Comix Zone is a beat em up platformer developed by Sega Technical Institute and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis in 1995. The game was released quite late in the Genesis lifespan with the Sega Saturn being released the year after Comix Zone was. However, Comix Zone came out at the perfect time because the game was developed when the developers understood how to push the Genesis to the max. The game was also released one month before the release of the Playstation in North America and it was also when the focus was being shifted from 2D side-scrolling platformers to 3D action platformers. There was one example of this released on the Sega Genesis called Sonic 3D Blast released in 1996 and was the first attempt to put Sonic into 3D and the game at the time received mixed reviews. There are multiple examples of games like Bubsy 3D, that tried 3D platforming rather than the 2D style of the previous games and the game ended up being a mess.
The story is about Sketch Turner who is a freelance cartoonist and rock musician who is working on his new comic book called “Comix Zone”, which is the story of the New World Empire, who is trying to defend the Earth from alien invaders. One night, whilst Sketch is working on the comic book during a thunderstorm and a bolt of lightning strikes the comic book and the boss, who is a mutant called Mortus escapes the pages of the comic book. However, Mortus does not have any power in the real world whatsoever, so instead sends Sketch into the world of the comic book and it is up to Sketch to defeat Mortus and escape the comic book.
The story is really unique because the game takes place within the comic book and it is all from Sketch’s imagination. For a beat em up game, the story has quite a lot of depth and this gives the player a reason to care for the character the player is in control of. Sketch is also a likeable character because he is trying to make a name for himself in the comic book industry and as a player, I wanted to help Sketch escape to see whether Comix Zone is a successful comic book or not. I feel that a lot of care was taken with the story because if the game didn’t have a solid story, then the fact the game is in a comic book would maybe have caused an issue.
Comix Zone is a side scrolling beat em up where the objective of each level is to progress through each panel of the pages of the comic cook. There are certain panels where the player can pick one of two panels and this offers the player a choice where to go, however the player will not see the next panel that they choose until the choice has been made. Certain panels might require the player to have specific items or require a simple puzzle to be solved. I really like the fact that the game is set within a comic book and the fact that the player doesn’t know what is up next because the game recreates the feeling of reading a comic book extremely well. The objective of each screen is easy to understand, whilst offering quite a challenge.
One of the problems I have with the game is the fact that the game is extremely difficult and the game only gives the player one life and no continues. The game is not easy because the game has a tendency to respawn enemies and the stream of enemies is endless. Considering the fact that the game has very few healing items throughout the level, it means that the player has to be both aware of the puzzles that need to be solved and the location of the enemies. This makes progress in the game feel extremely slow and requires more of a methodical approach to each panel.
The graphics of the game are absolutely stunning and there is amazing detail to every small thing of each panel. Whether it be the streets of New York City at night with small details such as the head of the Statue of Liberty with cracks on it to the Tibetan City in the Himalayas, each level has a distinctive feel and looks completely different to the other. The levels have a feeling of being completely different games with aspects of the levels not feeling recycled. I believe the reason why there is so much detail in each of the levels is because there are only 3 levels or as the game calls them “episodes”. What this means is that the game is extremely short, but difficult and opts for the style of a shorter game that looks amazing, but means that the player will have to be lucky to see the entirety of the game.
There is one small detail that I really like about the game and that is when the player and the enemies are not moving, the sprites still move. For example, Sketch will move up and down in a fighting stance and is always prepared to fight the enemies. Whilst this might be a small thing, it is something that resonates really well with me because it means that the developers focused on not just the look of the game or the gameplay, but also worked on what the characters would be doing when idle.
The final thing I really like is how responsive the controls are because there is a feeling of always being in control of Sketch. The game has some combos, but the game has only one button used for attacks, which means that the combos are controlled by the height that the player attacks the enemies. The game does not allow the player to button bash and use the same attack over and over and the enemies in the game actually taunt the player when the player tries this. I really like this aspect because it means that the player needs to think about their attacks and how the best way to string them together, therefore adding some strategy to the game. Whenever I would complete a combo against an enemy, it felt extremely satisfying, however it would require multiple combos to defeat some enemies.
The soundtrack to Comix Zone is simply amazing because the music consists of rock music that was composed by a very well known composer called Howard Drossin, who later composed music for Blade Trinity and the 2010 remake of Splatterhouse. The quality of the music through the Genesis is simply astonishing because each individual instrument is easily distinguishable from each other and the clarity of the instruments is of a high quality. The depth of the themes in this game are fantastic with most themes lasting over 2 minutes before looping, which considering the space restrictions on the cartridge is really impressive.
Comix Zone is a game that has not aged at all because the cartoon look design and the effort that went into every small detail of the game. However, the game is extremely difficult and without a level select code, I struggled to even get to the 2nd section of the first level. If you are up for a challenging beat em up with some platforming and puzzle elements, then I wholeheartedly recommend Comix Zone, in fact I recommend Comix Zone a lot because even if the game is brutal difficulty wise, the game is one that should be experienced and really shows that older games can still and play fantastically well.
Copyright ©2017 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use