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    Retro Requisition would like to draw your attention to a classic video game of old that we shall be formally requisitioning to be reborn, revisited, rebooted, or remastered. We will explain what makes each game such a timeless classic still worthy of attention, pitch what it would be all about and get all realistic by discussing the possibilities of it actually ever happening.

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    “We, the most awesome and fabulous team at That Not Current, have decreed in all our wisdom and obsession with the wonders of retro gaming, that the following game should be brought back to life and hereby submit this formal request to make it so:”

    Comix Zone

    THE PLAYERS: Sega

    PLATFORM(S): Sega Megadrive/Genesis

    The box art for Comix Zone on the Sega Megadrive. This version includes the game’s soundtrack on CD.

    WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

    Comix Zone is a side-scrolling beat ’em up, released in 1995 for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis during the later years of the console’s lifespan. The game places you in the shoes of comic book artist Sketch Turner, who finds himself dragged into his own post-apocalyptic illustrations by his own antagonist, the evil Mortus. In order to escape his freakish predicament, Sketch must assume the role of the comic’s protagonist and travel through the panels of his own artwork, whilst engaging mutants and creatures in comic book style combat. Sketch’s only hope of escaping is by reaching the end of the book and thus defeating Mortus and his Comix Zone.

    Sketch’s own creation, Mortus, is brought to life by a freakish thunderstorm.

    The game follows the traditional beat em’ up style that was fairly common during the 16-bit era, although you’re never up against more than 2-3 enemies on screen at a time. This game has earned itself a name for being fairly difficult, as Sketch will lose health faster than a hyper checkout clerk in a busy grocery store. This is due to some quick and unexpected blows from enemies, as well as certain aspects of the environment also decreasing your health bar, such as breakable objects. On the subject of enemies, the mutants within this game come in more varieties than Heinz products; some of them fly, others climb above you, some dive under sewer water and the others just beat the living daylights out you. The key to success in combat is to memorise enemy patterns and learn the best way to serve a can of whoop-ass, which is accomplished by learning from your mistakes. Due to the unforgiving nature of the game, some critics weren’t suckered in by this game’s charm, however, this is something that will vary based on the personal preferences of the player.

    Sketch plays the mutants at their own game, engaging in some straight out of a comic book action.

    Our hero Sketch is joined by his pet rat ‘Roadkill’, who is both his companion and usable item during the game. Within the first panel of the strip, we meet General Alissa Cyan, who proclaims that Sketch is the ‘chosen one’, who will save the land from the mutant invasion. Alissa supports Sketch throughout the game via a radio link, providing useful information to the player. The game features a range of different mechanics, including optional paths for Sketch to progress through, which can provide the player with a different scenario based on their decision, which adds to the replayability. Comix Zone also stands amongst games from the 16-bit era that has an alternative ending, the result of which is determined by how quickly the player can defeat Mortus during a final battle. The final face-off has Sketch attempting to save Alissa from a stereotypical liquid filling chamber, in which if the player is too slow in finishing off Mortus and his cronies, will trigger a bad ending that prompts the player to replay the game. If the player manages to save Alissa, we are treated to a cutesy ending cut scene of which she joins Sketch in the real world and smooches him in the thunderstorm outside his window, talk about some good old fashioned romance.

    Sketch meets Alissa within the first panel of the Comix Zone.

    The inspiration for Comix Zone actually comes from a Commodore Amiga concept demo entitled ‘Joe Pencil Trapped In The Comix Zone‘, which displays the exact same style of comic book sprites and dialogue in the form of speech bubble text. Sega then expanded on this original idea and created a unique gaming experience, of which they then filed a patent for under the description of “Videogame system for creating a simulated comic book game”.

    WHY DOES IT NEEDS TO BE REBORN?

    The premise behind Comix Zone was definitely a unique idea, using the tropes of a comic book and transforming it into actual game mechanics and features. There hasn’t been a game quite like it since it’s release in 1995, with the only resemblance in artistic style being the likes of games from the 90’s that used comic book inspired sprites, such as Marvel vs Capcom. Actually, that’s a lie. Some of you may remember a PSP title by the name of Unbound saga, which essentially is a 2.5D beat em’ up in the vein of Final Fight, with a sort of Comix Zone skin over the top. Personally, I think this completely missed the mark, feeling more like a generic beat em’ up style game.

    Unbound Saga was released on PSP, PlayStation Network and Xbox live arcade. Despite being a ‘comic book style game’, it really didn’t fill the gap.

    If you think about it, this could be a whole genre in itself, as Comix Zone was able to implement its story and setting on limited hardware, using the likes of speech bubbles and sound effect art. This could potentially provide an alternative gaming experience, even today, by eliminating the need for convoluted cutscenes and dialogue while still managing to maintain a plot throughout the game. In a way, other games have tapped into this, as I am sure many gamers enjoyed the text dialogue from the likes of the earlier Final Fantasy games while not hindering the experience due to a lack of voice acting. If Comix Zone made a return, it could potentially pave the way for this unrecognised genre to make a comeback, providing us with an experience that has been otherwise buried along with a lot of other Sega classics.

    WHAT WOULD WE WANT TO SEE IN ANY REBIRTH?

    Retaining the original Comix Zone’s charm is the key to it’s revival

    Considering that Comix Zone was never given a chance to redeem any flaws that players may have found in the game, the general premise of a 2D side scrolling comic adventure doesn’t really need to be altered to any great extent. With modern day game engines and technology, the game could further develop its illustrated feel, improving on what was already really impressive for something released in 1995. Some slight tweaks, such as increasing the panel space and manoeuvrability, would further improve the gameplay and help address the occasional claustrophobic nature of the original game. Another feature that this game lacked was two player Co-op, which most beat em’ ups feature by default. This is probably due to the hardware limitations at the time, which is something we don’t need to worry about now, considering we have the memory within systems to build whole entire worlds, never mind add an extra pair of fists. Overall, the main point here is that more of the original premise of the game would be perfect, packaged with all the bells and whistles that we now take for granted. There is a lot of creative potential when it comes to Comix Zone, that of which the excitable child inside all of us is eager to get a hold of.

    IS IT LIKELY?

    Don’t worry, Sega might be ready to press continue on the Comix Zone series.

    If this same question was to be asked a couple of years ago, I would have advised you to visit the Sega graveyard of classic IP’s that were buried alongside Sega’s 16-bit warrior. However, it seems that the gaming veterans have decided to actually focus on bringing back some of their forgotten creations as part of their new business strategy. Within a recent business presentation entitled ‘The Road to 2020′, Sega highlighted one of their main objectives being ‘IP revival’. This means that Sea will be rummaging through their back catalogue for games that could potentially have breakthrough success today, which means there’s no reason that they can’t go back and look at innovative titles such as Comix Zone. This will become more apparent once Sega begins to take action, based on if they actually venture outside their comfort zone of using the defibrillator on certain 27-year-old blue hedgehogs. A promising detail could be found within the fact that Sega always seems to include Comix Zone amongst classics collections that the release on various platforms, such as PC. This shows that they haven’t completely forgotten about Comix Zone, which hopefully means that it’ll be on their list of priorities. For now, however, all we can do is play the waiting game. If you’re clever, like us, you’ll have kept your Megadrive close by, enabling quick access to games such as Comix Zone, that deserves much more love than it currently gets.

    Phil Hayton
    A lover of old video games, dogs and tea. Creator of the video series 'Through The Techades' and something of a history geek.

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