- Release date: August 1995
- Time to complete: ~20 mins (once you know what you're doing).
Late-era Mega Drive, what a wonderful time. There's something awesome about seeing games pushing consoles to their limits, and the Mega Drive received some doozies.
Comix Zone has some of the best and most imaginative presentation of a game ever produced, even to this day. You are a comic book writer who becomes trapped in his own art - you are playing in comic book panels. The game sections are framed like comic book panels, you flow from left to right, top to bottom, like comic books (although with some alternate paths which don't fit many comic book designs!). Dialogue is represented with speech bubbles. When enemies appear, they are often drawn into the panel by the hand of your captor.
How does a comic book 'play'? In this case, mainly a beat 'em up. There are couple of rudimentary puzzle and platformy sections, but the bulk is defeating enemies by fisticuffs. Or, once you learn about it, by ripping bits of the page up and throwing them as paper airplanes, which generally kills opponents in one hit. The down-side is that it uses a fair chunk of your health bar to pull off.
Health is a constant issue. Hitting things often drains your health, and there are many things to hit - enemies, doors, boxes. Managing your health is about the most important part of this game, and while the paper airplane attack takes a lot, it is often a net savings by removing your need to deal with the enemies in close combat, which can be far more costly to your health bar.
Fortunately, there are health pick-ups in places, although sometimes you'll need your pet rat to find them for you. I think the game would be nigh-on impossible without health items. There are also random pick-ups (represented by a question-mark), choosing from 6 or so - health, various bombs, a knife, and unfortunately, an explosive which damages you severely. Considering later in the game you pretty much rely on a few key random item pick-ups, having your game ended by having a random item explode in your face is pretty frustrating.
How many of these deaths can you withstand? Well... one. At least, until you defeat a boss, in which case you gain a continue. Yep, you have to earn your continues by defeating bosses, otherwise it's one and done. How many can you earn in this way throughout the game? Two. This is a very stingy game. Full disclosure: I haven't finished a full run-through of this game yet without using save states in a couple of key locations, and I'm in the dozens of playthroughs at this point. Completing the game is just a little bit random, and getting into a position where you just can't deal with what's left given the health and items you have is all-too-easy. I'm sure Comix Zone is developed in the time-honoured 80s and 90s way because it's actually very short - a decent run through is only on the order of 15-20 minutes long. Making it brutal increases the longevity, but there are plenty of rest spots should you need them. Not that it regenerates health or anything useful like that.
Enough about the gameplay. The music is the most important part of this release. Never have guitars been done so well on a 16-bit system before. Grungy guitars, as was the style of music at the time. Along with the graphics, musically this game just hasn't been replicated or even ripped off since, it is a unique gem which only early-90s Sega were willing to try. And in honour of that, I will continue to try to complete a 'clean' run of Comix Zone. It's a frustrating but fun, and short enough to throw a few attempts at fairly quickly. In many ways I liken it to Ninja Gaiden on the NES, but with chugging FM-synth guitars, an acquired taste, I suppose.