At one point in my existence, Comix Zone was something of a white whale in the Moby Dick sense- a challenge I could never overcome.
When I did eventually conquer it though, that old expression all Sega fans know came to mind- was my victory really worth the price I had to pay?
Ooh, what an ominous way to start things out! I'm sure this bodes well for my thoughts on this game, often considered a highlight of the Mega Drive's twilight years. Let's start at the beginning, as this one has quite the development history behind it. A product of the Sega Technical Institute, a studio probably best known for their involvement in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic Spinball and at one point headed by Marble Madness creator and current Sony hardware architect Mark Cerny, Comix Zone was designed by Peter Moraweic who has been interviewed a few times about his work, and in particular I'm sourcing a lot of this from the interview in Sega Mega Drive / Genesis: Collected Works (ISBN 13: 9780957576810). Moving to the US from Czechoslovakia and getting a job at STI, he created an animated pitch for a game inspired by comic books (in particular he cites Dark Horse graphic novels, which makes sense given the general aesthetic of what his creation would become) titled Joe Pencil Trapped in the Comix Zone, as seen above, made on an Amiga workstation. While obviously very different from the final product, many of the core tenets are there- an artist trapped in a comic book, moving from page to page and fighting against enemies drawn in by a mysterious hand, but while the pitch was approved, the team were assigned to Sonic Spinball and so the concept had to wait. Once they had some time away from blue hedgehogs pinging around pinball arenas, and after some Sega-mandated changes- most notably the design of the main character, as according to a Sega-16 interview Joe was too geeky, so he was redesigned into the beefy grunge-rocker-inspired Sketch Turner, complete with rat sidekick Roadkill (something else Sega fought over, as a rat wasn't considered sidekick material)- Comix Zone was born.
Comix Zone, as a premise, is a solid one that brings comics and video games together in a way not often taken, actually making it look like a comic book, with only Batman: The Caped Crusader coming to mind as even remotely similar (in fact, Sega patented the idea, which was pending when the game was released). Sketch Turner, self-described freelance rock musician and comic writer & artist living in the Bowery, New York City (who even calls himself a 'starving artist' in some easily-missed dialogue- push an explosive crate onto some flaming oil drums in Episode 1 Page 1 to see it) and owner of an excellent rat, Roadkill, is the epitome of the 90s independent comic artist, pinning his future on his in-progress work, Comix Zone. Inspired by his vivid nightmares (and, in the real world, inspired by Dark Horse graphic novels as well as movies like Escape from New York and Planet of the Apes), Comix Zone depicts a world ravaged by a meteor strike and under threat from the insidious Mortus and his possibly alien, possibly mutant cronies (it's somewhat unclear) with only General Alissa Cyan standing in his way. One stormy night, the comic Sketch is working on is struck by lightning and Mortus, in sketch form, springs from the page! He'll become flesh and blood if Sketch dies, and while he can't kill him in the real world, he can end Sketch's life in the pages of Comix Zone itself! Alissa is convinced he's 'the chosen one' and so Sketch must go through his own comic and survive until the final page, and all the while Mortus is drawing in new baddies to do Sketch in. Does this comic have a happy ending, or is it gonna conclude in the edgiest way possible?
Categorising Comix Zone's genre is a little tricky. It's not strictly a platformer as there's a very limited amount of platforming (although what is there can and will kill you, something to discuss later) and it's not really a scrolling brawler as action is stuck to a single plane. I guess you'd call it a more nebulous 'action' game with puzzle elements thrown in, but whatever it is, it sticks to its comic theme somewhat rigidly. Each area is a panel on a comic book page, and you hop to the next panel after clearing out the one you're in, be that by defeating all the enemies (with Mortus himself sometimes drawing more for you to fight) or solving a rudimentary puzzle. If nothing else, the game does do as much as possible with its comic book conceit, and some of the touches are clever- some examples include little scraps of paper flying off enemies when they're hurt, projectile attacks making tears at the edges of panels, and even Mortus setting fire to the page in Episode 2, forcing Sketch to escape the panel before he's caught by the flames. However, sticking so much to this layout has its downsides- the play area can often feel pretty cramped because the character sprites are huge and take up a lot of real estate, which becomes a problem when any precise movement is required (more on that later). Another problem this presentation creates is purely technical, it looks pretty good but whenever there's too much happening on-screen (anything more than about four to five 'objects' on screen, be they enemies or obstacles) the game starts choking on its own guts and flickering like crazy among other graphical oddities. This usually isn't a problem, just an inevitability of the hardware, but one run of mine had a pretty catastrophic flickering problem that resulted in me eating a landmine as everything disappeared from view, and the final boss fight can get pretty sketchy with it as well.
