In Comix Zone, you are a comic book artist. The cowboy-esque villain of your comic book comes through your pages and pushes you into your own comic book. You have to fight your way through your own creations to make it back to your reality.
As soon as you fall into the comic world, you meet Alissa, someone who thinks you are the chosen one. She communicates with you throughout the adventure and occasionally gives you hints.
The visual style itself is that of a living comic book. You always see the border of the panel you are in. Villains are drawn in front of you, starting off as black and white, then, eventually, full colored copies you must fight. You fight through mutants, dojo’s, and nuclear facilities straight out of exaggerated comic book concepts.
You start off with a punch and a kick, and you can also jump and kick in the air. You can use your punch and kick in different attack patterns depending on the order you press them. You will find a few items you can use. However, you can only carry 3 items as a time, and you’ll normally want to hold onto potions, as you will get hit a lot. One peculiar item is your rat, who is helpful for puzzles. You need him to turn on switches you can’t reach, or find a hidden item under the page necessary to progress. You have to remember to pick him back up, though, or you might accidentally leave him on the previous panel. Other items include a dagger you can throw and a bomb that clears the screen. There is also a ‘?’ symbol, but it can be anything and might blow up in your face. You also have a special weapon which rips a part of the background out and makes a paper airplane, but this cost life, and it’s possible the plane might hit you for even more loss of life.
The combat is what is really fun. Many enemies are their own mini-boss, usually taking a few hits to beat, but they are not so numerous that they become repetitive. You have to learn how to combo your attacks, as certain enemies do not respond well to punch, punch, punch.
In addition, your punches that connect make a loud ‘Krack’ sound effect as a loud audio cue that you are hurting them, plus, different sound effects appear on the screen spelled out in text, similar to reading comic books. The final death punch always makes a louder sound, and you will hear a 2nd, loud ‘crunch’ if you knock the enemy into the comic book panel. Yes, the panel itself acts as a wall. Your attacks feel like they have weight to them, and combined with the sounds, makes for an immersive experience.
One realistic thing they tried, was that whenever you punch a manhole cover, metal door, or box (necessary to progress sometimes) you will lose health. You will lose a ton of health if it’s a metal door. At first, I liked this realistic idea (as you are a normal human) but then found out it requires items you want to use for villains to make your job easier non-existent, as you now need all the special weapons to blow up doors so you don’t hurt yourself. And when you have to defeat an entire Page with only one health bar, losing health this way just adds to the frustration.
The character you play, as well as the villains, occasionally talk to you, and they talk with a speech bubble directly above their head that moves with them (as sometimes people will fight and talk).
One downside to the game is that it is very short, and very hard. This being early video game days, the short video game is made incredibly hard so you can’t beat it immediately. There are 6 pages total that you fight through; that’s it. However, you will die a lot along the way and have to learn what to do, but sometimes it can be a little cheap. For instance, a tall vertical panel makes it hard to fight flying insects that retreat beyond the panel where you can’t reach them. Add some obstacles that you need to progress through that drain your health as you punch them, plus only 1 continue, and you have a game that will take you hours to learn.
One bit of humor is the way your character reacts to the situation. At the end of the level, he turns into a superhero and freaks out. You can actually turn into this superhero for a split second as a bomb that clears the screen when you find a certain item.
The game has only 3 bosses, and the first one has an item that you can use to kill him pretty quickly if you look around his lair and figure out what to do with it.
Eventually, you will get 1 of 2 endings. At the final boss, Alissa will be captured and stuffed into the rocket, with rocket fuel slowly filling her cage. You have to defeat the boss under a certain time limit, for if she drowns, you get the bad ending.
She’ll yell, “Help, I’m Drowning,” to let you know you haven’t saved her yet.
Also, did Evil Cowboy suddenly become an insect robot?
You have to get the final boss to follow you into a rocket jet, then run to the other side of the screen to turn it on. However, there is a glitch in the game: I defeated the boss myself using only my character’s fists and kicks the first time (no jetfire), and the game didn’t progress; it didn’t give me either of the 2 switches to beat the game with either ending. All I could do was jump around the stage staring at the lifeless body of my friend.
In Comix Zone, the design is what made it stand out from other games. Each battle takes place in a very small comic book panel, and when you are done, you swing beyond the comic’s borders to go to the next panel. Eventually, you make it to the end of the page.
Story: 8 out of 10
The story focuses on a comic book artist trapped in his own comic book. He must face the villain he created that has trapped him within the comic, as well fight off various mutants, bugs, martial arts fighters, and more. Since this is the time of Genesis, it’s story is better than most action games and is pretty original.
Music: 7 out of 10
Slightly above generic music. I listened to some of those beats forever since each Page takes a long time to complete and never got bored of them. However, the track selection is rather limited.
Challenge: 8 out of 10
Did I mention this game is hard? Yeah, you will get frustrated, you will cry, you throw controllers around, but you will keep playing. The challenge is hard, but adaptable. The only problem being the doors that cause you to lose health when you punch them making it harder than it needs to be.
Fun: 17 out of 20
I had more fun with this game throughout most of it than I realized. It’s satisfying to punch through enemies where you can feel yourself doing real damage to them. Plus, jumping around the panels into different areas, choosing multiple pathways, and using fun items makes the game a blast to play.
Control: 10 out of 10
The controls are very response and nothing feels like you have to wait for your character to react. The odd thing was they removed the original way you selected items from your Genesis for the PlayStation Network version, as pushing L1 makes you use the left most item, L2 for the center, and something else for the right weapon. Too often I accidentally used the wrong special weapon trying to remember this.
Graphics: 8 out of 10
It’s graphics rate higher more for originality in the concept in addition to everything stated in the review above. Your attacks break the page, a fire catches hold of the page and you have to outrun it, plus cool and original character designs for the enemies, bosses, and backgrounds.
Replay: 5 out of 10
There is not much reply to be had, unless you count having to replay it multiple times just to be able to beat it. However, it is fun to play through, and I know I’ll most likely be playing it again soon with Unlimited Health to see how it is without any of the frustration.
Extra: 5 out of 10
You can access Unlimited Health and a State Select code. This seems necessary given how hard this game is. Unfortunately, I didn’t find these out till after I had beaten the game.
+ 5 Immersion
Seriously, how often do you punch a bad guy or swing your sword and not feel like a part of the action? Comix Zone makes you feel your attacks connecting with the enemy.
Total Points: 72 out of 90
Comix Zone does a fine job of mixing comic book athletics within a video game, while also being fun to play. Despite its hard learning curve, it is a fun game of the Genesis. It’s available for Playstation Network, as well.