Hi there! Welcome to RadioSEGA's Game of the Month for June 2013!
Sure, this month a certain blue hedgehog turns 22 but we decided to skip the obvious choice and take a look at the so-called "first truly interactive comic book", Comix Zone.
Released in 1995 for the Mega Drive, Comix Zone is an arcade-style beat-em-up and it's a case of love it or hate it for SEGA fans. People often criticize its unforgiving difficulty and brief length as well as it being released too late in the console's life. On the other hand, it's praised for its unique concept, design approach and for being one of the most technologically advanced titles on the console. People also hold the soundtrack by Howard Drossin in high regard.
Comix Zone was based on "Joe Pencil trapped in the Comix Zone", a concept video demo animated by Peter Morawiec, a Sega Technical Institute member, in 1992.
You play as Sketch Turner, a not so successful comic book artist and freelance rock musician. The main villain of his newest creation, Mortus, gets loose and traps Sketch in the Zone. Your goal is to stop Mortus and find a way out of the comic book world or dye trying.
The graphics and sound are where Comix Zone excels. The whole comic book look and the way Sketch jumps from one panel to another make you realize you're not playing just another game but a technical masterpiece. The rock soundtrack and solid voice acting add to the comic book feel of the game. A nice little touch is seeing Mortus' hand drawing new enemies on screen for Sketch to fight. Every little detail in the game makes you feel more immersed in the comic book experience and even Roadkill, Sketch's rat friend, can be used to rip through the pages and find useful items.
You have a few items you can use like a health potion, dynamite, a knife, and even Roadkill the rat. Your inventory is limited to only three items at a time so you have to manage it wisely.
So, is the game really that hard? The short answer is yes. You have just one life, your health bar decreases quite rapidly if you get hit and even doing things you're supposed to do (like busting down steel doors) depletes your health. Plus, every single enemy takes forever to kill. If you haven't tried Comix Zone yet, my guess is you'll be seeing a lot of the Game Over screen (spoilers: Sketch dies and Mortus is free!).
But we at RadioSEGA like to help, so have a free level select cheat that we added to the video above. And if the game is still too hard for you, our video also features an invincibility cheat. You can thank us later!
This month, we asked SEGA Addicts' Josh Newey and Spanish website Sonic Paradise's own Ash the dragon for their opinion and memories on Comix Zone. Here's what they had to say:
Ash the dragon (Writer for Sonic Paradise)
"Comix Zone. One of the best Beat'em up games there is, IMHO. I admit I'm not very skilled in this game, as it has a rather rough difficulty curve. I've never passed the third stage. But of what I saw, I really liked it.
The idea of playing in a living comic book, where you jump between frames, is just unique, very original and creative. The aesthetics of it really make you feel like if you're reading a tacky 90's comic book and fits the mood of this great game perfectly.
There are two things that I find rather enjoyable about this title. The first one is the music. Composed by Howard Drossin, its heavy metal soundtrack sounds great on the Mega Drive Yamaha sound chip, and it was even released on a very limited CD edition under the Sega Tunes label (and came bundled with the European version of the game), with themes of the game played by Howard Drossin himself and his band, Roadkill, named like the pet rat of the game.
The second thing I love about the game is the Spanish translation. This is something not many people talk about, or even know it exists, since the original European Comix Zone was never re-released, they always use the USA Rom when porting the game, and the option to change languages in the game was not at first sight in the title screen, as it was hidden in the options menu. There aren't many Mega Drive games officially translated into Spanish, but Comix Zone is one of them, and what a translation! It not only tells you what the characters are saying in Spanish, but it also adapts the slang into the one used in the 90's by comic books. It really helps making the game feel more natural if you are a Spanish native. The GBA port of the game was also translated into Spanish, something much more common in the GBA days than in the 16 bits ones, but the translation was different, more plain and without slang. It felt plain and even just wrong sometimes, as it was way too literal in its words.
Comix Zone is just one of those games that deserve more love from SEGA, and I think it would be great to see a new one or a remake for actual consoles. It's just way too cool!"
Josh Newey (Reviews Editor for Sega Addicts)
"Oddly enough, my first experience with Comix Zone was with a pack-in CD-ROM demo that came with my family's new PC back in the '90s. I spent hours whittling away at the games on that disc, regardless of the fact that my Genesis sat inches away. Even the possibilities of PC gaming couldn't draw me from my Sega obsession, especially when I finally had the chance to play Comix Zone...Now if only I could just get past those damn opening stages.
Comix Zone's crushing difficulty is probably the game's most well-known legacy, but who cares? Just as my new computer offered me a new world of gaming options, the concept of Comix Zone was a frontier in its own right, going beyond comic book adaptations like X-Men and Maximum Carnage to actually create a wholly original, beautifully drawn comic book world. Sure, those games allowed me to step in the shoes of my favorite heroes, but Comix Zone actually brought me into the comic book panels themselves. Plus, I had a super-intelligent pet rat. To my young, cartoon-addled brain, that setup was almost too much awesome to handle.
With this in mind, it's bizarre to me that we have yet to see a sequel or reboot, especially when so few gamers have managed to surmount the original's oppressive difficulty. Twisted Pixel's Comic Jumper gave it a shot, but the poe-faced '90s charm of Sketch Turner is sorely missed. Now it's time for Sega to show us how it's really done."
In conclusion, Comix Zone is good but could be a little longer and a bit more forgiving. Maybe a remake is in order, SEGA? Until then, you can play it on several platforms, including current-gen ones, courtesy of the usual multiple ports and part of the many collections SEGA have released in the past. It just striked me, by the way: How about a 3D Comix Zone for the Mega Drive's 25th Anniversary celebrations? What better way to celebrate than to bring back a revamped version of one of the best examples of the system's trademark "Blast Processing"?!
Sure, Comix Zone is pretty hard. But who can resist a hero that smells his own feet, farts and uses paper airplanes as weapons???
Requests between 15th Jul and 21st Jul