In any case, most of your time in the Comix Zone is spent fighting enemies, so let's move on to the combat. On the surface, this seems like it has a lot going on- you have three distinct combo strings (neutral, Up-Diagonal and Down-Diagonal) with different combo enders, blocking (on a three-button pad this is automatic, but is mapped to a button on a six-button pad, but not everything can be blocked), throws, two different air attacks, and even an evasive roll. You can even put in limited fighting game-style commands (mostly two opposite directions then Attack, rather than fireball motions) to put in the combo enders whenever you want!... Which seems great (the Scissor Kick in particular can be useful for tackling the flying enemies, and they all knock the enemy down) until you realise inputting these moves chip away at Sketch's health when they hit. In this game, of all games, every pixel of health is precious, so this feels like an especially cruel design decision, and it's not even like they act like Super Joys in more traditional scrolling brawlers, they sap health Just Because (this is why you want to set block to its own button rather than as a shortcut for one of these moves, they're not worth it). Still, it's not like you need them- combat can actually be boiled down to three hits over and over, as long as they're not blocked, because executing Up-Diagonal + Attack, Down-Diagonal + Attack and neutral Attack in any sequence (you can cancel them into one another with impunity) usually results in an automatic knockdown, which is what you want, because if the enemy's on the floor, they can't hurt you. There's also a throw but I never really got the hang of using it as it's poorly explained in the manual, but it will stop enemies from blocking so it has some utility at certain points. Fortunately, most (not all) standard attacks can be blocked (this makes having a six-button pad a requirement, as otherwise blocking is automatic, good luck with that) including projectiles, which you'll need to do when there's no other way out.
There is some nuance to enemy patterns, but a lot of it is fairly exploitable- enemies will always use projectiles over and over again if you're far away enough, Gravis and Strigil have anti-airs like Donovan from Streets of Rage 2 so don't jump at them- but for the most part it's all very simple, and the fact you often can't interrupt attacks means it feels like you're just mash-cancelling until they're dead, so it's not nearly as intricate as the extra moves available to you would imply because most of them aren't useful. Two other considerations that impact the combat are that you're never fighting more than two opponents at once, and there's only five 'major' enemy types- the basic Gravis, the low-profile Strigil, the weapon master Styx, the warrior Mongoria and the baby Mutants- with Kreeps and Coccoon Crawlers being the closest to popcorn enemies the game gets, and Pelagus showing up only in limited numbers in Episode 3 Page 1. Regarding enemy types, the approach is mostly the same for each of them- bully them in the corner- and while Strigil has to be attacked with low blows and sometimes uses pipes to crawl along, and Mutants can't be knocked down but can be comboed into oblivion in seconds, most of the time your strategy is going to be the same for everyone. As for only two at once, this is down to technical considerations- there's only so many things that can be on-screen at once (and multiple enemies on-screen cause problems beyond flickering, like being able to just push them off-panel with their partner so they instantly die, but at least they can hurt each other too)- but this again speaks to the problem of having these huge characters in cramped comic panels, and perhaps at this point one can see the novelty of the presentation being detrimental to the game itself. There's no chance for interesting enemy combinations beyond throwing in a Kreep here and there, and nothing like what you'd see in other, better single-plane brawlers at the time like The Ninja Warriors Again because, well, the design just doesn't allow it. At the absolute least, the sounds and visuals try to 'sell' the combat- the comic book-style onomatopaeia, the screen-shuddering when an enemy hits the deck, the crunchy sound effects and death rattles, all quite satisfying- but they don't really make a big difference to how it plays.
