[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
When it was released more than five years ago, Sine Mora EX was a beautifully animated, varied and colourful bullet hell shooter that really feels as if it channels the joy and excitement of genre classics like Ikaruga from a gameplay perspective. The look is more like an alternate universe equivalent of World War II, with a kind of steampunk-with-animals thing going on. It’s strange, but hey, Sine Mora EX is first and foremost a shooting game and whilst there is a story, it’s very much in the shadow of the action itself.
I often find myself disappointed with remakes of recently released games because in all honesty, there is rarely any meaningful additional content. Where Sine Mora EX on the Nintendo Switch is concerned, this is a fairly feature rich update and includes the original, lengthy story campaign, a new cooperative mode, a challenge mode and several versus modes. Where other new versions (such as the PS4 version, when played on a Pro) include 4k, for example, the Nintendo Switch benefits from the nature of the device itself – with cooperative play on the Joy-Con’s being a huge inclusion that really enhances the appeal.
Whilst Sine Mora EX does indeed have a story, it is most certainly not a worthwhile reason to keep playing the game. It’s a tale of imperial aggression and greed in a world of turmoil and revenge, where sentient, humanoid animals swear profusely at one another in a childish sort of way. There are several opportunities to choose your own direction in the game and story, but at best these choices offer the thinnest veneer of difference, and offer no real variety in how things turn out in the long run. Almost as if the developers know this, they have included a fast forward feature to move you through the cut scenes and onwards back to the action – I certainly appreciated it by the end.
You won’t really care about the story however, because Sine Mora EX has extremely strong gameplay. Played predominantly on rails across levels that scroll from left to right, the game is somewhere between a wave-based shooter and a bullet hell, with a decent sway towards the latter. There are also plenty of boss and sub-boss encounters, and these are some of the highlights in the game, both to play against and to see on the Switch’s small but incredibly clear screen. The bullet hell elements are incredibly intense, and the bosses tend to have several phases of play which force players to change tactic in order to survive.
To help the player with some of the trickier sections, a key control feature is that the player has access to a gauge that allows them to slow down time. As bullet hell shooters go, Sine Mora EX is probably about as difficult as the average game in the genre, but the unique time-bending mechanic means that players unused to such a challenge will have a fighting chance when it comes to getting through some of the hardest sections. The shooting itself is both fluid and meaty, and there is a decent amount of feedback from the Switch’s controllers as enemy ships are hammered until they explore. With five difficulty levels and features like the challenge mode, there is also quite a lot to be going back to once you complete the main campaign.
The Switch version actually looks particularly attractive on the small screen, with excellent visual clarity and use of colour. This fidelity wouldn’t be at all useful if a game so dependent on twitch reactions and smooth gameplay stuttered and skipped at every sign of a large enemy or explosion. Sine Mora EX plays flawlessly, and I haven’t seen a single noticeable drop, no matter how large the enemy or how many on screen projectiles were coming towards my plane. The backdrops are also impressive, with islands, underground cities, underwater sections and gigantic industrial installations all present and correct.
Undoubtedly the best looking handheld shooter that I’ve played, and with the inclusion of a number of enhanced features (including both cooperative and versus multiplayer modes) Sine Mora EX may actually do enough to convince veteran players to return. For those who never played it at the first opportunity, the game remains one of the very best bullet hell shooters available, and this iteration only adds more to the original. In my opinion, you should: Buy It.