Sega Technical Institute
Genre: Comicbook Beat’em Up
When I was younger, I’d occasionally grab a copy of Sega Power in order to really enhance the fact that I not only played video games, but wanted to buy a new one with the money from my paper route or ask for one for my birthday (or the holidays). When I spotted Comix Zone in the magazine, I thought it looked fantastic. Sadly, I never managed to find a copy in my local stores (which were phasing out Genesis & SNES games), so I didn’t get to play it until I found emulated versions later in life on my PSP.
Two things come to mind when I discuss or think about Comix Zone: it’s extremely thematic, in both a really cool comic book feel, and a so-painfully-90’s-it-hurts fashion. The game is also difficult, straddling that special line between frustrating and challenging. Even nowadays, after multiple playthroughs, I have trouble getting through the game. It’s six stages broken into 3 separate parts by different bosses. The bosses are defeated using the environment, which almost makes them easier than some of the normal mobs you face.The premise of the game is that you play as lovable starving artist Sketch Turner, who also shreds a mean guitar as a freelance rocker when he’s not drawing comic books, living in his tiny New York apartment with his lovable pet rat, Roadkill. One day while drawing, lightning strikes directly onto the page of the comic he was drawing (titularly named Comix Zone)… which brings to life Mortus, a powerful mutant and the main villain of his comic. Knowing he can’t hurt our painfully 90’s hero in the real world, Mortus forces Sketch into the comic book, where he torments him and tries to kill him by drawing in different badguys from the comic to fight him. Upon entering the comic, our hip hero runs into General Alissa, who believes that you are the chosen one destined to save the post apocalyptic world. She keeps in touch with you to give you information about the world, and help from behind the scenes throughout the game.
Enemies are unique, interesting, and often a huge pain to fight. In order to get to the next panel of the comic (which is how you get through the level), you have to fight through the different enemies that Mortus draws. He will occasionally redraw them if you defeat them, or start drawing in extra enemies for you to fight.1995 was a weird year for Sega. It was obvious the Sega CD was a flop, and they were still trying to figure out the Saturn, so a few greats were released in the last age of the Sega Genesis. Games like Phantasy Star IV and Comix Zone were pushing the limits of the system graphically, and were looking good doing it. Sketch Turner was drawing in that gritty yet bright, hip 90’s comic style reminiscent of many super hero comics from Marvel, and the colors pop nicely. You are bringing our lovable protagonist through the panels of a comic book – speech bubbles pop up for dialogue between characters as you fight, and there are borders around each stage that you can literally tear through or, if you time it well, throw an enemy through. This gives a nice graphic way to have hidden items in each area, which can be hard to find if you don’t know where you’re looking.
This is one of the few games (barring fighting games, of course) that I would insist on having a 6-button Genesis controller to play. It controls items much easier, and allows for blocking, fighting and jumping. The fighting button can become varied depending on where you hold the directional pad, allowing for jabs and kicks high, low and mid ranged against enemies. While it can turn into a bit of a button mash if you are unfamiliar with it, when you start to get into the rhythm of the game, you can easily figure out how to pull off combos you like, or ones that are effective against specific enemies. You can pick up different items, though beware – some areas of the game absolutely require an item to get by, or it becomes even more difficult than it is. This is one of the bigger frustrations, and something you could really only learn by playing it over and over again.Musically, the game does a good and interesting job using the Sega sound chips to create electric guitar midis. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once it sinks in, its very fitting. Multiple soundtracks were created for each stage, and they were eventually released on the short lived Sega Tunes with actual instruments (and some painfully cheesy vocals). The game also came with its own awesome, completely unrelated soundtrack featuring artists like Danzig and Lords of Acid. Other than showcasing music from the 90’s Sketch probably himself played (or at least listened to), it was really just an odd thing that used to happen, though mostly for movie releases.
Though the game was originally only released for Sega Genesis, it eventually had ports everywhere, including Windows ’95 (to show that it was cutting edge enough to be used for gaming), and a notably terrible port to the Gameboy Advance, which cut off large parts of the level due to screen size, and featured a completely different game soundtrack. Comix Zone, in all of its forms, does actually have two separate endings depending on how fast you can defeat the final boss, so there is some replayability to it.For a game as short as it is, it’s extremely difficult. It’s recently been ported to all of the newer systems online stores, as well as Steam, which allows it to be easily accessible. If you think you’ll have the patience, the game is worth while, though I warn those prone to fits of gamer rage to watch a playthrough on youtube instead. It really pushed the limits of the 16-bit system when it first came out, and stands the test of time as a fine example of what those systems could accomplish.