Looking Back: Comix Zone

  • Name: Comix Zone
  • Platforms: SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console, Xbox 360, PS3
  • Developer: SEGA
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Originally Released: August 1995

20 years and one month after its release, Comix Zone reminds me why I love videogames so very much. At the point it was released, games started becoming more about being creative than trying to do the existing conventions ‘best’.

Comix Zone has an unconventional format that works wonderfully. The entire game takes place inside a comic book. Each room is set inside one of the panels in the comic book, and the levels finish at the end of each page. However, the background isn’t what makes the game come to life. While you are attacking enemies, little 3D bits of paper will fall off of the page, and the border of some panels can be ripped to extend the room in some circumstances. If there is a door to get to the next room, the player doesn’t just simply walk through it; they will leap around the borders of the panels, which makes them look like they are popping out of the game a little bit. Of course, since this is a comic book, all of your attacks create bubble sound effects such as “POW!”, “WHACK!”, etc. Obviously the effects given to the setting really adds depth and detail to the game.

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The story of Comix Zone is as interesting as it is strange. Sketch Turner, an aspiring comic book artist, is working on his next comic when lightning strikes nearby, affecting his book. The main villain of the story, Mortus, is taking out of the book and is swapped with Sketch. To be free of his comic book form and devastate all of New York City, Mortus must kill Sketch. To do this, Mortus can draw enemies for Sketch to fight and alter the comic book in multiple ways. The player needs to traverse with Sketch through six levels (three episodes) to complete the game.

As far as gameplay goes, it is pretty simplistic. The only attack you technically have is the punch button, but you can use directional buttons to modify it to high and low attacks as well – a bit like Super Smash Bros. Players can carry a total of three items at a time. These are found throughout the game, and can greatly aid Sketch on his journey. since you can only have three items, players are encouraged to weigh what items are most valuable to them and discard or gather accordingly, which implements a level of strategy. There are a decent variety of enemies, ranging from flying mosquito-like baddies to swamp-dwelling fish people with hooked swords. Another feature to avoid linearity is the ability to choose your path. While every level ends at the same point, the road to get there is up to the player. In a lot of the rooms, players have the option to go via multiple routes, each with their own items to find and enemies to battle. I have spent quite a lot of time replaying the levels to search the other paths to find the best route.

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As for graphics, the game is spot on with the 90s style pixel art with a big, vibrant colour palette and of course the beauty of the 3D effects on the comic book. The sounds can get repetitive, especially if you are spamming attacks on enemies (which is what I did). The music score makes up for the repetition. The music, composed by Howard Drossin, is simply marvelous. I could play the game all day just for the music.

The complaints were bound to come up at some point, so let’s discuss them. The gameplay is a little too simplistic. Once you have figured out how to defeat a certain type of enemy, that strategy will work every time. That’s not to say that the game is easy by any means – in fact, the game doesn’t even have a save feature. This can be fixed through newer versions of the game, but if you die, the game ends. Period. This is definitely why the game is more difficult than it seems to be. If you were able to respawn at checkpoints, players could probably shave quite a few hours off their playthrough. One of the biggest complaints that I can give is the way speech bubbles are done. The speech appears according to where the characters are, and are stationary. This means that if Sketch says something, his speech bubble will stay where it is and block anything behind it. These bubbles are anything but small, and appear often as enemies have them too. These complaints are pretty obvious to spot, but you have to dig a little to find more. It would be nice to see more backstory with the characters, specifically more of Mortus’ story. They tell enough to understand the plot, but it isn’t an incredible detailed story. Of course, it isn’t completely necessary, and can be overlooked by the rest of the game.

Did Comix Zone stand the test of time? I certainly think so. I think the game would’ve been more popular if it came out today with our standards. Best of all, Comix Zone can still be played today! It is available on Steam as well as through Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (PS3, Xbox 360).

Are you as in love as I am? Do you think a 20 year old game should be put to rest for good? Let us know in the comments below!

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