OK, so the combat's not so hot, but what about the level design? Some interesting little setpieces ought to balance things out, but Comix Zone falters here too. There are attempts at variety like some fairly basic puzzles to solve, usually involving switches or pushing crates around, but it relies very, very heavily on rote memorisation and knowing exactly what to do to mitigate as much damage as possible and not die. Part of this is because Sketch takes damage from destroying pretty much any obstacle (and you can see this happen in the Joe Pencil footage, this was intended from the off) and the other part is because Roadkill will find hidden objects for you when deployed (you'll know one's on a panel when he goes straight for it after letting him go- stand still, if he stops at your feet, the panel's empty) and some of these are basically required. Obviously learning and memorising stage layouts is an important thing in action games, but Comix Zone feels particularly punishing in this regard because some of the things you have to know in advance are comically mean, and stacked on top of damage you basically have to take and only having one life (with two extras only awarded after beating Episodes 1 and 2) makes it really rough. A personal favourite is the descent into the well in Episode 2 Page 2, where you'll be eating half a health bar's worth of damage unless you know there's a saw blade trap at the bottom and you remembered to pick up the Dynamite to destroy it. Oh, and you're not able to look down in advance. Even when you do all that, you'll take unavoidable damage as you're attacked by worms while dropping the explosive, which you can't do much about. Another good one is Episode 3 Page 2, the last room before the final boss, where unless you know Roadkill can find a Knife on the previous page, you have to bust a door open with your bare hands which tears into your health bar before the big fight. What makes the memorisation even meaner, of course, is that you have one life. Each Episode you successfully clear gives you one extra continue, but that is it, and so 'trial and error' becomes way more infuriating when you have to do everything all over again.
It feels the main thing that hinders the level design is how Sketch moves and controls- it often asks for greater precision than is possible with Sketch as he has a tendency to move slightly after performing actions, and the collision detection is never particularly in your favour. Thus, even if you know exactly what to do, the slightest misstep- which sometimes isn't your fault- can just end a run entirely. I imagine part of this is the animation- Sketch has a ton of frames and looks great in motion, but it also means some actions move him ever-so-slightly in ways you don't expect, and both of his jumps feel awkward when you're asked to land precisely on safe ground or jump over basically anything. A great example of this is the final panel of Episode 3 Page 1, where you have to use Roadkill to pull a lever twice (Sketch can't because a buried landmine is by the lever) to lower (but not remove) some spike posts. You have to be very precise when jumping over because if you happen to be knocked out of the air back in the direction you jumped from, Sketch will fall back, then step backwards slightly after he lands... Stepping on the landmine and blowing himself up in the process. Oh, and sometimes Sketch will move position when deploying Roadkill, which can make you walk back into the spike posts (again, very cramped) and take unnecessary damage trying to walk 'out' of the post. Even simple things feel 'off' when you're doing them- Episode 2 Page 2 opens with a damaging pillar you need to roll under, but sometimes Sketch will just not co-operate with rolling and you'll take a hit trying to sort it out. There's also things like the death pits at the end of Episode 1 Page 1 and Episode 2 Page 1, which in a game with so very few continues seems really mean- you have little leeway when jumping over the first in particular- and don't get me started on the lava pits in Episode 3 Page 1! It makes every even-remotely-taxing jump a real butt-clencher, the type where you physically make noises when you execute them, and it seems unnecessary. This also impacts the boss battles, which is a shame as the first two are pretty decent- there's a rhythm to fighting the Mama Mutant when you get used to the funky hit detection and her attack range, but the battle with Kung-Fung is really hurt by the floatiness of Sketch's jumps and the vague hit detection as it makes it far more frustrating to actually dodge his nails and fireballs than it should be.
What puts the difficulty of Comix Zone into harsh perspective is a revelation from the Peter Morawiec interview in SMDGCW- increasing the difficulty was an eleventh-hour kludge. Marketing feedback at the time suggested that the game was going to be too short for reviewers (and this was a big consideration back then- remember all the '90s magazines that had 'longevity' as a part of the scoring system?) and the team had run out of cart space and time to add anything beyond the six levels they had. This makes sense- there's a lot of unique backgrounds and animation frames for everything in the game, so the poor thing was probably fit to bursting. Thus, to quote, 'at the last minute we simply turned up a number of 'knobs' to make the game harder'. Morawiec admits that 'I've regretted many times since that I didn't push back more - however, I also recall that after months of late nights we were all quite exhausted and eager to ship the game out!'. I can take a guess at some of those knobs that were turned up- having only one life and no continues to start is an easy one to assume was put in, I suspect Kreeps were added in more inconvenient places (like the one that spawns behind you by the death pit in Episode 1 Page 1), item drops were probably reduced (an early trailer shows Sketch carrying around way more Iced Tea than he would normally at the point shown in the game) and I've no doubt in my mind that the Question Mark items that either give you a random item or explode and wipe out half your health were a last-minute addition- but as fun as it is to speculate, I think the real question to be answered here is this: once you know all the nonsense this game throws at you, every little inconvenience, is it fun to play through?
