Game Of The Month: May 2015
Comix Zone - Sega Megadrive / Genesis
If there's two things most retrogaming geeks love in this world it's videogames and comics At some point in our lives we have been completely consumed by one or indeed both of these fantastic entertainment mediums and hobbies. If only there were a way to combine both...
As if by magic that is exactly what happened in 1995 when just as the Sega Megadrive/Genesis console was reaching the end of it's life as the main system for Sega fans this incredible game was released. Literally a comic book videogame this managed to blend two completely different things together creating both a unique product and one of the systems best looking and most iconic releases.
Sketch Turner, a "starving artist" and freelance rock musician living in New York City, is working on his newest comic book, named the "Comix Zone." Comix Zone is the story of the New World Empire's attempt to defend Earth from an invasion of alien renegades, with inspiration coming from Sketch's (oddly vivid) dreams and nightmares. One night, while Sketch is working on Comix Zone during a thunderstorm, a lightning bolt strikes a panel of his comic. In this instant, the main villain of Comix Zone - a powerful mutant named Mortus - manages to escape the comic book's pages, desiring to kill Sketch so he can become flesh and blood and take over the real world. Because he does not possess any power in reality, Mortus sends Sketch into the world of his own comic, freely drawing in enemies attempting to kill him.
Inside the comic book, Sketch meets General Alissa Cyan, who thinks he is a superhero ("the chosen one") who has come to save their post-apocalyptic world from the evil of Mortus and the alien invaders. Ignoring Sketch's protests, Alissa sends him on his mission, keeping in touch with instructions and hints via radio. It is up to Sketch to stop Mortus' evil plans and find a way out of this comic world before his own creations erase him for good.
With the back story told our hero set's off through the game world by jumping through single switching screens that are setup to resemble panels of a comic book page. Each panel springs to life with enemies drawn in from the bad guy with all manner of comic book related styles such as speech bubbles and classic smack talk dialogue. The 80's overtones here are almost unmatched in 16-Bit videogames even though it was produced and released in the 1990's.
Along with the standard attacks such as punching, kicking and jump attacks, Sketch can store up to three items in his inventory to help him overcome obstacles. Coupled with weapons such as bombs and knives which can also be used to destroy obstacles, Sketch can pick up iced tea to restore his health, his pet rat Roadkill, which can discover hidden items and reach areas that are too dangerous for Sketch to reach, and a fist that transforms Sketch into Super Sketch, dealing a powerful attack on all screen enemies.
Although Comix Zone is essentially a fighting game there is much more to this title than meets the eye, puzzles are also the order of the day here which usually come in the form of simple switch or object moving sequences to allow you to progress further into the game world. Health can be gained and lost in this manner and in a few instances some of them are purely optional allowing a lovely element of risk/reward for gamers of skill to try their luck with. Sketch's health is determined by a health bar, which is diminished when Sketch is damaged by enemies or obstacles. It will also diminish as Sketch punches through breakable objects or if he uses his paper plane move. If Sketch loses all his life, or falls down a bottomless pit, the game will end and Mortus will take his place in the real world.
When first released this incredible game gained huge praise from the mags or the era who rightly praised it's unique art style and fresh gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately though two things stopped it from gaining maximum marks as it was considered far too short and at the same time far too hard for mainstream videogame fans. It's a very weird thing for something to be too short and hard but play it and you will understand why some see this as annoying. What is without question though is just how iconic this has game has now become with a cult following constantly calling for a sequel. It has also gone on to influence many others with some seeing it as a direct inspiration to cel shading.
Comix Zone is a game worthy of everyone's time and deserved a lot more success when first released and even more respect now, we highly recommend playing this the second you finish reading this sentence. Go on, run along...