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Comix Zone (Genesis) artwork

Comix Zone (Genesis) review

"Meet Sketch Turner. He’s just an average guy, a man trying to make a living with his skills as an artist. In fact, he’s working on his latest work of art, a surrealistic comic book series that could garner him nationwide acclaim. But until that happens, he’s just some random nobody, cooped up in his New York City apartment as a fierce thunderstorm rages outside. As Sketch sets his ink pen down and takes pride in yet another finished comic page, a lightning bolt races through the room and zaps hi..."

Meet Sketch Turner. He’s just an average guy, a man trying to make a living with his skills as an artist. In fact, he’s working on his latest work of art, a surrealistic comic book series that could garner him nationwide acclaim. But until that happens, he’s just some random nobody, cooped up in his New York City apartment as a fierce thunderstorm rages outside. As Sketch sets his ink pen down and takes pride in yet another finished comic page, a lightning bolt races through the room and zaps his beloved masterpiece. As he looks on in disbelief, a ghostly figure arises from the pages. It’s none other than Mortus, a mutant villain from Sketch’s comic. Before the startled artist can escape, the dastardly villain sends his creator into the comic book itself. Dazed and confused, Sketch now finds himself roaming through the urban wasteland that he designed. Apparently, Mortus can’t go about his evil ways until Sketch is dead. Thus, our unlikely hero must fight through the Comix Zone and some how make it back into the real world, lest Mortus succeeded in his plot for patricide.

Upon tumbling into the Comix Zone, he’ll be recruited by some kind of special-ops woman who think he’s a superhero. More evil mutants have overrun the entire realm, forcing the humans (or at least, the human drawings) into hiding. Since he has no other way to get back to his own dimension, Sketch hesitantly volunteers to get everything back to normal. But as soon as he leaves the safety of the human’s haven, it becomes apparent that he’s got his work cut out for him. Sketch designed part of his comic to take place in a post-apocalyptic New York City, and the crumbling buildings and smashed Statue of Liberty make things all the more desolate. Before long, Mortus’s inky hand is seen overhead, grasping a pen and hastily drawing onto the background. A few scribbles later, and Sketch is faced with a spiky, drooling monstrosity that would make Todd McFarlane’s creations run for their cel-shaded mommies.

Don’t be fooled by Sketch’s astonished demeanor, however. The man may not seem too heroic when he first embarks on his quest, but he’s got the combat prowess and fighting skills that could put the heroes of Streets of Rage to shame. If you start mashing the attack button, the artist will start unloading a flurry of punches, kicks, grabs, and multiple combos. These attacks can be further augmented by pressing up or down on the control pad, allowing our hero to perform low leg sweeps, fierce uppercuts, and plenty of other devastating moves to mix up his offensive tactics. Apparently, Sketch has taken a few martial arts lessons in between all his drawing sessions. That doesn’t mean that the enemies will be complete pushovers, however. Since they are Sketch’s creations, they are more than tough enough to take him on mano a mano. You’ll have to take on spiky beasts, hook-wielding assassins, cheap Cammy knockoffs, and plenty of other horribly mutated baddies. Most of these fellows know how to block and counter your hits, which ought to keep you using a balanced offensive and defensive strategy.

But if you like using a little bit of style to smack your enemies around, the game also comes with a few pickups to make the combat even more intense. While other beat’em up games allow you to scarf down entire rotisserie chickens and bludgeon baddies with lead pipes and broken bottles, your primary weapon in the Comix Zone will be something far more fearsome: Sketch’s pet rat, Roadkill. Instead of acting as a blunt object, this would-be sidekick can zap foes with its tail and sniff out items. If conventional weaponry is more of your style, you’ll also be able to wield throwing knives, hand grenades, and timed bombs to ravage your adversaries. There’s also a nifty little power-up that can turn Sketch from mere comic book lackey into Super Sketch, the ultimate (and disproportionably muscled) savior of the comic. But if smiting evil starts to get a little stale, the game boasts a small variety of puzzles for you to solve. Since the majority of these obstacles involve pushing crates around, flipping switches, breaking through doors, and other simplistic concepts, you’ll have no trouble getting through the area and going into the next part of the comic.

In fact, Sketch will literally go from one part of the comic to next. Since Comix Zone revolves around our hero’s comic book, it is designed to look just like one. Instead of merely side-scrolling your way through a level, you’ll be forced to explore each panel at a time, kill all the enemies in it, and move onto the next one. Sketch will take hold of the panel border and leap across it, planting himself firmly in the next scene. You’ll even be able to knock enemies through the borderlines, letting their ugly hides stumble through the areas and leaving shredded paper in their wake. Each page also has multiple paths to take; if you don’t feel like going straight from one end of the page to the next, you can drop down to the panel below and face different enemies. Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll still be treated to the same wonderful presentation throughout. Everything in the game is portrayed in cel-shaded animation befitting of a comic book. You can see the multicolored water churning through the city’s sewers and the brightly lit and decrepit buildings in the background. Sketch looks as if he belongs in a comic book; between his gloved fists, stylish sweatshirt, flowing ponytail and smooth animation frames, he fits in well with the rest of the game. Little things like having the characters speak in comic-styled thought bubbles and showing off effects like “BAM!!! or “CRASH!!!” make the game seem all the more like the comic book as opposed to just another beat’em up game.

In a time when beat’em up games were a dime a dozen, Comix Zone stood proudly as one of the greatest titles of the genre on the Genesis. Despite having a laughable plot, it is a breath of fresh air from all the street fighting and gang rivalries found in other games. Sketch Turner may not be an Axel or Mike Haggar, but he’s got enough wit and style to make him interesting. The combat is quick and intuitive, keeping you on your toes as the game never lets up in difficulty. Though the puzzles shouldn’t pose any problems, the small assortment of weapons and items may liven things up. The game’s comic-based design is wonderful; being able to converse with friends and foes via thought bubbles and battling through drawing panels makes the game all the more interesting. Viewtiful Joe may have been able to pull off this kind of blend of artistic presentation and awesome gameplay, but Comix Zone perfected it years ago. Indeed, there is little wonder why this game was so highly regarded in the Genesis era, and why it continues to be today.


disco's avatar
Community review by disco (February 18, 2007)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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