My answer to that is... No. Or, at the very least, your enjoyment will be very limited. Even when armed with all the knowledge and combat data in the world, Comix Zone runs can and will go comically wrong, often through no fault of your own- a vauge hitbox sends you hurtling backwards into a landmine, an enemy you're in no real position to attack sends you into a death pit, Kung-Fung refuses to co-operate and won't stop going back into the background and prolonging the fight, and so on. There is a certain level of execution (mostly whether you can alternate between neutral and the diagonals quickly enough) but more of it just feels arbitrary, and that there is that there is a distinction between challenging and needlessly difficult and tedious. A game like Alien Syndrome or The NewZealand Story challenges me, requiring consistent and practiced execution, plus knowledge of map layouts and enemy patterns, but they always feel fair and consistent, even if they're hard. Comix Zone does not challenge me in the same. The design choices that make the game so infamously difficult are not in service of making the game more engaging or interesting to play, they are just to make it less easy to finish which is something quite distinct from the type of challenge I like to look for in a video game. I went out of my way to get good at the game- as you'll see in video form below- and so I can tell you, with some authority, that I find the game to be badly-designed and not really much fun. Not so terrible that I cannot play through it from beginning to end, mind- some games don't even make it that far- but not a good action game.
... And that sucks, because it might be the most mid-'90s video game ever made, and I kind-of love that. Sketch Turner himself is absolutely a '90s game character, complete with rat-tail haircut, tinted round glasses and unconventional pet (Roadkill himself is an excellent rat, a really neatly-implemented game mechanic / ally who clearly had a lot of love put into him) and his comic is exactly the kind of thing you'd find printed by Dark Horse or maybe Image Comics back in the day. When the game isn't flickering like crazy, it has the 'look' of a comic book just right, and using speech and thought bubbles to move the story along is an excellent use of the comic setting- it does stop the action sometimes but is also used to add flavour text during fights. The music is also really impressive- this is running on the GEMS sound driver which is often maligned for being used to make the poor Mega Drive fart a lot, but here it's used to great effect to create a grungy, guitar-heavy soundtrack that really sets the tone and brings some searing-hot jams to the table. It says a lot that a selection of these songs were remixed for the pack-in CD (we'll get to that later) complete with lyrics and fit perfectly in with the style of the time. That does make me wonder though, a friend (hey Sharc!) brought up something I hadn't considered when we were watching my playthrough- why didn't this come out for the Mega-CD instead? STI never made a game for the add-on, and perhaps had they never been tasked with making Sonic Spinball and started working on Comix Zone earlier, it could've shown up there instead. Storage would no longer have been an issue so the game could have more meat to it without having to compromise and make it artificially more difficult, the soundtrack would've been an absolute belter, perhaps some of the technical issues could've been circumvented... Obviously this is a little bit of 'what-if', but humour me, just this once.
As tempting as it may be to wallow in nostalgia and consider Comix Zone to be emblematic of the era it was released in at least aesthetically, Gaming Hell tries to be about the games themselves, mostly. In the end, the game has a reputation for being very difficult, but not in a fun or interesting way, just a marketing-mandated way to make the game seem longer and more involved than it really is. There's lots of combat options presented to you but many moves lack proper utility and the only execution is really in mashing diagonal directions, a lot of the levels are designed in a way to make you take as much unavoidable damage as possible just to stop you from finishing, the controls are really ropey and unrefined for a game that demands a fair bit from you in its few platforming sections... It's a bit of a mess. There's a potential concept here, but STI just weren't able to mould that into something genuinely compelling to play, even if it is fun to look at when it's not glitching out. That's one thing I noticed during my research, though, it's fun to present this game to other people- showing off some of the complete nonsense you have to do in order to survive, and the general experience of watching the game, taking in the sights and sounds is kind of fun! It's just when you're on the other end of that transaction- actually playing it- then the fun is limited only to those who really want to figure out how to play the game and make it to the end.
