Thursday, 4 August 2016

Comix Zone (Genesis/Mega Drive)

Comix Zone title screen
Developer:Sega Technical Institute|Release Date:1995|Systems:Genesis/Mega Drive, GBA, Windows

This week on Super Adventures, I'm playing a game that was requested roughly... I'm guessing four years ago. I got to it eventually, that's the important thing.

I don't know why I've been putting off playing Comix Zone for so long, but I'm thinking the fact that it's bastard hard might have something to do with it. I didn't want to start it up, get my ass kicked, and quit on the first level. Not for this game, it's far too pretty for that.

The game was ported across to systems like PC and GBA, then later emulated on others, but it's mainly known as being Mega Drive/Genesis game released towards the end of its days. The concept actually came from an Amiga demo video from 1992 called "Joe Pencil Trapped in the Comix Zone", but Amiga owners never got to play the final game! An Amiga version would've bombed in '95 though, and the Mega Drive didn't exactly rake in the cash either. I guess it was just bad timing, releasing such a two dimensional game at the point where everyone was going crazy over polygons.



That 'Soda' can's giving me flashbacks to art lessons in school.

Though this is interesting: the game's letting me map the block button to moves like 'Shoulder Smash', 'Scissor Kick', and 'Macho Yell' instead. But as much as I'd like the game to handle blocking for me, I want to know how it plays with the default settings first.

There's also a jukebox option here, which is good as I love the game's grunge soundtrack. It's some of the best music I've heard in a Mega Drive game, rivalling The Ooze (which makes sense as it's by the same guy, Howard Drossin). But the trouble with The Ooze is that the instruments sound like crap, and Comix Zone uses the same GEMS sound driver so... well I've heard healthier noises coming out of the console. Here have a YouTube link to the entire Comix Zone soundtrack to give you something to listen to while you read.

The story begins on a stormy night in Gotham City, as we pan over to a window.

Behind the window is Sketch Turner, a man who likes to wear sunglasses and a rat while he's pencilling his comic book in the middle of the night.

Suddenly a hand reaches out of the page and scares the shit out of his rat! Quick, stab it with a pen or something!

Actually it probably wasn't all that sudden, as his desk has changed between screens. The lamp's now clamped to the side instead of the top, a tray of art supplies has appeared, and the can of Soda's vanished. I only noticed because I was worried his drink had spilled all over his work and I was looking for it.

Well this is awkward; I want to take the piss out of his pony tail, but I'd have to take my own hair tie out first. In my defence I just wanted to get the hair out of my face for a while so I can enjoy my video game.

It's my site's fault really, I've been living in the 90s so long that I'm starting to look like it.

Anyhow this unnamed villain leaps out, explains his sinister plan to kill his creator so that he can become real, and then throws him into unfinished comic page. So there's a bit of a Cool World/Monkeybone/Last Action Hero thing going on here.

Also Toonstruck, though Sketch Turner has become as illustrated as anything else in this world. Plus I've figured out why he has to do his comics at night; it's because he spends his days either in the gym or doing extreme rollerblading. He does not look like a starving artist.

Either way, he definitely hasn't spent much time working on his dialogue.
Sketch: "Alissa, I'm not your super-hero!"
Alissa: "Just relax! Let's not waste any time... you have a job to do."
Sketch: "A job? What are you talking about??"
Alissa: "That's all for now -- I'll be in touch."
Sketch: "This is crazy !@#!!"
So it turns out that Sketch is the Chosen One and he's... got a job to do. Right, I suppose I'll pick up those items then.

Oh, it's a bundle of grey dynamite! Well now I know.

I guess the boundaries of this reality are too tough to be breached by a puny bomb, so maybe I'll just try walking forwards into the ruins of Newer York like the arrow says.

Okay that looked fucking awesome.

It's crazy to think that this is running on the same console that once had Altered Beast as its pack-in game.

Altered Beast (Mega Drive/Genesis)
Here's a shot of one of Sega's first scrolling beat 'em ups on the system so you can compare it to one of their last. It's amazing how much a console's games can evolve as developers learn to squeeze more out of the hardware over time, even when they're not throwing extra chips into the cartridge.

Okay when "This is gettin' really old..." pops up twice during a fight, maybe that fight's dragging on a bit too long. To be fair he seems to be blocking a lot of my moves, so maybe it's my fault for not alternating between low, mid and high attacks more.

There's only one attack button, but I can press different directions when I hit it to pull off different moves. Plus there's special attacks I can activate by... I don't actually know, but they're there. I've got a separate jump button, but otherwise the combat actually feels more like a fighting game, as I'm locked to the one plane, wailing on a single opponent in a small arena.

