Comix Zone
  • Genre:
    • Beat 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • US 01/01/1995
    • JP 09/01/1995
    • UK 10/27/1995
Score: 75%

This review was published on 08/10/2015.

Comix Zone is a side-scrolling brawler or beat 'em up video game published by Sega and developed by Sega Technical Institute for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was released in North America on January 1, 1995, Japan on September 1, 1995, Europe on October 27, 1995, and Australia in 1995. The game was first showcased in 1992 within a concept video made by Peter Morawiec called "Joe Pencil Trapped in the Comix Zone," which demonstrated how the game play would work. In North America, the game was packaged with a bonus CD filled with heavy rock music styled similarly to stuff done by Nirvana and Soundgarden. On the other hand, the European version of the game came with a different bonus CD that featured enhanced songs from the game itself played by a full rock band. As the name hints, this game is about comic books, but it's not about reading them; it's about playing them. Ever wanted to have an adventure inside of a comic book world? Well, that's what this game is. Comix Zone is endearingly original, visually mind blowing, and the game play is unique.

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Artist and freelance rock musician, Sketch Turner, is working on his latest comic book in his home of New York City. His name is Sketch Turner because he draws comics, get it? You know, because he sketches things and turns pages. Turner's newest comic is titled Comix Zone, and it details the ongoing fictional conflict between the New World Empire and alien renegades that are invading Earth. Inspiration for Turner's comic is mysteriously delivered to him in astonishingly vivid dreams and nightmares, because that's perfectly normal. Late one night, during a thunderstorm, Sketch was working hard on his story when a lightning bolt suddenly struck one of the panels of his comic! This causes the main villain of Sketch's comic, a mortifying mutant named Mortus, to escape into the real world. Arbitrarily, Mortus has to kill his creator to become fully real, but he lacks the tangibility to do that in the human realm. To get around this limitation, Mortus traps Sketch into his very own comic and begins to draw dangerous mutants to kill him. It's now up to Sketch Turner to venture through the comic world of his creation to defeat Mortus and return to reality. Honestly, this could be the plot to a cheesy 1990s movie.

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The most interesting and original element of this game is its visual style. Everything is stylized to look like drawings in a superhero comic book, from the large, highly detailed character sprites, to the text bubbles that appear over a character's head to convey spoken dialogue. Further adding to the comic book flavor are onomatopoeias that textually simulate sound effects when attacking enemies, like "wack" and "pow!" Not only does this effect look cool, but it makes combat feel far more satisfying. The environments and backgrounds have a very varied color palette on display, even though a lot of the depicted areas are dark and grimy in tone. There are also some neat visual effects here and there, such as the water reflections in the sewers of the first stage, or the enemies turning into shredded paper upon defeat. The music isn't half bad, either, with most of the soundtrack going for a rock motif to fit in with the game's theme. As it is, the art style here would be impressive for any video game, but it's doubly impressive when you consider that this was all originally running on Genesis hardware. 1994 and 1995 saw some of the most visually appealing Genesis releases, and Comix Zone is one of them for sure.

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Sketch Turner isn't merely a turner of pages; he's also an adept martial artist... at least, when inside his own comic. On top of walking and jumping, Turner is able to do some serious punching and kicking. The controls are pretty simple, as there's only one attack button and all offensive moves are tied to it. Sketch can perform slightly different moves depending on whether he's ducking, jumping, or if certain directions are held down on the controller. These include things like uppercuts, jump kicks, and even throwing paper planes. Simply tapping the attack button will also result in the traditional combo attack that's prevalent in so many beat 'em ups. Defensively, you're able to block attacks and do a dodge roll. In addition to all that, Sketch can find and store up to three inventory items for later use, and they consist of stuff like throwing knives, grenades, and ice tea to restore his health. The controls are fairly simple and intuitive, which is a good thing, but the downside is that there aren't many moves available. As a result of that, the combat quickly grows stale, because there isn't a whole lot you can do beyond the standard combo.

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Unlike most beat 'em ups, you don't have pseudo three dimensional movement, so Turner is restricted to moving left and right on the same plane. This is made up for by the environments being a bit more interactive than they normally would in a game of this genre. For example, all action in the game takes place within comic book panels. This isn't merely done for visual flair, because Sketch can use the edges of panels as if they're bars and swing across them, moving from panel to panel and page to page in a flashy fashion. Sometimes there will be multiple paths through a stage by choosing between different panels, adding a microcosm of nonlinearity. The different stages also have various other objects to play around with, like metallic bars to hang off of, barrels that can be punched to pieces, and explosive boxes that can kill you or your enemies. You will occasionally have to make your way past traps, which may include fireball spitting skulls and pointy spikes. There's even some minor platforming, though it kind of sucks. Traversing and interacting with the comic book environment is one of the highlights of Comix Zone.

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Even though it's a beat 'em up, not everything in this game revolves around beating people up. Believe it or not, there are some actual puzzles to solve, too. Puzzles in this game are pretty simple and involve things like pushing boxes near a lever in order to reach it, or detonating explosive crates near an obstruction to blast through. Some puzzles also require the use of Sketch's pet rat, Roadkill, who is able to fit through tiny areas to flip switches and the like. Roadkill is considered to be an item, though, so you need space in your inventory to have him. A few puzzles involve the element of time, like this one where Mortus lights the comic on fire, forcing you to flee from the burning panels. One minor annoyance is that punching most breakable objects drains Sketch's life for some reason. Because it's often required to do so, this seems like a jarring design choice, as you're essentially trading health to make progress in the game. The puzzles help alleviate some of the combat's repetitiveness by giving you something else to do in between fights, but they're not too great.

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At first glance, combat won't seem so bad in Comix Zone. The first few areas of the game have plenty of new enemy types that get introduced at a steady pace, each one bearing slightly unique characteristics, like mutants wielding duel crowbars that can hang to stuff, or a monk that will ruthlessly beat you with a large stick. You can even punch enemies so hard that they'll fly into and break through some panels, which results in a snazzy paper shredding effect. Boss fights are also pretty interesting, because they tend to be like puzzles. For instance, the first boss is a giant mutant creature that hangs from the ceiling, and you need to attack the thing until it moves upwards, allowing you to push a flaming barrel beneath it to totally incinerate the monstrosity. Unfortunately, there are only three bosses total, and the same few enemies get recycled continuously. Almost all of the enemies in the game are encountered at the beginning, so there aren't many surprises beyond that point when it comes to fighting.

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It's one of the more unique games on the Genesis and it's got some kick to it. Comix Zone is definitely a game you don't want to sleep on, especially if you're a fan of beat 'em ups. Graphically, this game is an absolute powerhouse, and the music is pretty good, too. While the combat does get dull after a while, the game makes up for it with its originality and visual style. The game starts off strong with a good first impression, because that's where it introduces the largest quantity of new elements. After that, the puzzles, platforming, and slight nonlinearity continue to keep the game interesting once the combat has lost its appeal. Comix Zone is flawed, but a true Genesis classic nonetheless.

Word Count: 1,509

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