It's funny how so-called "sleeper" games manage to sneak past you, either because they don't generally appeal to mainstream gaming audiences, or they come out at a time when another game has your full attention. We've all seen our fair share of hidden gems that have managed to re-emerge and become favorites, and one of those games, without question, is a 2012 release for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, Digital Reality's and Grasshopper Manufacture's Sine Mora.
Originally released just over two years ago, the game provides an interesting twist to the usual side-scrolling shoot-em-up action we've seen from the likes of Cave and other devoted development teams. In this go-around, you've actually got time on your side. No, literally.
Throughout the game, you'll be able to earn additional seconds by defeating enemies within it, which you can then use to actually slow down the action that's happening. At some points, this will actually become crucial, as enemies spew a formation of "bullet hell"-style firework displays at you, and it's the only real tactical way to dodging them without taking massive damage. Take too many hits, and you'll run out of additional seconds and, surprise, your time will physically be up.
Sine Mora is easily one of the most challenging shooters to date in the PS3/360 era, mainly because of how it's built. Not only do you have to deal with multi-faceted bosses that need to be defeated one stage at a time (the train at the end of stage two is most noteworthy, as it packs more cannons than a fleet of pirate ships), but you'll also have to deal with the design of the stages themselves. One minute, you're dealing with worm-like parasites popping through the floors and ceilings of an already-condensed cave; the next, you're literally doing the Slave-1 thing and floating in piles of garbage to avoid detection from heat-seeking lasers that will fry you to a crisp.
However, this is the kind of challenge that's certainly welcome for those who have become accustomed to "bullet Hell" shooters. The challenge level can be adjusted, for those who feel it's too hard, but veterans will feel right at home, dodging bullets like a pro while picking up power-up icons and additional points to boost their scores, working their way up the leaderboards in the process.
With Grasshopper Manufacture on board (that studio has worked with producer Suda 51 on a number of wacky occasions), another interesting element is thrown in to Sine Mora: strange dialogue. Over the course of the game, you'll deal with your fair share of co-pilots who are…quirky, to say the least. They'll say the damndest stuff while you're contending with large enemies, and even go as far as tease you about your imminent death. Yeah, that spells "team" right there, doesn't it? Still, their banter is part of the fun, and, combined with the beautiful 3D visuals (combined with 2D gameplay) and vivacious soundtrack, it feels just about right for the genre.
Between the work done with the graphics and sound and the innovative addition of time control, Sine Mora stands out from the pack of other "shmups." Its challenge level is certainly welcome for avid players, while rookies can get in on it without feeling like complete wimps. And that, folks, is why this is a sleeper that deserves a second chance to shine, especially now, when there are barely any new games coming out over the course of the summer.
You can pick it up now on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Vita, iOS, and Ouya.