Sketch Turner, a Starving Artist and freelance rock musician, is working on his newest comic book, named the "Comix Zone." Comix Zone is the story of the New World Empire's attempt to defend Earth from an invasion of alien renegades, with inspiration coming from Sketch's (oddly vivid) dreams and nightmares.
One night, while Sketch is working on Comix Zone during a storm, a massive lightning bolt strikes outside his apartment, somehow affecting the comic book too. In this instant, the main villain of Comix Zone - a powerful mutant named Mortus - manages to escape the comic book's pages, and hurl the stunned Sketch (and his now electrified pet rat Roadkill) into the world of Comix Zone. Mortus intends to free himself by destroying Sketch in the comic book, as he is unable to do so in reality.
Inside the comic book, Sketch meets General Alissa Cyan, who believes he is a superhero ("the chosen one") who has come to save their post-apocalyptic world from the evil of Mortus and the alien invaders. Ignoring Sketch's protests, Alissa sends him on his mission, keeping in touch with instructions and hints via radio.
Now that Mortus has a physical presence outside of Comix Zone, he is free to change the world as he wishes, simply by drawing in enemies for Sketch to face - or in one instance burn up part of a page. It's up to Sketch to fight panel to panel across his comic book before a final nuclear showdown with Mortus.
This game provides examples of:
- Advancing Wall of Doom: During stage 2-2, Mortus sets fire to the page forcing you to hurry down a vertical panel.
- After the End: In the comic, the "White Comet" is mentioned as having devastated Earth's civilization.
- All There in the Manual: The "comic strip" in the instruction manual. The main character is Alissa, who is being lectured on the history of the Comix Zone universe. The strip ends on a panel of Mortus, laughing (and scorched by a lightning bolt).
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: Roadkill the rat. He has the ability to zap enemies, since the lightning affected him also.
- Antepiece: On the final section of Episode #2, you encounter two panels, one with three punching bags and projectile-throwing Styx, and the other with spiked bag that damages you if you go straight into it. The former panel requires methodical jumping over projectiles, while the latter forces you to roll under the bag at the right time. Both well-timed jumping and rolling are necessary to beat the boss that comes next.
- Art Attacker: Mortus.
- Art Shift: The final panel is partly unfinished. Half of it is just pencil sketches.
- Author Avatar: Sketch In-Universe.
- Autobots, Rock Out!: The soundtrack is mostly Rock, Grunge and Heavy Metal.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Sketch Turner and General Alissa Cyan.
- Badass Longcoat: Mortus wears one.
- Badass Mustache: Again, Mortus.
- Badass Unintentional: Sketch, definitely.
- Bottomless Pits: Providing instant death, just in case the game wasn't hard enough already. There's exactly one pit that requires pixel-perfect timing to cross, and naturally it's in the last level. What doesn't help is that continues are only available after you beat the boss of the even paneled stages. This gives you at most three tries before having to start over from the first level.
- Your first introduction to these pits appears on the first page.
- Cast from Hit Points: One of Sketch's attacks tears a tiny section of the page, folding it into a plane and sending it zooming across the screen. This costs a sizeable chunk of the player's health bar and can hit Sketch on its return pass if he doesn't duck under it.
- Just punching inanimate objects takes a sliver of Sketch's health with every blow. Noticeable in the first stage where you can encounter a stack of drumcans and need to punch them all out to proceed.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Alissa Cyan is olive skinned, wears black military gear and black sunglasses. And she's arguably the Big Good.
- Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: At the end of the game, Alissa foiling Mortus' scheme in the comic world is enough to lure him back from the real world, at which point Sketch can proceed to kill him.
- Diabolus ex Nihilo: In spite of the tie-in comic, which covers the origin of the N.W.E. in great detail, it's not made clear who Mortus is supposed to be.
- Downer Ending: The bad ending, if you take too long to defeat the boss.
- Eek, a Mouse!!: Mongoria (the redhead with hook-tipped braids) hurls herself out of the page if you sic Roadkill at her. She even quotes the trope word for word.
- Eldritch Abomination: The paper airplane.
- Evil Brit: Strigil."Gimme the respect I deserve!"
- Exact Time to Failure: The very second the capsule Cyan is in fills up completely with water, she drowns, and you fail to get the good ending of the game.
- Eyepatch of Power: Mortus wears a steampunk eye patch over his left eye.
- Fourth Wall: Sketch and Mortus only speak to each other in person, which probably means that the Fourth Wall is still in effect.
- Mortus technically breaks it in the comic's world by constantly drawing in new enemies and hazards for Sketch.
- Game-Breaking Bug: If you're going to use the Invincibility code, make sure you don't land in lava, as it will lock up the game.