The guy's actually pretty good for a comic artist though!

Interesting, I've got a choice this time. I'll go right, why not? Seems like either way there's no getting away from the spiky head. I guess Newer York had a Statue of Liberty S, with 40% less volume, the crown pulled down and a stylish mottled magenta finish.

I feel like I must be doing something wrong here. Do I let him push the barrel across the screen and then try to jump both of them? Or maybe this is what the bomb was for. Or maybe I just went the wrong way.

Man, that falling animation is so perfect that the animator must have been working from a reference. I'm picturing them filming a friend slamming their face onto a mat over and over until they got it right.


SUDDENLY!

I found Roadkill the rat! Well I've got a slot free in my inventory so I might as well bring him along.

Hey, I've still got that medicine bottle item with me. The game's not exactly throwing extra health my way so I'm hesitant to use it so soon, but I'm also hesitant to lose so I'm downing the thing and getting my half my life bar back.

Holy shit the water effect in this panel! The game has no business looking this good while running this fast on this hardware.

These green enemies are a bit more agile than the guy I met earlier, with the ability to hook onto pipes and teleport, but they're still only fighting me one at a time. Plus they take a while to kill, and it doesn't help when my arch-nemesis on the outside is pulling a Bugs Bunny and pencilling in reinforcements.


LATER ...

Hmm, I think I've got this puzzle figured out. Though I am tempted to punch the box to death to see what happens.

The game dropped me on some flaming barrels, what a bastard! I guess I'm supposed to remember this, and push the explosive box down the hole first next time.

I decided to take my revenge on the barrels by kicking them, but that cost me health too! This is one of the few games that takes into account what happens when soft skin meets sharp metal, and I don't like it. Especially seeing as I have to punch my way through a metal grate to get out of this room.

Damn, I just kicked that guy through two sets of gutters! Breaking the third wall isn't quite as meta as breaking the fourth, but I think Animal Man would be impressed.

I love how the screen's always shaking as I'm knocking enemies into the sides, it feels like I'm inflicting some serious hurt on them. So it's a bit disappointing when they get right back up and I have to start hitting them again.

Also it's a cruel trick they pull right after this, putting a flying enemy above a hole, so I have to keep jumping up to hit him, then pulling back again.

Okay that's just showing off. This whole game is 100% showing off, right from the Elvis impersonator singing the SAY-GAH jingle on start up.

Wow I literally only got that Sketch Turner pun just now. Beautiful effect though.

Alright, I got 5750 points during the level, plus 0 for combos and 1800 for finishes. And that means... absolutely nothing to me. That Super Hero Meter's interesting though. I wonder what I get for crossing the dotted lines. A super hero costume? A better ending? Absolutely nothing? It's a mystery.

Also that's a really well behaved rat. He's been sitting there perfectly still this whole time, diligently keeping the bottom left corner of the paper down.

Yep, it seems that I really do have to pay a health tax to get through obstacles. Health doesn't come back by the way and I haven't found any lying around since the command centre at the start. Maybe there'll be some in a crate along the way, but it costs me health to smash open crates!

Oh come on, now the game's just being ridiculous. What's worse is that there's a switch behind them that turns them off! It's just sitting there on the wall, taunting me.

Fortunately the next fan was a little easier to get by.

And Sketch dies as a scribble on his desk.

It's his own fault really for giving his villain the power to step into the real world, and doing it in a lightning storm as well! It's such a newbie mistake.

And the story ends with the villain recreating the cover to Darkman.

Wait, that's it? I don't get any continues? I don't get any lives? I expected the game to have a tough but fair level of challenge, but nope it's just a dick. Well screw that then!

But before I stop, I promised someone that if I played Comix Zone I'd take a look at the Game Boy Advance version, so I'm going to do that.

Game Boy Advance
Wow, it's been 15 years since the Dreamcast died and it's still so weird to me hearing SAY-GAH coming out of a Nintendo machine.

Also that guy needs to sort his nails out.

Comix Zone Game Boy Advance title screen
Game Boy Advance
It doesn't look as good does it?

Two new options are standing out to me here: 'Continue' and 'Multiplayer'. The multiplayer apparently lets you battle it out with a friend against the clock, which requires a second copy of the game and a friend who's interested. That continue option's a lot more interesting to me though, as it lets you pick up on the stage you left off with full health instead of restarting at the beginning every time. So the GBA game's considerably more possible to beat.

Game Boy Advance
Turns out that Comix Zone on the GBA isn't quite so slick or pretty. Also the screen's so small that I can't see the sides of the frames any more. Other than that it seems very authentic.

