The early- to mid-90’s was an awkward time for music. It was a time where being depressed and angry and weird wasn’t just okay, it was expected. Gone were the days of 80’s Hair Metal and real Metal being on the charts. In their place would be something referred to as the Seattle Sound, better known as Grunge Rock, or simply Grunge, groups of disaffected and sleepy-sounding white guys who needed to clear their throats. Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, and Mudhoney were actually ousting well-established pop icons such as Modonna, Billy Joel, and even Shaggy off the radio and/or the charts. Even Michael Jackson’s Dangerous was replaced by Nirvana’s Nevermind!
Really? A cover like this and MJ’s the one who made people uncomfortable?
Regardless of how you feel about Grunge, it undeniably changed popular music forever, giving us the generic term of Alternative Rock. Alt Rock would then give way to the Alanis Morissettes, the Hooties and the Blowfishes, and the Nine Inch Nails. It’d also somehow influence and spawn one of my favorite games of all time, Comix Zone.
He was Grunge before Grunge was cool!
Comix Zone‘s atmosphere, tone, and soundtrack (especially) were heavily influenced by Grunge, and it actually included a bonus CD with bands like Danzig, Lords of Acid, and Love and Rockets. It was rare to see games come with soundtracks back then, and even rarer when the soundtrack was composed of actual bands, even if they were bands I didn’t give a shit about.
Sorry, all two Jesus and Mary Chain fans.
That bonus CD was only in the North American release. Europeans got the superior Sega Tunes album featuring the band Roadkill, named after the main protagonist’s pet rat. They performed tracks from the game but with added lyrics. It’s awful and campy as hell. And the track names just ooze that Grunge flavor: “Woe is the World,” “10,000 Knives,” and “Feed My Disease.” That last track name sounds like it was actually vomited straight out of Seattle.
Now that you know a little history about the time this game was released, how about I shut the hell up and actually talk about the game? Someone better call Kenny Loggins! ‘Cause we’re about to “Ride into the Comix Zone!”
I’m sorry, everyone.
Game: Comix Zone
Console: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive
Developer: Sega Technical Institute
Release Year: 1995
It was a dark and stormy night. Enter Sketch Turner: aspiring comic book author, rat enthusiast, and self-proclaimed “starving artist.” While burning the midnight oil and wearing his dumb hipster shades and fingerless gloves, Sketch notices something strange about Comix Zone, the comic book he’s been working on. After being struck by lightning, it’s uncharacteristically crackling, sparking, and trying to choke him to death.
All my years as an Art Major didn’t prepare me for this or life in general!
Suddenly, Mortus, the villian Sketch created, has come to life, and he’s determined that he wants Sketch dead. But for some reason Mortus can’t murder him by strangulation alone. He decides to throw Sketch into his own comic book and kill him by drawing enemies and fire and whatnot. Personally, if I had the power to put somebody on paper and manipulate them by drawing, I’d mess with them like how Bugs Bunny messed with Daffy Duck.
That’d have made this game so much funnier.
Mortus’s plan may have actually worked, both in execution and in the likelihood of him not getting caught, if not for one oversight: Sketch Turner fights like Jean-Claude Van Damme on coke.
Now I show you some trick or two!
Seriously, Sketch is such a bad ass! Much like the Lee brothers, Sketch throws punches, uppercuts, and wheel kicks without breaking a sweat. Sketch has his own moves as well, like the Shaolin Kick and the Shoulder Block. These advanced moves can be done by hitting commands on the D-pad and then hitting the attack button, or you can just go to options and map one of them to the C button. After looking through my options, there’s really only one logical choice.
The combat in this game is so satisfying. From its ease of use and execution to the satisfying sound effects to the challenge, kicking mutants out of existence has never been so fun. It’s also really cool that the developers played up the comic book aesthetic. Visible Pows and Wacks accompany each successful blow, Sketch hops from panel to panel to progress, and pages and panels get torn and ripped as you fight. I love kicking mutants through the white borders that separate the panels!
Everyone in the game talks in speech bubbles, adding to the comic book feel, but this can be annoying when you’re in mid-fight and some crucial exposition is being tossed at you. Not that this is a problem. I play through this game a few times a year, and I still don’t really know what it’s about.
Sketch was pretty risqué, talking like Q*Bert and all.
I like replaying this game because it’s fun, there are branching paths, which is always great in an action game, and it’s short. I can beat it in like half an hour. Though, it may take longer if you’re new to the game. The developers thought it’d be funny to add in a bunch of trial-and-error bullshit puzzles to mess with you, which, in hindsight, is pretty hilarious. I wish they’d have had Mortus laugh at you or something if you fell for one, like he had placed it there to mess with you a la Bugs Bunny in Duck Amuck. I’m sorry I keep bringing that up, but Sega Technical Institute really missed a perfect opportunity here.
Ain’t I a stinker?
But not all the puzzles in this game are unfair. Most require you to search for hidden things in the environment, push enemies into spinning fans, or let your rat, Roadkill, pull an out-of-reach switch. Nothing’s ever too difficult, but I’m pretty sure Alissa, the lady who talks to you throughout the game, thinks you’re an idiot.
Woman, if I need a strategy guide or a sandwich, I’ll let you know.
There’s lots of other campy things in Comix Zone that make it a very worth-while and memorable game, like how the traditional “Sega” singing at the beginning of Genesis games has been replaced with an Elvis voice, or how Roadkill is a one-hit kill to the female mutants (because women, am I right?). But the terrible one-liners Sketch gives when he kills things are what steal the show. There’s nothing like a cheesy one-liner to make a kick ass moment more kick ass.
There aren’t too many enemies and things to kill, but what is there to kill looks great. All the well-animated sprites are big and detailed. Mortus, though he looks studly with his sweet handlebar mustache in the cutscenes, looks stupid when he jumps back in the comic for the final battle. This fight is a complete joke, by the way. It’s easy and repetative. Also, again, Alissa thinks you’re an idiot.
What did I just say about strategy guides!?
But it does end with Sketch making out with Alissa during a nuclear explosion, so all is forgiven.
So, how ’bout a sandwich?
Overall, this is a gorgeous 16-bit game, partly because it was released at the end of the Genesis’s life cycle. I’d like to think that more people would have enjoyed this game had it been released sooner. Oh, well. We can all at least enjoy what we have with Sketch, knowing there may never be a sequel, despite the stupidly ambiguous ending. Seriously, this is all it says:
Until… TERRORISTS! I’d play that game!
Comix Zone is a mainstay in my collection and one of my favorite games from the 16-bit era. It’s a quick and mindless game that I can pick up and play through in between bigger and better games. Some people consider it to be difficult, and I think it was for me too when I first played it, but that was so long ago. Nowadays, I just breeze through it. If you haven’t played it yet, get on it! There’s lots of fun to be had, and I actually like the soundtrack to the game.
Thanks for your Playing! I think I’m either going to go watch Bloodsport or Beavis and Butthead now. For some reaon, after playing this game, I’m in the mood for both.