- Gameplay Grading: Comix Zone actually does track your heroism. Following each level, you see a picture of Sketch wearing a goofy superhero uniform (tights and all) and a representation of your score.
- Gladiator Games: Sketch wanders into the middle of these in the second stage.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: While you do get a few limited items, most of the fighting is done with your fists and feet.
- Hair-Contrast Duo: Sketch and Alissa.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Sketch again.
- Here We Go Again!: A rather dark take on it. If you beat Mortus but fail to save the girl, Sketch will try to recreate the comic world so that he can enter it again to win the right way.
- Heroic Build: Exaggerated in the Super Sketch sequences. But outside of his comic he's pretty buff. The guy knows the score.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Kung Fung can be made to injure himself with his own exploding fingernails.
- Invocation: When using a Power Blast
- Invulnerable Knuckles: Averted and played straight: punching destructible props causes you to lose about a pixel of health with every blow, but you're still fine with beating up enemies.
- It's a Wonderful Failure: Crossed with Non-Standard Game Over and Have a Nice Death; rather than any old game over screen, dying with no continues gives you the worst ending!
- Kill It with Fire: How you're supposed to kill the first stage's boss. You can try it the hard way, if you feel daring.
- In the second stage, Mortus tries to do this to you by setting the page on fire!
- Logo Joke: Like many Genesis games, this game also has one ("Test, 1, 2. SEGA!")
- Mage in Manhattan: Mortus.
- Meaningful Name: Sketch Turner is a comic book artist. Also his previous incarnation, Joe Pencil (see below). "Turner" can also refer to the act of "turning" pages.
- Medium Awareness: Sketch, being the comic's creator, frequently interacts with the medium, being able to flip the pages, find stuff behind the paper, and fold the page pieces into paper planes.
- Mook Maker: Mortus himself. For that reason, it's bad idea to go toe-to-toe with him. The screen quickly fills up with bats.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Sketch is a comic book artist/writer.
- Multiple Endings: Which you get depends on whether you can beat Mortus quickly enough to rescue Alissa. If you succeed, you can bring her into the real world with you. Alternatively, see It's a Wonderful Failure above.
- Nerds Are Sexy: Sketch can hardly be considered bad looking, He has long hair, a nice physique, and it's a creative guy (He writes, draws a comic book and is a rock musician!) And does it fairly well. Ohh, and he's Adorkable.
- Nintendo Hard: Just see the entry.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Mortus, a trash-talking, pipe-smoking robot who dresses like Lee Van Cleef.
- No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: The justification for the continues; Mortus is disappointed that Sketch went down so fast, and gives him another go.
- Oh, Crap!: Kung Fung's introduction ends like this:Sketch: Nice fingernails, dude.
Kung Fung: Do you wish I use 'em— dude?
Sketch: *thinking* Oh dear!
Kung Fung: *proceeds to attack rapidly*
- Paper Master: Sketch can tear part of the page off and make lethal paper airplanes out of it. Mortus's only means to kill his creator are to pull him into the page and draw monsters to attack him.
- The insane damage of the airplane is likely justified in that you are attacking the beings of the world with what equates to the undiluted fabric of their own reality. And as a consequence, making the paper plane puts a big dent in Sketch's health bar.
- Puzzle Boss: All of them. The first stage's boss can be killed by setting a flaming barrel under her, the second is weak against his own fingernails and the final boss can be killed by luring him under the rocket and setting off the thrusters. Naturally, all three can be beaten to death normally, it's just a lot harder (and, in the case of the final boss, will cause you to get the bad ending unless you're ridiculously good).
- Pinocchio Syndrome: Mortus wants to be Real so he can take over the world.
- Rage Against the Author: Mortus's plan to kill Sketch to become Real. Sketch then rages against his would-be killer by fighting through all the villains he can draw.
- Refusing Paradise: Comix Zone takes place in a vague, Fallout-type universe where humans have undergone severe mutations. Society is beginning to pull itself together, but a renegade (Mortus) is rallying an army of robots, aliens, and other mutants to take over.
- Schizo Tech: Sketch's comic world vaguely resembles Thundarr the Barbarian, a mishmash of science, sorcery and mutants.
- Sequel Hook: "until..." Also, Super Sketch.
- Shock and Awe: Roadkill is a rat with electric powers.
- Show Within a Show: Sketch's comic, obviously.
- Specs of Awesome: Sketch has some nice Lennon Specs.
- Starving Artist: Sketch describes himself as this at one point.Hey, I'm just a starving artist! Well, I used to be...
- Witty Banter
- Worthy Opponent: How the game justifies your continues; apparently Mortus doesn't find it very sporting if Sketch dies after surviving long enough, and gives him another try.