Sega started to really hit a creative stride near the mid-90’s. Most of the in-house development was for Sonic products but they occasionally stepped outside of their comfort zone to produce creative platforming titles like Kid Chameleon, Ristar and Comix Zone.
Released a few years too late since gamers had already started to move on to the Playstation and Saturn, Comix Zone is a highly detailed, creative beat-em-up that might have swayed a few more votes in the Genesis’ favor. The game has large, colorful characters, a decent soundtrack and a creative concept.
Here is the story (from Wikipedia): Sketch Turner, a “starving artist” and freelance rock musician, 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, and hurl the stunned Sketch into the world of Comix Zone. Because he does not possess any power in this reality, Mortus intends to free himself by destroying Sketch in the comic book, and make himself real in the process.
So there you go, the game takes place throughout the actual pages of the comic book. Characters communicate via speech bubbles, visual sound effects pop up when you attack enemies, you can hop across or bust through the panels and even tear off the background and make a paper airplane.
The backgrounds in this game are among the best ever in a 16-bit game. The opening Planet of the Apes-ish, decapitated Statue of Liberty backdrop really sets the tone for the game moving forward. The game sprites are pretty big, well-detailed and well-animated, right down to Sketch’s swaying ponytail. Yeah.
The real problem with this game is the length. It has 3 levels with 2 sub-levels within it and depending on your skills, you can probably beat the game in about 45 minutes. Of course that would mean you’re an awesome gamer since this game is well-known for it’s insane level of difficulty. You have 1 life, energy drinks are few and far between and unless you’re continually dropping your rat, Roadkill off to search for items, you’ll just have to deal with whatever comes across your path. At times it feels like a regular bad requires at least 20 hits before he dies, you’ll see this with the first enemies you come across. You’re kicking and punching them for like a minute and then have to turn around and take out another guy. The constant button-mashing makes it difficult to stop and actually explore the game, in fact, I’m not sure there is much to explore. Oh and kicking and punching doors or gates to advance will reduce your health as well. That’s kind of messed up.
The bosses are also kind of lame. The first one is this cartoonish Mother Dragon that doesn’t really fit the vibe of the game. It almost feels like the boss battles were an afterthought, a game with this much detail should have had massive boss battles to go along with the concept. It would have been nice if Super Sketch was used a bit more, he pops up for a second, clears the area and that’s it.
It’s a difficult and hair-pullingly frustrating game but it’s still a lot of fun and if Sega had dropped this game sooner they might have had the start of a decent franchise. I mean really it had all the makings of one; an interesting plot, a “cool” main character (this was the 90’s so anyone with attitude was automatically cool), awesome graphics and a dope visual concept. At times it feels like they rushed this out to generate a few more dollars for the dying Genesis, who knows maybe they’ll revisit it for the current consoles and turn it into a FPS or something.