For being the coolest, raddest example of style over substance the '90s has to offer, Comix Zone is awarded...
In a sentence, Comix Zone is...
Probably best left in the quarter bin.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Before anything, I went to the trouble of recording my own no-continue clear of Comix Zone. Here it is.
There are definitely parts I can improve. Implementing throws might be one thing although it doesn't seem super-necessary. Asking Kung-Fung to behave is another.
I'm done, though. I am done playing this video game. I hope that you understand, dear reader.
Next up, ports time! As with Bonanza Bros., it's best we divide this between unique ports and Mega Drive reissues.
The first one is surprising- the Windows 3.1 / Windows 95 port from, uh, 1995!
Around this point in time, Sega were starting to get a little more serious about their PC work. Previously content to let other companies port their arcade hits (and the odd Mega Drive game such as Joe Montana Football) to DOS, as Windows 95 reared its head Sega started a PC division just called Sega PC to try and (mostly) bring this sort of thing closer to home. Comix Zone was one of the very first, and over the next few years they'd bring over the likes of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Daytona USA and, uh, Bug Too!, to the platform. It was somewhat widely distributed too- if you bought a Packard Bell computer back in the day, it was bundled with new PCs for free alongside a port of Ecco the Dolphin. Two free Mega Drive games... That's how you know you're playing with the power of a personal computer. Anyway, as it was one of the first of these Sega ports, there's not much to it but it's seemingly faithful- I can't test it on original hardware so PCem has to do the job (thanks, iiotenki, for saving me a huge headache and recommending this solution) which is a rough approximation of the experience.
From my time with it, it seems mostly fine and one aesthetic change aside (your lifebar is blue, not green) looks the part (although two persistent problems were that it runs ever-so-slightly faster than intended and the sound effects are way off in terms of timing, but I'm going to be nice and assume that's just with emulating it) but there are downsides. To start with the positives, there are a few things exclusive to this version- the speech samples are significantly clearer, there's a fancy new title screen with an animated Sketch bursting onto the screen (the new backdrop is a colourised excerpt of the comic found in the US manual of the original game) and, most importantly, you have three selectable difficulties available from the menu bar! Briefly testing them shows they seem to affect the damage Sketch takes- on Easy he can shrug off explosions with just barely a quarter of his health- so this might be a good option if you really struggled with the original game, plus there's a Page / Panel select cheat courtesy of GameFAQs- at any point, hold Shift and type CAMERON to add the Cheat section to the menu bar.
The main drawbacks of this version are that the entire soundtrack is presented in MIDI format and the control layout is not one-to-one with the original. The MIDI version of the music does its absolute best to replicate the experience, but it can only go so far when imitating the majesty of FM synth, and as the soundtrack is a highlight of the original- and, well, this was released on CD and they didn't take advantage of it- this is a bit of a sore spot with this version. As for the controls, you get individual buttons for your items which is nice, but you cannot assign blocking to a button- you're forced to rely on auto-blocking which is a real shame. Finally, while not a drawback exactly, when I say this is faithful, I do mean it- unlike the Windows 3.1 / 95 version of Ecco the Dolphin, the graphics have not been redone in any way beyond the new title screen. If you're able to run it properly- I mean, good luck with that- this is a pretty decent version but perhaps had it come out a little later, it would've been the definitive version of Comix Zone, for whatever that would've been worth.
The second is one you may not be familiar with- the Game Boy Advance version, released in 2002.
This one's a real enigma, to be honest, something not helped by its astronimical pricetag on the retro gaming aftermarket. It would appear part of the reason for that is because it was only released in mainland Europe. Why it happened to this game specifically, I couldn't possibly tell you but this sort of thing occasionally happens (there's an Italy-exclusive Sailor Moon game for the Nintendo DS, of all things) but it does mean that getting a real copy is a bit of a task. It's probably not worth it either. This was ported by Virtucraft, a British-based company who were also responsible for Mortal Kombat Advance, with the rest of their rapsheet available on MobyGames and it is not good. Not good at all. Everything is wrong- the game is much slower, the collision detection is even worse than the original (with most of your attacks whiffing), enemy and item behaviour is all completely wrong, it's just a mess. Oh, and pretty much every single music track in the game is used in the wrong place- the first section of Episode 2 Page 1 uses the boss music. I'm sure Virtucraft were probably given a tiny budget and not enough time to make this a good port, but it is definitely in the lower echelons of the 16-bit ports to the system.
