Gaming in the early 90s was plain and simple. It largely consisted of home consoles which was dominated by Nintendo with the SNES, and to some extent by Sega with its Genesis. For anything else you’d mostly have to visit the arcade. But there was not much to complain as the 16-bit era shared by the SNES and Genesis did have some amazing games among them. Games had now come to a point where they were looked at from a far more creative viewpoint than before. As such, games from one of the more popular genres of that era, the 2D side scrolling beat ‘em up genre, started getting more creative as time flew by. Let’s take a trip down memory lane with one such game – Comix Zone.
Released at the tail end of the Genesis lifecycle, Comix Zone was a game unlike any at the time. This was a 2D beat em’ up that has the pages of a comic book as its setting. This made for a distinct art style for sure, but it is in the way the game makes use of the comic book aesthetics in other aspects like story and combat that makes it so special.
This game’s story is as tongue-in-cheek as a 90s game can get. You play a down on his luck comic book artist in New York who gets warped into his own comic book one day, while the villain you designed warps out into the real world and pulls the string in the comic book world by sketching his minions to take you down.
This being your comic book, you are aware of what is at stake and take it upon yourself to save the (comic book) world, with the help of the Heroine, whom you created for the book. It is a great setting, one that cannot be taken seriously if you tried. And the game is fully aware of it. This self-aware approach also chips in for the various locales that the story takes you to.
Comix Zone makes the most of its comic book aesthetics in its gameplay. What would be tiny arenas with invisible walls in other games of the genre, is now visually indicated through comic book panels. You enter a panel and move to the next one only after you have cleared the bad guys or solved the puzzle or sometimes both. The combat was simple, but never boring due to this. Smart ideas like bashing your opponent towards the panel which acts as a wall and has the enemy trapped go a long way in providing depth to the otherwise shallow combat.
Puzzles form a sizeable part of the game play, and while these are not the most complex, they are smart and blend well into the game’s world quiet well. One of the things that will help you with most puzzles is your companion Roadkill the rat.
Although he takes up a whole slot in your limited three slot inventory, Roadkill is a resourceful ally whom you will start caring for as you progress through the game. He can easily reach levers and buttons that are out of reach, and also find hidden items like grenades and knives by sniffing them out within the comic book walls, which come in handy during combat.
Comix Zone is a labour of love and that shows in the amount of thought put into the game’s aesthetics. Little details like bits of paper flying off the panel during combat and fragments of the page being ripped when Roadkill looks for hidden Items, and the way the protagonist always jumps through each panel instead of just walking through them all go a long way to sell the games setting to the player.
The creators have made some of the best looking 16-bit visuals for this game, that convey a sense of environment, right from the wasteland style New York to the snowy Himalayas. 16-bit graphics are as good as they came with Comix Zone.
And then there is that screen at the end of each level, that teases the creation of a Superhero as you progress through the levels. This may have been planned for the next game as it does open up for a sequel, despite the “good guys saves the world and gets the girl” ending. Sadly, a sequel never came to be, and we will never know.
And that was Comix Zone. Yet another beat em’up in the then saturated genre, but one that stood out from the rest thanks to its setting and the love and attention that went in to making it. This game has since seen release in other platforms, and definitely deserves some love. If you ever come across this game for any of the console or handheld you may own, and are looking for some cheesy 90s videogame action, please give this a try. You will not regret it.