Welcome to Comix Zone week, where we will be giving you a whole week’s worth of Sketch Turner love. If you have a copy of this SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive classic, give it ago for nostalgia’s sake and stay tuned all week long for new content. This fabulous game was first made available in 1995 for the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive. It was later ported to Windows PC, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, and PSN. Its also been featured in both Sonic Mega Collection Plus and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection.
Check out our full overview of Comix Zone after after the break!
Let’s get trapped in the Comix Zone…
Comix Zone was a video game released late in the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive’s life cycle and one of the handful of games developed by SEGA Technical Institute. The game started mostly with the premise of its art style; by concept, design & art director for the game Peter Morawiec. If the title didn’t give it away, the team was really inspired by their trips to their local Bay Area comic book shops. After Peter Morawiec made demo animations on his Amiga, he pitched it to Roger Hector and Tom Kalinske. The demo was well received and eventually got the green light and production began.
Sadly, the game was soon put on hold as the team at STI had to work on Sonic Spinball, which was ‘kinda’ a tie-in to the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon by DiC Entertainment. After STI finished wrapping up their work on Sonic Spinball, they finally started work on Comix Zone.
[Early concept video that was pitched. Created by Peter Morawiec]
When Comix Zone finally came out in 1995, SEGA was already dropping support for the SEGA Genesis and advertising its newly released console, the SEGA Saturn. SEGA marketing had a hand in changing Peter Morawiec’s main character, then called Joe Pencil, who was a scrawny geeky-looking kid. The idea of a geeky kid turning superhero wasn’t new to the comic world as it was pioneered by Captain Marvel in the late 1930’s. SEGA of America’s marketing team wasn’t feeling it and changed the name to Sketch Turner and Morawiec redesigned him to give him a grunge look, which was very popular in the early 90’s.
Comix Zone puts you in the shoes of Sketch Turner, a starving artist and freelance rock musician living in the Big Apple, New York City. During the game’s opening, Sketch is working on his new comic book titled, you guessed it, Comix Zone. The story of his comic is about the ‘New World Empire’ trying to defend the Earth from an alien invasion. Sketch came up with the stories from nightmares he was having.
While Sketch is working late one night, a lighting bolt strikes his comic. In that instant, the main villain of his comic book, a powerful mutant named Mortus, manages to pop out of the pages and Sketch gets sent into the unfinished book. Mortus has to kill his creator so he can turn flesh and blood, the only issue is that you are the creator. You aren’t going to let this other world scumbag show you up, are you?
Changing the game…
One of the selling points for Comix Zone was always its art style, while there were plenty of games based on comic book IPs, none of them really embraced the feel of a comic book’s panel layout the way Comix Zone did. Kicking enemies against a panel would bust it open to another panel, you could jump to different panels that lead to different paths and the animation between panels is one of my favorites on any 16-bit game. Bad guys didn’t just spawn, they where drawn in giving it more of a comic book feel and sold the idea that the tables have turned for Sketch. Before he was the creator, stopping a villain in his own story, now he is trapped and the villain was using his ability to draw enemies to kill you. The subtly of baddies being drawn in black and white and then turning into true moving colored sprites was a rather ingenious way of doing something as simple as spawning bad guys.
“Bad guys didn’t just spawn, they where drawn in giving it more of a comic book feel…”
The game also didn’t rely on multiplayer combat against endless waves of bad guys. There were already a ton of games that did that, even SEGA’s own Streets of Rage. Instead the developers focused on one character, the hero of the story, Sketch Turner. The game was more about gathering items and trying to survive with as little damage taken as possible. To change up the game formula they added puzzles and items that if used intelligently would help you traverse the panels with minimal health being chucked off. The game was something I never played before, it wasn’t like other games that just wanted to emulate the success of other, popular titles. It was its own game and there wasn’t anything quite done this way before. That is why we will be celebrating the awesomeness of Comix Zone all week long.