The year is 1995; Braveheart is in cinemas, scientists have successfully cloned a sheep from DNA and the PlayStation has just been released to critical acclaim and phenomenal sales. Meanwhile the Mega Drive, whilst coming to the end of a very distinguished life cycle, is still pumping out extremely complex games considering it’s (by then) outdated hardware.
It was amongst this last rearguard of 16-Mb games that Dean Lester and Peter Morawiec released Comix Zone, an arcade-style action game that blew many people away (myself included) with its artwork, music and gameplay.
The game centres on the superbly named Sketch Turner, a downtrodden artist and freelance rock musician (because this is the 90s) living in New York City. Whilst Sketch works on his latest comic, the eponymous “Comix Zone”, a freak storm erupts and lightning blasts into his room, striking him and his designs. The villain of Sketch’s story, the dastardly Mortus, is suddenly blasted to life and traps our hero within the pages of his own creation. Accompanied by his trusty pet rat, Roadkill, Sketch has to battle his way back to the real world with the help of the player.
All of this is revealed in one of the best introductions to a video game I have played – some great music, artwork and pacing combine to throw the player into the game ready for action. As soon as you’re dropped into the pages of the comic book a grungy soundtrack kicks in, adding to the innate sense of style the game exudes from every pixel. Seriously, just listen to this.
Where Comix Zone excelled, though, and where it blew me away, was the way in which the game made you believeyou really were in a comic book story. Sketch can vault between panels and pages dynamically and use them as platforms or hiding spots. Enemies, allies and Sketch himself all communicate in floating speech-bubbles that track their movements, while yellow thought boxes hover in the corners. Pieces of the pages tear off during fights or burn away after explosions. The game also included some of the first examples of physics-based puzzling – boxes have to be stacked to reach levers or pushed into hazards to progress further into levels.