There are some unique features though that make this port a little interesting, but not enough to salvage the rest of it. For a start, this is the only version of the game with native battery back-up support- selecting Continue on the main menu will take you to the last Page you reached, inventory and all- and this one also restores your health between Pages of the same Episode so there's no chance you'll start Episode 3 Page 2 with a sliver of health. The other unique feature is... Multiplayer? No, really. This is a very simple one-on-one fighting mode with one Sketch (in a green vest) versus another Sketch (in a blue vest) set in a retouched version of the Kung-Fung Tournament chamber and with options for a timer, item drops and handicaps. Run some money matches of this one in your next local fighting game tournament, it even keeps track of wins, losses and double KOs for you! No, I will not help you set this tournament up. You walk the path of true poverty fighting games, you walk that path with your own two feet my friend.
Here's the easy bit, every time the Mega Drive game's been rereleased. Mostly.
We have to start with the weirdest, of course. Comix Zone, alongside Sega Technical Institute stablemate The Ooze was included in the Japanese version of Sonic Mega Collection for the Gamecube from 2002. Some of the other bonus games in this set make sense- Flicky and Ristar have their ties to Sonic history- but these two seem really out-of-place. There is a reason for them to be here- apparently they were added because the aftermarket price of Comix Zone and The Ooze was, and still is, very high in Japan and so this was a way of letting people play them without having to pay through the nose for them, at the request of one of the people working on the collection, so it is said in legend. To unlock Comix Zone, enter the Manuals menu and press Z, Z, Z, Up, Up, Up, Down, Down, Down, L, R then Z and a sound effect will confirm entry (ta, GameFAQs). It was cut from the international versions of the collection, but reinstated in the Playstation 2, Xbox and PC release Sonic Mega Collection Plus that showed up in 2004- I'd say it was originally cut to keep the age rating down, but only the European version changed age rating between these two releases (from 3+ to 12+) so what do I know. To unlock Comix Zone here, you need to either have a save file of Sonic Heroes on your Xbox hard drive / PS2 memory card, or start every non-unlockable Mega Drive game 50 times each (again, thanks GameFAQs). Unfortunately, the sound is a little off in this version, with Episode 1 Page 2-2 having this irrirtating beeping present in the opening seconds of the song and a staticy noise whenever Sketch lands from a jump. To rub salt in the wound, the PAL version of Plus runs all games at 50hz on PS2 and Xbox, even though the Gamecube original had a 60hz option!
I normally wouldn't split up the various Mega Drive collecion rereleases, but rather awkwardly there's a separate rerelease for the game inbetween two of them, so Sega Mega Drive Collection on the Playstation 2 and PSP from 2007 gets a moment to shine in the sun. Unlike the Sonic Mega Collection verson, this doesn't have the beeping issue, which is unusual as there's plenty of other sound issues in this collection (mostly in Sonic the Hedgehog), and you get some limited video options (mostly screen size), a little history blurb plus scans of the Genesis and EU Mega Drive boxes and a listing of cheats that can be unlocked. There's even an unlockable game tied to Comix Zone when you beat Episode 1 (you get on Future Spy on PS2, Astro Blaster on PSP). In the same year, there was a Virtual Console release of the game, but only this empty page and the JP online manual remain.
Between collections, we have a rare standalone release. Comix Zone was among a handful of Sega games, mostly Mega Drive but a few arcade games too, given a rerelease on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network in 2009 by Backbone Entertainment (previously Digital Eclipse) under the Sega Vintage Collection line (a name later taken by M2 for a series of very good Sega rereleases on both services). It is very cheap, and it is very basic- it does that annoying thing where it replaces the in-game menus with an outer wrapper (an extremely plain one) and that includes selecting your Custom Action before you start a game too. The emulation mostly seems OK but it feels like the bass is a little too loud on the music so the melody line gets drowned out somewhat, but it doesn't have the problems exhibited by Sonic Mega Collection. It's also got three save state slots, a toggle for a smoothing filter (don't leave it on, that's an order) and a full rack of achievements / trophies that you can get in an afternoon, plus it's under a fiver no matter what side of the Atlantic you're on. Still, this is nothing you won't find on the upcoming Mega Drive collections and it's not like this is a Sega Ages Switch-level port, so you'll only need this if you really, really love Comix Zone. Like, really, really, really love it.
