PSN/XBLA titles Sine Mora and Black Knight Sword are the result of a new partnership between Grasshopper Manufacture and Hungarian studio Digital Reality. Of course, both games are strange, though only one of them is strange in the familiar Grasshopper Manufacture milieu. Both of them strongly suggest that this is a worthwhile collaboration.

Sine Mora is a traditional side-scrolling shooter, developed by Digital Reality with assistance from GHM. "The art direction, sound design, music by Akira Yamaoka, it's all coming from Grasshopper," explained Digital Reality creative Theodore Reiker. "Digital Reality, we have a ten-member-strong team making the programming, the 3D modeling, and the game design." That art style is a steampunk-esque world of big, complicated machines, airships, and squat, gunmetal-colored planes against skies of bright Sega blue. It was originally a much darker game, but Reiker explained that Grasshopper and Digital Reality eventually came to a "consensus" that the game should look like Studio Ghibli's Porco Rosso.
Gameplay-wise, it represents a return to pre-bullet-hell shooting, designed to recapture a wide audience for the genre. "The team is huge fans of shooting games," Reiker told me, "and if we keep it hardcore as it is, making a danmaku [bullet hell] shooter like Cave or Touhou, then we don't stand a chance; those are very niche." The story mode, as a result, is designed to be "pretty, and not scary."

This is accomplished most importantly through bullet patterns that aren't insane curtains on the screen (but still require concentration), but a few other design decisions help the game be playable by non-shmuppers. Sine Mora has a constantly elapsing gameplay clock, to which time is added every time you defeat an enemy, and from which time is removed when you take a hit. It's a life bar of sorts, then, eliminating the one-hit kills of most shooters. You also have a limited ability to slow down time, the usefulness of which I don't have to explain.

However, if you crave a more rewardingly painful shooter experience, you can opt for "hardcore" mode, which gives you much less time, forcing you to kill every enemy you see, as quickly as possible, just to keep up with the countdown. The bullet patterns also become considerably more devious, with bullets undulating as they radiate outward. While I was able to complete a level in story mode, this mode proved too much upon first attempt.

While Sine Mora is primarily a Digital Reality joint, Black Knight Sword is a Grasshopper game through and through, with DR acting as publisher. Reiker calls it "Suda-san unplugged," and notes that the team was inspired by Ghosts 'n Goblins. It's a gorgeous side-scrolling platform action game, in which the player controls a reanimated dead body guided by a "sword spirit." The look is reminiscent of Shadows of the Damned's 2D segments, with paper-looking characters against a stage backdrop. As you enter new areas, you can see the backdrops being swapped out, piece by piece; you'll see animated "birds" on sticks, and other props giving the impression of life, as the backdrop moves around to simulate scrolling.

You have a standard set of moves, including multi-directional sword swipes and a double jump. You also have the ability to send the spirit outward with the right stick, in order to remotely manipulate switches and, in the TGS demo, rotate boxes so that you can jump onto them. A monstrous multi-mouthed ... thing in a cage operates a shop when freed, allowing you to upgrade your abilities.

Enemies include sort of Moai-looking faces on legs, and a portly guy who clucks like a chicken while throwing things at you. The demo ended with a boss fight against a big, clumsy, wooden-clad warrior who turns out to have a giant face on his torso, revealed when you cut away his armor.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the narration, easily the most memorable thing about Black Knight Sword. As I played through the demo, he gave me directions in an overblown English accent. "And this is how you jump. Jump! Jump! Jump!" Delightful!

According to the fact sheets I received from GHM, both games are currently dated TBA, so I can't tell you how long you'll have to wait to try them out for yourself.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

Forza Motorsport 4 review: Hybrid synergy drive