Back in the day of retro arcades when gamers were forced to leave their homes to play their favorite titles, 2D side scrolling shmups took their rightful place among the arcade cabinets as being coin chuggers. They were often infamously difficult to encourage players to mindlessly dump all of their quarters into the machine in an effort to actually progress somewhere in the game. Sine Mora EX embodies the spirit of those ungodly difficult shmups of yesteryear, but with a modern aesthetic. Sine Mora was originally available on the Xbox 360, and Sine Mora EX is a refreshing of that game, bringing it up to snuff for new generations.
Players take control of a variety of different characters by smoothly maneuvering their respective planes through complicated air and sea battles. Each segment begins with a cut scene with dialogue, and for some chapters it is apparent from the dialogue and cut scenes that players are replaying parts of the story from the different characters’ perspectives to create a fully fleshed out narrative.
The gameplay for Sine Mora EX is not exactly genre breaking. Players are locked in to the 2D side scrolling rails with the freedom to move about the current scene. Enemies can attack the player from a variety of points, even coming from behind player or from mid stage showing off that the battle that rages around the player is actually going on in a 3D capacity. This is also displayed by the camera panning and the planes rotating around the set between scenes. This cinematic mechanic is even more prominently on display during boss battles, where the player navigates the plane around the bosses in order to reach certain weak points to attack.
Sine Mora EX offers some unique challenges as a shmup. There is no health bar, for example. Instead each stage is timed and destroying enemies adds extra time whereas taking damage drops it. Should players die, they will receive an indicator that their time is expired and be given the choice to use one of 9 continues to carry on. If all 9 continues are used, players can use chapter select to begin again from the beginning of the stage they were on. Each character’s plane features a primary weapon, tied to the A button, that can be used to destroy enemies. Destroying enemies drops the occasional power ups in the form of extra score, ammunition for secondary weapons, and firepower upgrades. Its worth noting, however, that being hit by an enemy or wrecking the plane into scenery can result in losing firepower upgrades, which makes keeping those upgrades pretty difficult.
Speaking of difficult, Sine Mora EX takes its difficulty spike very seriously. While the campaign can be played on Normal mode and there is the option to practice with different characters against previously unlocked bosses, the game’s higher difficulties can be completely inaccessible to more casual players. The in game menu even goes so far as to warn players that advanced difficulties are for experienced players only. This extends to the challenge modes that are unlocked following the campaign, which can only be played in Hard or Insane. Casual players need not apply. While this level of difficulty is explicable for yesteryear’s coin eating arcade cabinets, it does not make nearly as much sense to close off such a large portion of a game with insane difficulties.