Grasshopper Manufacturer has been playing around a lot with different genres in the last few years, with Sine Mora being their first SHMUP. A joint effort with the European studio Digital Reality it’s an okay game but not the extreme pewpew-fest I was hoping for. There are tons of annoying small breaks in the action to show off scenery; it seems the developers were very worried that players might miss how cool everything looks.
The boss battles are particularly disappointing as they are somewhat slow and you spend a lot of time not moving anywhere or thinking very hard. Here are some examples I grabbed using FRAPS:
Compare that to the first boss fight from random SHMUP Ether Vapor: Remaster that I bought cheap on Steam (you may also observe that I am not very good at the game):
Sine Mora got a lot of praise in reviews all over the place but I found it to be very pedestrian and not very challenging. Substituting time for shield or health is interesting but the main impact it had was to make me not bother to try and get out of the way of fire/ships/insect puke in the very few crowded levels since your time increases goes back up as you blow enemies away. There were also way too many ripped-out-of-Gradius environmental obstacle areas. It’s a pewpew game, I want to make things explode.
Back in the GBA days, Kojima Productions released two games called Boktai and Boktai 2 which used a really annoying Solar Sensor gimmick. In the first game, in order to charge your Solar Gun you had to play outside, and if you ran out of sun energy during a mission you had to run around and avoid enemies. While making the second game, the developers decided that the Solar Sensor was not aggravating enough in the first and on top of charging your weapons it was also how you gathered currency because energy and money were taken from the same pool of solar power.
All this made the games tough to play for people who can’t just go sit outside on a whim during the day. I bought both and while the gameplay was fun I didn’t get very far in either due to the sunlight mechanics. Maybe if I were a non-city dweller things would have been different but I wasn’t going to play through them sitting on my fire escape on days I happened to be at home and the sun was up and bright enough to register with the sensor.
The gimmick apparently annoyed enough people in the North American market to cause Konami to swerve away from calling the gimmick-less DS installment of Boktai “Lunar Knights” in North America. Like the previous games it is fun and involves vampire hunting but unlike them I could actually enjoy the enjoyable gameplay. There is still an energy charge system but it relies on the time of day and whether you are outside or not in the game rather than where you’re actually hanging around.
The twist—it’s a Kojima Production games so a twist is mandatory—that makes this game stand alone from the first two is that it’s not a solo adventure. In addition to the kid with a Solar Gun pewpewing vampires there’s a co-lead character who uses melee weapons and charges moonlight rather than sunlight. He’s a grumpy guy who wants to kill vampires in a revenge mission. You can switch between naive happy sunlight boy and bitter vampire man at will for most of the game, though there are parts at the beginning and end where it’s not possible for story reasons.
Lunar Knights is your standard isometric action game controlled with a d-pad where you occasionally want to punch the game into space because you have to do a lot of maneuvering to face a certain direction, or you run off the edge of a building because you’re trying to go on a diagonal and instead move forward. Combat is relatively easy due to a lockon function so you move towards enemies as you attack them. The damage you take from certain creatures is outrageous, but I am one of those people who hoards health items and it didn’t really affect my enjoyment or cause any untimely character deaths.
After defeating vampire bosses you have to complete a shmupy type mission done from the first person view so you can destroy their bodies in space. These levels are very simplistic and feel like they were tacked on so there’d be something in the game that uses the touch screen.
If you’re hoping for a Kojima story from Lunar Knights, you’re out of luck. It’s straight-forward and clearly meant for an audience much younger than Metal Gear crowd. Good is good, bad is bad and there are no shocking twists or technerds having affairs with their step-mothers at a very young age.
Don’t be turned off because the game was developed to be accessible to kids, though. It’s a very competent fun action game with lots to do and areas to explore. Lunar Knights doesn’t have any glaring flaws, what holds it back from reaching the next level is that it doesn’t do anything notable or better than what you’d find in similar games.