When a video game tries something different from the rest of the crowd the response from the game-buying public is usually quite swift and decisive. In the case of Comix Zone for the Sega Mega Drive, a lukewarm commercial reception has not dimmed an otherwise hidden gem on the 16-bit machine from Sega that challenged Nintendo’s dominance of the industry when it was released in Japan in 1988. Brewing up its own roster of in-house titles, Sega wasn’t afraid to try new things and experiment with more adult storylines and graphical representations of those narratives.
While Nintendo burnished its family-friendly image in an effort to secure a permanent foothold in that market, Sega unabashedly chased the adult market and this effort is immediately visible in its collection of games. One of those titles, Comix Zone, was a bit more adult and a tad more avant garde than the usual fare for the day and, aside from its crippling difficulty at times, is an awesome concept of a game that deserves revisiting at some point by Sega.
Developed by the Sega Technical Institute, Comix Zone is a beat ‘em up game in the vein of Streets of Rage but employs a unique comic book aesthetic in that the character moves between panels on a page rather than along a scrolling stage.
Dialogue and narrative is handled through text bubbles and boxes that appear as you make your way through the comic. Released in 1995 and coming out somewhat towards the end of the Mega Drive’s life, Comix Zone took its central concept from a 1992 Commodore Amiga demo game called “Joe Pencil Trapped In The Comix Zone.”
You play Comix Zone as Sketch Turner, the author of his own comic book called by the same name as the title. Without much explanation as to how this happens, a bolt of lightning ends up bringing the big bad from Comix Zone, Mortus, into the real world and transports Sketch to the world of Comix Zone where Mortus draws in enemies in an attempt to take out our would-be hero. If that all sounds like a tab of some drug imagine how it was received in 1995.
You have Marvel-esque machinations mixed with DC-style villains and a bit of Disney-esque magic and what you end up with is Comix Zone, a game that is both thoroughly of its time and innovative for it. What modern players will probably notice most immediately about Comix Zone, however, is that it is tough as nails. Mortus wasn’t kidding when he set about attempting to kill Sketch using the artist’s own comic book, and the player pays the price for this vendetta.
Though it is presented in a unique way, the game is, at its heart, a beat ‘em up game that quickly becomes more memorable for its difficulty than anything else. Gamers looking for a different take on the superhero genre of video games will find a lot to love with Comix Zone as the game is wonderfully made and challenging enough to engage even the most jaded modern player.