Game of the Week: Sine Mora

Forget Operation Raccoon City - this is the future of East/West game development.

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Before I begin: apologies to anyone who's still waiting for our Ninja Gaiden 3 review. We hoped to publish it by UK release day yesterday, but this was one of those occasions when life got in the way and a delay was unavoidable. We'll bring it to you as soon as possible.

There are plenty of other games competing for your cash this week, although you're probably better off passing on Operation Raccoon City, a low-rent co-op shooter from Canada's Slant Six Games with the Resident Evil brand rather cynically wrapped around it by Capcom. Console gamers with a taste for some online blasting would be better off with the more esoteric and faithful Armored Core 5; From Software remains one of the Japanese developers with the firmest grasp of online gaming, and it will be interesting to see if it can convert any of its Western fans of Demon's and Dark Souls to its long-running mecha series.

At opposite ends of the gaming spectrum, Fall of the Samurai is another reliable Total War and Angry Birds Space shouldn't be dismissed out of hand by the snobs among us (I know, it's hard). PS3 owners finally get to play the pretty co-op platformer Trine 2 this week, too.

But it's fans of the good old shoot-'em-up who are spoiled for choice this week with two brilliant, innovative, modern twists on classic sub-genres. Either could easily have been named game of the week.

1

Kid Icarus: actually of legal drinking age in the US now.

Nintendo's Kid Icarus: Uprising for 3DS is a game of surprising depth and - except in the way it leans nostalgically on an old-days NES mascot - surprising un-Nintendoness. With its convoluted, not entirely intuitive controls and emphasis on a complex super-structure of systems rather than fine-tuned in-the-moment gameplay, this mash-up of rail shooter and dungeon crawl is more reminiscent of the likes of From or Treasure than Nintendo - the Nintendo of the last five years in particular. And it's all the better for it.

"The sheer amount of content to earn and enjoy dizzies the mind," wrote Simon Parkin in our Kid Icarus: Uprising review. "Kid Icarus: Uprising is a strong, pretty game turned into an essential one by way of its surrounding infrastructure. Its weave of systems hauls you back in to replay stages time after time; the sense of progress and acquisition is a powerful, irresistible loop.

"Most significantly, it reveals a Nintendo we haven't seen for some time, eager to innovate in ways that will excite its hardcore fans, focusing on competition, struggle and mastery. Reaching for the sky."

If Nintendo making this kind of game in 2012 is unlikely, then our game of the week has an unlikelier story still.

Sine Mora

Digital Reality is a Hungarian outfit that's been going since the mid-'90s; until recently, it made mostly PC games, a combination of work-for-hire and some well-regarded strategy titles. Over the last few years it's made a timely if unexpected lunge for download arcade games, with mixed results like Dead Block and SkyDrift. Somehow, it then summoned the courage to take a tilt at that most rarefied of genres, one dominated by enigmatic Japanese boutiques like Treausre and Cave: the 'bullet hell' 2D shoot-'em-up.

Sine Mora: Hungary like the wolf.

Entering co-development with Goichi Suda's crackpots at Grasshopper Manufacture was a stroke of genius. It gave Sine Mora credibility with the otaku crowd, as well as the contacts to sign artists like Mahrio Maeda and composer Akira Yamaoka (who surprises by underscoring the game's outlandish cartoon aesthetic with minimal ambient electro). Audiovisually, it's a game of huge charm and stunning polish. But the bold, revisionist, time-warping design, the baffling storyline and the lovely indulgence of the Hungarian voice track are 100 per cent Digital Reality.

"Despite the seeming chaos conjured up by the walls of projectiles you're expected to navigate, the shmup is a genre driven by precision and perfection, and Sine Mora's options indulge this compulsion more ruthlessly than any of its peers... It's a game that not only invites obsession but eagerly encourages it. Get better or die trying," wrote Dan Whitehead in our Sine Mora review.

"That's not to say that the game is so busy tinkering with the engine that it pays no attention to the bodywork. Sine Mora is perhaps the most visually stunning shooter ever made, its stages unfolding in crisp, bright high definition as scenery tumbles past."

This unlikely collaboration has resulted in a game with a unique flavour and a novel, inclusive approach to an intimidatingly hardcore corner of gaming. We await Grasshopper and Digital Reality's next, Black Knight Sword, with great interest. And in the week of Operation Raccoon City's release, we're delighted to hold Sine Mora up as the real future of East-meets-West global games development.

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