And now back to the collections. Comix Zone was included in Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, also by Backbone Entertainment, complete with a 'border' consisting of poorly-stretched panels from the game and a single achievement / trophy tied to it for beating Episode 1. This also contains the same history and trivia as the PS2 and PSP collections (although the box art kept the music CD text in this time, good luck reading it) but the emulation seems mostly on-par with the standalone release, with options for smoothing and full button customisation. The game also showed up in Sega Mega Drive Classics for Xbox One, Playstation 4, Switch and Steam (and is still available separately on Steam as you can pick up games for the set piecemeal-style) but this is the worst version so far- it has save state support, a bunch of filters and rewinding, but it also has the bad sound emulation as seen in Sonic Mega Collection, the voices are all warbly and messed up, and there is absolutely no button reconfiguration in the console versions. On Playstation 4 in particular, X is set to L1 and Z is set to R1 so the first and third item buttons are reversed. Great, super, excellent.
One more for the road, Comix Zone was one of 42 games included in the Mega Drive Mini which had its emulator developed by M2, and one of 23 games included in every regional version of the unit. In fact, it was among the first ten games announced for inclusion when the unit was revealed. Sadly it suffers from some but not all of the same sound problem as the Sega Mega Drive Classics and Sonic Mega Collection versions with the beeping in the Episode 1 Page 2-2 music, but the voices are emulated correctly. I suspect this may have something to do with the sound driver Comix Zone uses- it's one of only a handful of games M2's had to deal with on the Mega Drive that uses GEMS, so perhaps it's a bit of a blind spot for them. Six of one, half a dozen of another, I suppose.
As a nice bonus, Sega made the manuals for all games available as PDFs, so here you go!
Genesis Mini manuals site
Mega Drive Mini (JP) manuals site
JP Manual PDF
Finally, an important piece of Comix Zone lore- the free CD bundled with the game in the West.
Or... The two different CDs. In the US the game came with a sampler of assorted heavy metal, techno and rap bands which was advertised on the front of the box (a detail omitted in some collections that let you view the front of the box, and left in others). This, according to Sega-16's review of the CD, was put together thanks to a deal between Sega and American Recordings who represented the bands on the disc. The full list of artists featured is Danzig, Lordz of Brooklyn, Mc 900 Ft Jesus, Jesus and Mary Chain, Love and Rockets, Lords of Acid, The Stiffs, Julian Cope, God Lives Underwater, Ruth Ruth, Laika and Lindsey. This is of course a perfectly '90s selection to go with a perfectly '90s game, but what was the other CD?
In Europe, the game was bundled with a CD called Roadkill, and this is pretty amazing. It's six songs taken from the game but performed by the band Roadkill assembled just for this CD which included Howard Drossin himself on guitar and vocals, and yes, that means these remixes have lyrics. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. It's a solid set of songs too! You can see more info on the CD on VGMdb and the songs remixed are the options menu (Into the Zone), Episode 1 Page 1-2 (Seen it for Days), Episode 1 Page 2-1 (Feed my Disease), Episode 2 Page 1-3 (Last to Follow), Episode 2 Page 2-2 (10,000 Knives) and the boss theme (Woe is the World). Alas, if only Episode 1 Page 1-1 was remixed too, but you can't win 'em all. In any case, what a cool extra to bundle with the game! It was later given a wider release via being bundled with the Windows 3.1 / 95 version, as well as a separate release in the US under the Sega Tunes line of CD releases. For your listening pleasure, the entire album is in the embedded YouTube link above. Isn't that nice?
When I was considering this as an article idea, my brother and I were talking about when we first got Comix Zone.
He said, "You know, the music on that bonus CD probably set me on the path to being a musician, it was very influential."
"Ah, that would explain a lot. So, uh, you know I'm gonna have to be pretty harsh on this game, right? Because it's bad."
He paused. Then, declared, "... Sure, go for it."
It's a good thing my brother has a good sense of humour. Ta, John.