Plus I solved the mystery of the fans this time! Roadkill's a cunning rodent and likes to activate switches when he finds them. All I need to do is deploy him nearby and pick him up when he's done. It's just a shame he takes up one of my precious item slots.

Roadkill can also find items hidden in the level and if he ever does I'll let you know.

Game Boy Advance
This time I made it far enough into the second stage to encounter another tricky puzzle. This one's a bit different to most though, as it hasn't cost me any health!

Game Boy Advance
Well I've found another difference between the versions: this isn't letting me jump when I'm pressing in a direction! If I duck down or press diagonally to raise his leg for a kick, I can't jump out of the pose when I'm in trouble. It keeps throwing me off and I end up standing there soaking up damage.

Anyway I got surrounded and overwhelmed, and soon found myself sent back to the start of the stage again. Well as overwhelmed as you can get when there's only two enemies on screen. I gave the stage a few it a few more tries, but unless I spontaneously get good this is as far as I go for now.


CONCLUSION

Comix Zone is one of the prettiest, slickest, most 90s games you can find on the Mega Drive, and the only real flaw I came across during gameplay is the fact that it doesn't want to be played.

It's got the style, challenge and length of an arcade game, but what's missing are the continues. Arcade games are designed to sucker you into putting more money in to keep it going, while this on the other hand is designed to make it impossible to finish in one rental. It kicks you back to square one any chance it gets, so you have to memorise where the items are hidden and figure out the optimal way through all the obstacles through trial and error.

Of course that's not necessarily a bad thing, as games like Hotline Miami are all about coming back again and again to try different approaches and fine tune your plan. But you can see how many hits the enemies take in this; replaying old fights soon becomes a tedious grind, and the shortage of health items means that you're accumulating wounds whenever you make a mistake. It's just not a 'one more try' kind of game for me.

Though I did give it one more try and took out the first boss by tricking him into igniting a fuel drum then repositioning it under his stupid head. All the boss fights are apparently very quick to get through once you've learned the trick and the game's even considerate enough to give you a single extra life after beating one (you get a 1up after every stage in the Japanese version!)

Actually there's one other flaw that's just come to mind. When you think of the most famous games in this genre like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe etc. they've all got one thing in common: co-op. Who wants to play through a game like this alone? I mean Roadkill's a great sidekick, but it's not really the same.

Though one thing I am going to be playing more of is the soundtrack, because I love these tunes. They're a bit harsh coming out of the Mega Drive's sound chip, but the composer thought of that and in Europe the game came with a bonus CD containing six songs he recorded properly with guitars and a singer and everything. And you can listen to them with this handy YouTube link! In North America it came with a CD full of heavy rock from bands like Danzig and Jesus and Mary Chain instead, which might be good too! I dunno.

I would say that anyone who finds 16-bit art appealing, and likes walking to the right and hitting things should give Comix Zone a look if you can, as it's a beautiful game in motion and pretty fun to play. Just don't expect to see much of it unless you're persistent enough to spend hours mastering a half-hour game.

(For the Japanese version.)

Thanks for reading! Now give me lots of money, free advertising and comments. Or you could just try to guess what the next game will be I suppose.

10 comments:

  1. Is it Tom Clancy's Plint C? I loved that game. Plint C was such an interesting protagonist, although we never found out what the "C" stood for.

    I have Comix Zone on one of those Sega collections for the PS3. I think I played it once. Beautiful, as you say, but not very playable.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This game made an huge impression on me back then. A friend of mine lent me his Megadrive, and since this was released at the time all those ugly early 3d game were flooding the market, it looked absolutely gorgeous. Yes, it's way to hard and gets old fast. But the first impression was amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think the original game, came with the manual explaining the importance of the rat. For example, that first door on stage 2, can be blown up with a hidden dynamite. The game has the alternative of losing health to break stuff if you can't find the right way.

    For some of the best music on the Genesis, try Streets of Rage 1 and 2 (3 is a little weird in general)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the other hand Streets of rage 3 has the KO mechanic which is brilliant and should be in every beat 'em up.

      Delete
    2. mmm, not sure I follow you .. which mechanic would that be ?

      Delete
    3. On the top of the screen there are small blue bars, when there are five you can execute a special attack without losing health, it's helpful without being cheap.

      Delete
  4. It does come in handy. Streets of rage 3 is one of the few beat em ups I've played that I'm certain I could finish without losing 1 life, even though it's as tough as old boots.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Try it on mania difficulty =)

      Delete
    2. Mania was on SoR2. Having played that, I highly doubt it's possible to finish it in single player. I don't think it was designed to be beaten but, I think it's possible with 2 players.

      Delete

Semi-Random Game Box