If you grew up during the golden age of arcades, you probably have your share of shoot-em-up memories. I know I do, and it's what's driven me to scour the depths of the internet for indie PC releases like Jamestown and the Touhou series to try and recapture the magic. Sine Mora, though, might be the most beautiful, most mechanically-interesting shoot-em-up I've ever played.
Time is at the core of Sine Mora. As a resource, you can slow down time to navigate difficult passages, or weave between bullets. More significantly, though, your death is always mere seconds away. Your time is always counting down, and being hit by enemy attacks knocks your time left even further down. You can get back time by killing enemies and dismantling bosses, though, making constant aggression an important part of surviving the game.
The best way to get your feet wet is the story mode. While the game's story is a bit arcane – after finishing it, I'm fairly sure it's about a group of time travelers simultaneously avenging and preventing a death, but I can't say I'd pass a quiz on it – it frames the levels well, and provides and bit of drama and character to the incredibly beautiful stages. Perhaps more importantly, for the gamer not used to the gut-wrenching difficulty of shoot-em-ups, the story mode eases you in gently, with a long countdown before you die, less aggressive enemies, a handful of continues, and the ability to start midgame. While the monologues between missions aren't the clearest out there, they are rather interesting, and give an excellent feel for the setting.
If you're feeling saucy, though, the arcade mode pumps tunes each of those features to make for a tooth-grinding challenge that I've barely managed to chip, but which will provide plenty of fun for more competent veterans of the genre. Either way, you go through some rather beautiful levels, packed with some of the coolest bosses I've seen in a shoot-em-up. While the action takes place in two dimensions, the game plays up the 3d graphics well, your plane weaving through obstacles in the environment, or displaying bosses from every angle. Whether you're flying through a tropical sky, diving underwater, or navigating a factory full of molten steel and freshly-assembled enemies, the game's got its visuals worked out incredibly well.
Meanwhile, the bosses are nothing short of incredible. Whether you're destroying a massively-armed train, car by car, or taking apart a giant anthropomorphic mining machine, the bosses are some of the best I've ever see in a shoot-em-up. You'll be able to destroy them with a tremendous variety of combined pilots and planes as well, making for a great deal of customization in how you play.
Sine Mora has something for pretty much anyone interested in shoot-em-ups. Whether you're new to the genre or a seasoned veteran, there's a lot to love, and for its price, it's hard to turn it down. If you're at all interested in the genre or action games as a whole, there's no reason not to check out Sine Mora.