I admittedly haven’t been too familiar with Nordic Games prior to its acquisition of THQ, but I knew plenty of the latter. Before they filed for bankruptcy a few years ago, THQ was home to lots of licensed and original titles alike; these would range from Spongebob (whose seen much better days then than with Activision, I may add) to the De Blob series. I struggle to get some of these titles out of my ever-growing backlog, but I certainly enjoyed what I did play, and I had been pleasantly surprised to see Nordic Games fuse with THQ to become what they’re known as now. More recently, after having rekindled my interests in arcade shoot ’em ups with Strikers 1945‘s port to Switch, I figured Sine Mora EX could be an appropriate revisiting of both the genre and the THQ name.
Released on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One last month, Sine Mora EX is an updated retail version of a seventh-gen downloadable title priced at $19.99…on those consoles. For Switch owners, the price is bumped up by $10. While this is sadly the case for some third-party Switch offerings coming soon, I’m somewhat baffled that it’s also the case for the digital version. Other third-party cases would make the downloadable release cheaper to match prices on rival platforms since releasing digitally removes cartridge costs.
Price bickering aside, let’s get on with the plot.
Sine Mora EX may be a bullet hell at heart, but it apparently has a tale to tell. Two tales playing out at once, in fact. One focuses on a super-determined father that wants revenge against the Empire for killing his son, for not dropping a nuclear bomb as he was ordered during an attack on a race known as the “Enkies”. Another involves a woman that seeks to destroy them (the Enkies) to prevent their plans from pulling through. That’s the best I could really sum up the plots, because in actuality, they get way too overly detailed.
I’m all for a good story, but Sine Mora bombards the player with a wall of text after every stage, typically containing exposition; the game’s progression also tends to swap around between these scenarios, and in turn, makes following along the story hard to do. There are also dialogue exchanges in the midst of gameplay, but they are usually just acknowledgements of the level objective at hand. They can bring out sort of a Star Fox vibe in that fashion. However, there aren’t any in-game cutscenes that back up the details featured in the walls of text. It tells more than it shows. I know it’s probably to be expected for a game this arcade-like, but if there is to be this one big narrative, at least some of the details per monologue should have been given proper screen time. It’s kinda hard to squeeze into and make sense of all of that in this under-two-hour venture where all you do is shoot baddies in a flying spaceship.
Want to know some of the details? How does time manipulation sound? The Enkies can do that, and the Empire develops a machine named “The Project” that’s capable of accomplishing the same thing. It uses loads and loads of military vehicles so it can’t be disarmed effectively. The ship the father drives? That was stolen from a Sine Mora school known as “Merenstein”. He also ropes a rape victim into his bidding after he threatens her. What I’m saying is this protagonist is a huge prick. Further details elaborate on the machines, the terrain the player flies through, and the races that exist.
What does all of that have to do with the gameplay? Well…Nothing, honestly. In execution, it feels like reading a portion of an unfocused novella after every time you beat a level in a totally unrelated game. In fact, you unlock an encyclopedia of the game’s universe upon beating it!
I will say, Sine Mora EX definitely has the looks down. The levels were a lot more visually vibrant and distinctive than I thought they would be before playing through them! Running at a silky-smooth framerate, the worlds are quite the spectacle to look at in motion. That is, if you can also face off the plentiful quantities of enemies that’ll pop up to shoot you down.
I admire the presentation as well, even if the story was told through mostly white text in front of blank black backgrounds (well, that was weird alliteration right there). The cinematic camera angles make for a cool visual reward for blazing through hazards while also serving as a clever break between the action.
The visual effects are pretty stunning as well. It’s always satisfying to blow up enemies thanks to the kinetic explosions, and the hordes of bullets that wade through the air are impressively choreographed and varied. The bosses are impressive in their own right; they are huge, animated, and have neat designs to them.
Given the not-so-lighthearted circumstances, the music generally relies on the atmosphere to provide substance. The sound design in general does a good job at balancing that out. Sound effects are not too loud, yet remain complementary to what goes on in battle. There are a few catchier melodies, but their volumes are relatively lowered – not that it’s necessarily an issue.
My only real gripe with Sine Mora‘s audio department may be the voice acting. I played the game in English, and I haven’t checked to see if the original Hungarian voice clips were any better. What I do know is the English dubbing could’ve used improvement. The voices themselves have potential, but the direction they are given don’t seem to suit the mood as well. For example, Ronotra Koss’s (that’s the name of the father protagonist, by the way) voice sounds raspy to the point of being a Narm.
You’re flying a spaceship across an auto-scrolling two-dimensional plane. Enemies move around in patterns and fire projectiles at you. You know what to do: Hold down that fire button and move around like there’s no tomorrow! Sine Mora EX plays and is structured just like that of any arcade shoot ’em up title; the game even allows players to use single Joy-Cons to play! It’s especially great for me because my left Joy-Con decided not work anymore as of late, and I desperately need to mail the thing to Nintendo. Unfortunately, this means I can’t provide screenshots directly from my Switch like I traditionally do with my reviews (the lone exception being Use Your Words for deliberately disabling that feature).
Anyway, the action is as hectic as it can possibly get in games like this. The game demands that you keep yourself on your toes and use your reflexes as you dodge the many, many lasers and traps in each stage. What makes Sine Mora EX stand out from the rest of the crowd, though? Easy: It has you fight the timer, too. Levels are divided into parts where you race against time and make sure to add to the timer by killing enemies. You can also grab other items to take advantage of special abilities like slowing down time and methods to nuke an army of baddies outright.
While the secondary attacks are cool, it’s the timer mechanic that stole the spotlight for me. It requires you to face enemies when it could have been easier to avoid them altogether. Depending on how much time is left, you’d really have to think about how you should maneuver and/or use special moves if they are even at your disposal. Instead of losing lives like one would expect, players lose time whenever hit. It’s smart because players would end up valuing the time they have left more than they would ever value life counts, kind of like the treasure bags in Shovel Knight.
That said, there are still continues should the player die. At first, I was frustrated since there is no “Continue Game” menu option if you lose all of your in-game continues. Then I realized you could actually just continue where you’ve left off when selecting “Stages”, albeit you’d have to start from the beginning of the stage instead of at the checkpoint you may have reached before. Still, the challenges one would face during the main story levels ain’t too shabby. If anything, the length can be an issue for a game priced at $29.99. Players that suck can at least spend a few hours getting through the game. Advanced players may spend little over an hour.
In case you’re looking for more to do, however, Sine Mora EX at least tries to offer some other options. There are leaderboards and achievements galore, you can warm up for boss fights, play through a series of dedicated challenges, or compete against a buddy in a couple of versus modes. The second player can also join in the main adventure as a droid assisting playable characters. The options are nice touches, albeit whether or not they fulfill the price tag likely depends on how much you’ll eat up the game’s frantic arcade-y structure.
Beneath the questionable story and certain odd decisions is a thoroughly competent throwback to the arcade formula. I enjoyed my time playing through Sine Mora EX, and I’m sure to come back to it as I have with Strikers 1945. As I await THQ Nordic’s future releases for the Big N’s hybrid platform, I recommend Sine Mora to people that are fond of this classic structure and are willing to see how this game changes it up.