Comix Zone (1)

Genre: Beat ’em up
Year: 1995
Developed by: Sega Technical Institute
Published by: Sega
Platforms: Genesis
Feeling Like: WHAMMO!

I never had many comic books lying around. Fantasy novels, sure; I was reading Game of Thrones when I was 12 years old in 1996, I was obsessed with anything readable as long as it wasn’t homework and every Christmas list had at least a dozen of books I just had to have.

Maybe I didn’t have an outlet to discover DC and Marvel the way I did Shannara and Narnia. None of my friends had a big collection, and I wasn’t comfortable walking into YellowJacket the way I was Bolen’s. Where to start? WHO to start focusing on? Batman was an obvious choice, but there wasn’t exactly a big list of must-reads like there are today.

But I knew I loved them. Despite not knowing anything about them, I knew the dark tragedies that the most sophisticated stories contained, or the overly graphic violence that plagued the gruesome fights. Some panels practically dripped with blood, and I’m convinced that had I discovered Preacher when it first came out, I may have been disturbed beyond repair.

Comix Zone (2)
The desert; a perfect place to complain about seafood

How did I know? Because I played Comix Zone at Eric’s house and was instantly attracted to everything about comics from then on. This wholly original beat ’em up has yet to be replicated and was one of the Genesis’ truly landmark titles. It could have easily spurred a few sequels if it hadn’t come so late in its life cycle.

You play as Sketch Turner, and I’m only realizing now what a terrible pun that is. You’re a typical 90’s cool dude, which means you don’t have a real job, wear shorts 12 months a year, always have sunglasses within arm’s reach and draws comics in your spare time. During a thunderstorm, you’re transported into your own sketches and have to fend off aliens sent by Mortus, the mutant. Remember, comics.

Praise be to Stan Lee, this is an awesome ride. It’s filled with style, it’s got that instantly recognizable Genesis audio TWANG, and has an awesome traversal system. Instead of moving through a level left to right, you hop from panel to panel. Comix Zone doesn’t just use its premise for atmosphere; you’ll see the main villain quickly drawing in more baddies for you to fight at a moment’s notice, you can rip panel edges by knocking enemies through them, and every victory is complete with POWs! and other superhero one liners.

Comix Zone (3)
Like this!

The kung fu moves are great and the control is nearly perfect, but this isn’t enough to make it through to the end without dying a TON. Health pickups are few and far between, continues are nearly non-existent and EVERYTHING hurts you, including punching boxes. It’s borderline unfair.

Every punch, jump and kick is accompanied with a bass heavy sound effect, and every fight feels like it’s to the death. Sketch may look like a tool, but he’s easily one of Sega’s most underused mascots. The graphics surprisingly hold up really well, and I don’t recall the framerate ever dropping noticeably. In a game where every hit, dodge and counter matters, that’s a big plus.

It’s ranked higher than any previous Beat ’em ups listed on the 500 because it feels more like a fighting game than a straight brawler. There are high, low and middle attacks, there’s multiple kinds of jump attacks, you can sweep the leg, you can do combos, uppercuts, use weapons and you have a pet rat to help you out. Everything you’d want to see is here.

Its unforgivably difficulty is impossible to ignore. I recall Eric getting to the end boss a few times, where your female rescuee is about to drown in a vat of goo, and a lot of profanities hurled towards the television. One life, limited healing items and no co-operative play meant Comix Zone tested every ounce of your prowess. Like an Arcade game, it’s meant to be mastered only with dozens of playthroughs, and I wager you’ll appreciate it more and more with each panel.

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