It seems that in these times those developers that tend to have a bit more of an edgy appeal and mindset in the industry start to withdraw to the fringes in order for them to stay able to do whatever it is that they want to do. When Tim Schaeferâ€™s mega project of BrÃ¼tal Legend failed financially, he and Double Fine productions â€˜withdrewâ€™ from the AAA market with long production cycles and mind boggling budgets to the more experimentation friendly field of XBLA (and eventually Steam) releases. Now it appears that Japanâ€™s Suda 51, the crazy designer mastermind behind Killer 7, No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned is trying to do the same thing.
The latest game coming from Sudaâ€™s Grashopper Manufacture studio is â€˜Sine Moraâ€™, a seemingly traditional side scrolling bullet hell shooter. However this apparent traditionalism is only skin deep. Sine Mora is a truly international game. Co-developed by both Grashopper and Hungarian developer Digital Reality, itâ€™s quite a unique experience.
First of all, the gameâ€™s spoken language is actually Hungarian, while all text is localized. This alone gives the game a weird twist. Then, the fiction of Sine Mora is rather strong, presenting an elaborate â€˜dieselpunkâ€™ setting with anthropomorphic animal characters designed by legendary anime designer Mahiro Maeda. Itâ€™s a really strange blend. Anime characters, talking in Hungarian. And then the game mechanics come into play.
Sine Moraâ€™s basic gameplay is the usual bullet hell fare. What makes it special is the time mechanic. The player has a given amount of time to finish a level, represented by a counter in the middle of the screen that constantly counts down. Once the counter reaches zero, itâ€™s game over. Each hit subtracts time from the counter. – While each killed enemy adds some seconds.
This, in addition with the ability to slow down time for a short moment, makes for a surprisingly fresh and surprisingly deep side scroller.
The gameâ€™s plot however deserves praise and attention as well. Presented in Hungarian narrated text blocks between the missions, as well as in dialog between the various characters, itâ€™s presented in short, interlocking episodes, each putting the player in the plane of one specific character, oftentimes segueing into one another in not necessarily chronological order.
Itâ€™s a neat little clever thing that isnâ€™t used a lot in games. That this game, a side scrolling shootâ€™em up, should employ such a narrative strategy is a huge surprise, since this genre isnâ€™t exactly well known for having deep stories and the employment of intricate narrative techniques.
Sine Mora may be a bit on the weird side, and knowingly so. Also while itâ€™s surely a competently built shooter, itâ€™s no Ikaruga, mechanics wise. But still it has so much charm and quirkyness that itâ€™s hard not to recommend it even to those people not usually into these old school arcade titles.