Jul 22 2010
Comix Zone got overlooked in all the madness, and some argue that the Genesis was the wrong place to put it.
Regardless of what was said and Sega's... uhm... interesting business choices then, we have a cult classic that was oh-so-close to being just another beat-em-up. What saved Comix Zone? A clever concept.
The time: modern day. The place: New York. One stormy night (no, seriously), Sketch Turner, blonde ponytail sporting, starving artist and rocker is finishing up his comic book when lightening strikes the very comic book he's working on. Out jumps Mortus, a mustached renegade mutant who looks like he's still holding a grudge against Colonel Sanders for losing out on the KFC gig. Mortus grabs Sketch and tosses him into his own comic book. Mortus would love to kill Sketch and take his place, but for now, he's just paper and ink, and he can't kill Sketch in the usual way. But he has an idea on how do that and get a real body. All he has to do is kill Sketch off inside his own comic book. But first Mortus wants to have a little fun with our hero.
From frame one, Comix Zone holds true to it's concept. You take control of Sketch inside his comic book. Comix Zone feels every bit like playing through a comic book. Sketch doesn't climb up a bunch of stairs to get to a temple. Nope, he just hops across to the next frame, and down, and even turns the page. And dialogue bubbles pop up everywhere. Some of them are actually quite funny. Near the end of the game, I had run myself ragged fighting into the next frame. When I hopped over. I was greeted with a corridor of spikes. Sketch's response to that was something to the tune of, "!@#$!"
Yup Sketch, I felt the same way.
The graphics are very good. They have the bright color and detail we've come to love from the end of the 16-bit era. The characters are big and well-animated. The animations aren't the best out there, but that doesn't stop them from being darn good.
The controls are hit and miss for me. I would have liked for Sketch to be faster and the controls to be more intuitive and sharper, but as I played more and more, the controls got the job done. The game was designed for the Sega Genesis 6-button pad, but I felt the implementation was gimmicky, because the top buttons only controlled item usage. Any Mega Man freak will grumble that that's what pause menus are for. The cool part about the controls is that Sketch has a bunch of fighting options, even basic stances. It was actually a big surprise.
The voicing is, excuse the pun, heroic. Sure it's the same three or five people groaning and grunting for the whole game, but that little bit goes a long way in bringing the game to life. Evil sensei Kung Fung may have screamed exactly like one of his student Sketch beat down ten times already, but man, is it satisfying listening to him go down. It's voice work like that makes remembering Mega Man X4 all the more depressing.
The music? Well, I've got one of the BGMs on loop as I'm writing this. It's been a while... That said, the music is Comix Zone's weakest link. It's not bad. It's not distracting. It's just generic 16-bit rock beats that blend into the background. The BGMs do their job, but that's it. They're unmemorable otherwise.
And finally, the gameplay...
Comix Zone is a straightforward, side scrolling beat-em-up. It can't touch the scale of the 2.5D Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, but Comix Zone makes up for it by sticking to the comic book concept every chance it gets. Also, there are platformer puzzles all over. A couple of them feel very mean spirited *cough* cheap. You'll never fight that many characters at once. The most I've seen are about four fighters, and the game slows down big time when that happens. But even though there aren't twenty people all asking for their beat down at once, taking on two at a time is just about enough.
Comix Zone isn't terribly difficult and it's very short too. A skilled player can clear it in under twenty minutes I bet. But Comix Zone tries to make up for its lack of length in the most frustrating way possible. One: there are barriers you have to break. If you don't have a bomb of some sort, then you've got to use your bare hands and feet. You lose life for that (thanks developers, appreciate that one). Two: you've crossed the gauntlet of Kung Fung mutant students and those !@#$ flying bat things. You get to the boss with a sliver of life, miss a step and die. Guess where you go. Yup, you start right back at the beginning of the stage. Get a game over? No continues. And you thought that sort of developer cruelty only showed up in the 8-bit era and Dante Must Die Mode.
I had to walk away from the game for a week because I just could not pass one area and I got tired of it. After I calmed down and picked it up again, I was surprised by how fun the game got after that. The pace goes into overdrive and puzzles and enemies get lobbed at Sketch in rapid fire up to the last boss fight. The last level really saved the game for me. But sadly, the last boss fight was very easy. And finally, I just wish there was a legitimate way to play the game entirely as Sketch's comic book superhero self. I can't believe the developers missed such a gratifying opportunity.
Comix Zone doesn't have the best gameplay out there, it's not the most challenging, and if your gamer skills are more on the average end of the spectrum, it will frustrate you. But if you stick with it, Comix Zone gives a stylish, quirky, corny, funny, and rewarding experience for the superhero in all of us.