Review by Shirow

"Devil's Advocate"

Walk around, hit people, laugh at their pitiful deaths, rather, rinse, repeat…I know what you're thinking : ''Such a concept is bound to interest that fool of an Orochi !'' Well, not necessarily - I'm not a huge fan of the Final Fight series and think most 3-D beat-em-ups, although there are relatively few of those, are junk. And I could care less about how highly people think the Streets of Rage series. Things however have changed with Comix Zone. You see, Comix Zone is innovative, well-designed and most importantly, fun.

The story of Comix Zone, while not particularly exciting, is a nice change from the usual Company-Wants-To-Rule-The-World-And-Is-Opposed-By-4-Brawlers boring and stereotyped idiocy. First of all, the hero, Sketch, is alone (although he is helped by a certain Alissa Cyan) and is a comic illustrator. While working in his studio in New York, Sketch gets warped into his own comic book by his most badass character, Mortis, who desperately wants to be a normal guy . It is now up to Sketch to defeat the evil conspirator so he can return to the real world where he'll at last be able to know Alicia better.

As I said, Comix Zone's plot is a welcome change from the usual dictator-happy organization or moron although it seems Mortus does have such objectives in mind. There's also the fact that the adventure itself is in a lively comic where Sketch must face all kinds of enemies until the final confrontation. Booya !

The story however forgets to explain why Sketch is a very capable guy blessed with the ability of punishing anybody who comes his way thanks to his uppercuts, flying kicks and various techniques. Maybe he majored in Ass-kicking in college but you'd at least expect Mortis to deploy his forces such that Sketch can never make it back again, right ? Of course, Mortis may also be an idiot. What do I know ?

Logically, Sketch hence gets to test his skills against all his creations which range from Strigils, green and orange monsters which are obviously related to Reptile from the Mortal Kombat series, to bigger but not necessarily tougher wacky fiends. Items ranging from knives to grenades are scattered throughout the stages too and come in handy in those situations where you are ill-fated. In addition to Alissa's hints, Sketch can also rely on Roadkill, his pet-rat. By releasing Roadkill in any stage, it'll look for hidden items. Since you can carry only three items, it is always a good idea to have Roadkill as it may magically obtain the item you desperately need.

Finally, Sketch also comes across a few puzzles throughout his epic adventure. All of them are very easy and barely require a thought and in any case, Alissa's countless advice should enlighten you within seconds. Comix Zone's final touch concerns its two different endings. The good one is quite hard to get the first time you play the game, which is a very good thing as it increases its lifespan.

However, the main innovation in Comix Zone is how the stages effectively recreate a real comic. The game name is no bull****, you really are in a ''comic's zone''. Although each stage truly has a setting which can even be an underground city, the action scrolls in the form of a comic. Sketch jumps from 'em-so-called grids. A certain grid may contain either a puzzle or a couple of enemies. In some cases, Mortus even draws another fiend once you've disposed of the one that had welcomed you, as shown in the second grid after barely starting the game.

Beyond each grid, the usual white stripes can be seen as Sketch boldly jumps to the next more action-packed counterpart. Some grids even have two exits, one will make Sketch move to the right or the left while the second one will see our poor author drop down in a dangerous zone. And to beautifully complete the package, the usual dialogues found in comics pop up during the whole game too. As the game begins, Alissa is in the comic too and explains to Sketch what is going on. Mysteriously enough, Sketch never freaks out. You'd think he's been expecting this to happen for years.

Throughout the adventure, Sketch converses with his opponents and some of the dialogues are truly hilarious. My favorite part in the game just has to be the moment where a Gravis asks Sketch about the location of a password only to be replied ''I'll give you one…''. Priceless ! Or how about a certain monster dying while uttering a ''That hurts, man.'' after fully registering the final blow ? The abundant ''POW!!'', ''SLAM!'' or ''WACK!'' also flash on-screen as you repeatedly hit an enemy.

Visually, this game is as close to a real comic as you can possibly hope for. The backgrounds are quite varied and range from a chaotic New York to a decrepit boat, without forgetting the cliched abandoned laboratory. The game also abounds with details and all of them usually pertain to the surrounding itself. Lightning may flash from time to time as you fight one of those opponents or it may even suddenly start to rain. Snow is another element that is successfully transposed in Comix Zone. Even the monsters look good and all this is beautifully brought forward by the great palette the game enjoys.

The music is quite good too. The first highly upbeat rock track is actually the best since the music seems to fade away as from the second stage. Comix Zone still enjoys a varied soundtrack with themes that flawlessly add to the exciting atmosphere of the game though. I was just a bit disappointed upon hearing the subsequent tracks. Besides, the sound effects and victory cries thrown in from time to time help to make the sound department as enthralling as everything else. Booya !

Things are not perfect though. Comix Zone suffers from a short lifespan and a very low replay value. Although it does have two endings and there are different routes to be taken at given points, you'll have done everything within a few days and nothing else remains to be done. Of course, the game may be played again from to time but since you'll know exactly what to expect upon barging into a new grid, subsequent play-throughs are never as exciting. The fact that the bosses become totally predictable doesn't help either.

But more truthfully, we should all be glad Comix Zone is so innovative. Few beat-em-ups are so captivating when you discover them and the first time you play it, Comix Zone superbly remains enticing from beginning to end. It's just as if you are reading one of those Agatha Christie books and cannot wait to know what awaits on the next page.

And this isn't so surprising once we think of it. After all, Comix Zone is indeed an illustrated magazine. It just allows you to decide how the story ends. In some countries, this is called interaction. In other countries, it isn't called anything ; they're too busy playing the game and enjoying it.

Booya !

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/05/02, Updated 11/09/02

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