|Developer(s)||Sega Technical Institute|
|Platform(s)||Sega Genesis, Windows, Game Boy Advance (only in EU), Android, iOS|
|Genre(s)||Beat 'em up|
Comix Zone is a 1995 beat 'em up video game developed and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis. An unusual feature of the game is that it is set within the panels of a comic book with dialogue rendered within talk bubbles and sprites and backgrounds possessing the bright colors and dynamic drawing style favored by superhero comics. This style had been used in video games previously, for example Ocean Software's Batman: The Caped Crusader in 1988, but Comix Zone stretched the idea to such an extent that Sega applied for and were granted a patent for a "Videogame system for creating a simulated comic book game".
The concept for the game originated from a Commodore Amiga demo video animated by Peter Morawiec titled "Joe Pencil Trapped In The Comix Zone". The video was made in 1992, displaying the animation of how the gameplay and the comic book elements would blend in.
Sketch Turner, a "starving artist" and freelance rock musician living in New York City, is working on his newest comic book, named the "Comix Zone." Comix Zone is the story of the New World Empire's attempt to defend Earth from an invasion of alien renegades, with inspiration coming from Sketch's (oddly vivid) dreams and nightmares. One night, while Sketch is working on Comix Zone during a thunderstorm, a lightning bolt strikes a panel of his comic. In this instant, the main villain of Comix Zone - a powerful mutant named Mortus - manages to escape the comic book's pages, desiring to kill Sketch so he can become flesh and blood and take over the real world. Because he does not possess any power in reality, Mortus sends Sketch into the world of his own comic, freely drawing in enemies attempting to kill him.
Inside the comic book, Sketch meets General Alissa Cyan, who believes he is "the chosen one" who came to save their post-apocalyptic world from the evil of Mortus and the alien invaders. Ignoring Sketch's protests, Alissa sends him on his mission, keeping in touch with instructions and hints via radio. It is up to Sketch to stop Mortus' evil plans and find a way out of this comic world.
The game has two possible endings. At the end of the game, Alissa attempts to defuse a nuke that Mortus and the Mutants plan on using to wipe out the New World Empire and humanity, when Mortus comes back into the comic and throws her into the chamber, which starts to fill up with liquid. Mortus then battles Sketch personally. If the player defeats Mortus and the Kreeps he summons as he takes damage quickly enough to drain the liquid and save Alissa before the nuke self-destructs, an ending occurs where Alissa comes to the real world with Sketch and Roadkill and joins the army, eventually becoming Chief of Security for the United States. Roadkill is given a vast amount of mozzarella cheese, and spends a lot of time exploring the city's new sewer system when not sleeping under a pile of Sketch's dirty socks. As for Comix Zone, it becomes a sensation overnight, selling out on the first day, making Sketch famous as it becomes the best-selling comic book ever.
If the player defeats Mortus after the chamber fills with liquid, Alissa dies as the nuke self-destructs afterwards. Sketch and Roadkill come out, but Sketch's comic is destroyed, leaving him devastated at having saved the New World Empire, but failed to save Alissa. The last sentence in the cutscene says "Will Sketch unleash the evil once again to re-live his adventure in the hope of a better ending? Happy sketching!"
Comix Zone is an action platformer in which players control Sketch as he progresses through panels of his comic book, hoping to reach the end and escape before his own creations finish him off. Each level consists of two pages and secrets are discovered by shredding the paper and revealing items. Along with standard attacks such as punching, kicking and jump attacks, Sketch can store up to three items in his inventory to help him overcome obstacles. Along with weapons such as bombs and knives which can also be used to destroy obstacles, Sketch can pick up iced tea to restore his health, and a fist that transforms Sketch into Super Sketch, dealing a powerful attack on all on-screen enemies. His pet rat Roadkill can discover hidden items and access areas that are too dangerous for Sketch to reach.
Sketch can also tear off the backdrop into a paper plane to throw at enemies, but this costs health and can also hurt Sketch if he's not careful. In order to progress through the pages, Sketch often has to either successfully solve a puzzle, or defeat all the enemies within that panel. Arrows will then appear, allowing Sketch to jump to another panel, with some areas offering multiple routes.
Sketch's health is determined by a health bar, which is diminished when Sketch is damaged by enemies or obstacles. It will also diminish as Sketch punches through breakable objects or if he uses his paper plane move. If Sketch loses all his life, or falls down a bottomless pit, the game will end and Mortus will take his place in the real world.
However, the player can gain extra chances by clearing the first and second chapters, which allow Sketch to resume from the beginning of the page should he die. Comix Zone is designed to be used with the 6-button gamepad: buttons X, Y and Z correspond to the three inventory slots Sketch has. If used with a 3-button gamepad, button C cycles through the items, and button A activates the item. Button C on a 6-button gamepad is used for a custom action, blocking by default - on a 3-button gamepad, Sketch blocks automatically.
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On release, Famicom Tsūshin scored the Mega Drive version of the game a 30 out of 40. GamePro considered the game's visuals a successful recreation of the look and feel of a comic book, but felt that the game quickly sours once the player encounters the repetitive combat and overly simplistic puzzles. They also found problems with the controls: "Sketch can't move rapidly around the panel, and button slamming yields unpredictable results." They concluded, "You really want to love Comix Zone for its original elements, but after a few panels, the honeymoon's over." The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly acknowledged the problems with the controls, but also remarked that the graphics are exceptionally colorful for a Genesis game, and argued that the originality of its comic book look makes it a must-have despite its flaws.
Next Generation reviewed the Genesis version of the game, rating it three stars out of five, and stated that "A very cool idea for a game that wasn't executed properly, Comix Zone is better than most."
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The game was ported to Windows 3.1 in 1995 by Sega PC. It was the first game to use the WinG graphics library. The game was ported to the Game Boy Advance only in Europe on September 11, 2002, which was developed by Virtucraft and published by Sega. Although this version's music was also composed by Howard Drossin, fans criticized this port because of its music being very different from the Genesis' version. Also, while having a significantly smaller screen size that allowed much less on-screen, this was said to lessen the effect of seeing into the other frames around the player, making it more like a traditional platform game.
The game is also hidden within the Japanese version of Sonic Mega Collection and can be unlocked in all versions of Sonic Mega Collection Plus by having a Sonic Heroes game save, or starting all other Genesis games at least 50 times. The game is also part of the Sega Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable (also called Sega Mega Drive Collection in PAL regions) On January 29, 2007, Comix Zone was released for the Wii's Virtual Console, and Xbox Live Arcade on June 10, 2009. The game appears in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) and on June 3, 2010, it was released on Steam. It is also included in the Sega Genesis pack. In August 2011, the game was made available for download on PlayStation Network as part of the Sega Vintage Collection, with support for trophies in the same line of other classics of the company as Streets of Rage 2, Alex Kidd in Miracle World or ToeJam & Earl and its sequel Panic on Funkotron.
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