora EX Score: