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By Thomas Wheeler

I know there are some collectors out there who prefer to collect just one action figure line -- G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, whatever. And I have encountered those who maintain their collections in just one size range. If they prefer 4" figures, they'll collect G.I. Joe, or Star Wars, or Marvel Universe, but you won't find any Masters or DC Universe in their collections.

Me? My criteria is simple. If it's an interesting concept, and it looks to be imaginative and well-made, I'll likely consider it. There are a few things I won't collect. I'm not into horror-based merchandise. I despise zombies and such. And I'm not really into professional sports enough to bring in a lot of action figures based on popular sports icons. But beyond that, I try to be reasonably open.

Every so often, the action figure lines that I do pay the most attention to hit a sort of doldrums, where for whatever reason there just isn't much out there. That's when I'll explore, and look around the rest of the action figure section a bit, just to see if anything really catches my eye enough to warrant bringing it in.

That happened fairly recently, and resulted in the discovery of a line of action figures based on SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.

I'd certainly heard of Sonic. I think one of the hallmarks of success of any video game concept and its characters is the ability of that concept to successfully move beyond the game environment and into other realms of media. Given the literally thousands of video games in existence, this cannot be an easy thing to achieve. And yet some have. Most of them are popular fighting-style games, such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or battlefield games such as Halo. But then, there's this world featuring a high-speed anthropomorphic hedgehog and his friends that has been running for over twenty years, and it's still popular.

Sonic has maintained not only a series of video games, but comic books, animated series, and -- action figures. Now, admittedly, I haven't played many of the Sonic games. The sad fact is that the only one I have is for a Sega Game Gear -- which will tell you how far back that goes (but, hey, it still works!), and honestly, it gets just a little depressing when I make some sort of misstep and send the poor guy plummeting to his death -- and then he bounces back up just long enough to give me a dirty look before going down for good. I'm more of a board games type of person, I suppose.

Fortunately, one need not be proficient at the video games in order to enjoy the action figures -- as evidenced by my substantial collections of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Halo action figures. And now, I've been rounding up some of Sonic's crew as I've been able to find them.

Most of these figures, whatever their -- species -- tend to fit a somewhat common physical build. They're all about 3 inches in height, with distinctly large heads, relatively small bodies, and slender arms and legs, with rather large hands and feet. I have been distinctly impressed by JazWares -- and that's something I hardly expected to say, given a past experience with them and some less-than-impressive Mortal Kombat figures a number of years ago -- that they have been able to craft these rather small figures as expertly as they have, and incorporate a substantial level of articulation. They really are truly superb figures.

Now, I did say that most of the figures in the Sonic line fit this description, and most of them are sold on individual package cards. Most -- not all. There are exceptions. And probably the biggest exception of them all is a character, ostensibly a cat, who goes by the name of Big. Maybe not imaginative, but certainly accurate. Big isn't sold on a card. He's sold in a box.

So, how big is -- Big? Let me put it this way. This is a cat that even Garfield would think needs a diet. Garfield the Cat has a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I think Big the Cat could BE his own balloon in the parade. The first two numbers in the memory of his telephone are probably the pizza joint and the donut shop. The last time he visited Japan, Godzilla ran off and hid. He made the mistake of hanging around an airfield one time, and Goodyear tried to fill him with helium and secure him to a mooring post. Galactus is worried that he might one day be competition. Whenever he walks backwards, he's required to make beeping sounds. Someone suggested that he try the South Beach Diet, but then had to explain that this didn't mean actually eating the beach.

So, who is Big the Cat? I'll admit, I was under the impression, given my somewhat limited knowledge of the Sonic Universe, that Big was probably some sort of villain. Cats seem to frequently get a bad rap in animation. I'm convinced Walt Disney was a dog person. I don't think we got a significant, heroic cat in the Disney Universe until "The Aristocats". I guess that's what happens when your main mascot is a mouse.

Turns out, Big ISN'T a bad guy. According to some information I was able to look up, Big the Cat is a large, purple, anthropomorphic cat with yellow eyes and big ears, who first debuted in the "Sonic Adventures" came on the Sega Dreamcast.

Big is laid-back and easy-going (like he has a choice!?), which is also reflected in his speech. Strong but gentle, and a little slow, he lives a normally peaceful life in the jungle with his best friend "Froggy". He loves fishing (stop the presses!) and he is never without his favorite rod and lure.

One wonders why he doesn't use live bait, but he'd probably eat it before catching anything with it.

He first appeared in Sonic Adventure, where he is after his best friend Froggy, who swallows a Chaos Emerald and grows a tail. Oh, yeah, we've got a pair of geniuses here. Big was also playable in "Sonic Shuffle". Unusual name, so I decided to research the game a bit.

In Sonic Shuffle, the player can select one of the main characters of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The game supports one player in Story Mode and up to 4 players simultaneously in Versus Mode and the Sonic Room. Further to the simultaneous play, the game allows for players to play in teams and play against one another on a giant game board, going around and playing mini games to collect Emblems. Whoever has the most emblems at the end of each board wins. The overall goal of each board is to collect the most "Precioustones", out of a total of 7. There are 5 boards in total: Emerald Coast, Fire Bird, Nature Zone, Riot Train, and Fourth Dimension Space.

The game also featured 8 playable characters, each with their own unique abilities, and 4 of which needed to be unlocked. The available characters were: Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles, Super Sonic, Big the Cat, Gamma, and Chao.

The game featured around 50 mini games and around 30 mini events. Mini games ranged in variety and challenge and they were divided by Teams of 2, Teams of 3 versus a Single Player and a Free-For-All. The mini events generally involved a little story, or event, and usually a choice given at the end to determine your prize or punishment. As well as having a single-player Story Mode and a two- to four-player Versus Mode, the game had a "Sonic Room" where you could play your favorite mini-games, after unlocking them, with your friends without starting a full game in a place called the "Toy Box", as well as a stereo to play your favorite soundtracks. Both of these must be unlocked by buying Photos from the Photo Album.

The story involves Sonic and company getting caught up in a mess in a dream world called Maginaryworld, which they inadvertently stumble upon one day. A villain named Void has shattered the Master Precioustone into many pieces, resulting in chaos in every part of the world. Lumina Flowlight and the rest of MaginaryWorld are counting on Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy to restore it and bring Illumina back, who mysteriously disappeared after the disappearance of the Precioustone. At the end of the game it is revealed that Lumina and Void both are Illumina, and that Illumina doubted herself. Sonic and friends leave Maginaryworld knowing that it is now safe again and during the credits, the four head off to their next adventure.

Next, Big the Cat turned up in Sonic Heroes, helping Team Rose save Froggy and another character who had been kidnapped by Metal Sonic. Big the Cat also appeared in Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, as one of the main characters.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a Nintendo DS role-playing video game based on the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, and developed by Canadian RPG developer BioWare as their first handheld video game project.

The game initially focuses on the events surrounding the kidnapping of Knuckles and the disappearance of the Chaos Emeralds after the defeat of Doctor Eggman, before moving on to follow the cast of characters across two dimensions as they encounter a new ally, Shade the Echidna, and seek to stop the invasion of their world by Ix, the leader of Shade's tribe, the Nocturnus.

The story of Sonic Chronicles is split into two acts, which are further divided into several chapters. The first takes place in Sonic's world, with the team attempting to unravel the situation they are in, while also stopping the Master Emerald from being taken. The second act sees Sonic and the team travelling to another dimension, called the Twilight Cage, in order to stop a new threat to their own world.

Sonic Chronicles opens by detailing Eggman's defeat, and presumed death, some time ago after the destruction of the Egg Carrier at the hands of Sonic and friends. In the present, Sonic is on vacation when he receives a call from Tails, stating that Knuckles has been kidnapped by a group called the Marauders, and have stolen the Chaos Emeralds.

They eventually locate the Marauders' base in the Mystic Ruins and with the help of Big the Cat, they find Knuckles, who is found escaping from some robots; leaving the base, they find Angel Island has gone. Devices found in their initial search help them locate Eggman, who claims to be a reformed character, revealing that he survived the crash of the Egg Carrier by anticipating his own defeat and making a robot that would rescue him. He informs the team that Angel Island is being pulled to Metropolis, the location of the Marauders' main base.

With Metropolis as their next destination, they meet Shadow and he joins up in order to find E-123 Omega, but are attacked by Shade and her Marauders. She reveals herself to be an Echidna of the Nocturnus Tribe, leaving Knuckles, supposedly the last of the Echidnas, shocked. After her defeat, the team head to Angel Island to get the Master Emerald before the Marauders, but are shot down.

They confront the Nocturnus leader, the Grand Imperator Ix, who reveals his plot to take over the dimension. Shade is shocked, having believed that Ix merely wanted to bring her clan back to Earth, as they had been sealed in an alternate dimension called the Twilight Cage. Tails and Eggman arrive with a non-lethal weapon, using it transport several of the Nocturnus back to the Twilight Cage, but Ix escapes and steals the Master Emerald. This causes Angel Island to fall from the sky, and Knuckles saves Shade as the island crashes into Metropolis.

Tails and Eggman build a vehicle, dubbed the Cyclone, that will transport them to the other dimension, but Eggman claims he must remain to ensure their safe return; as they leave, he reveals that he has a more sinister plan in mind for them. Once in the Twilight Cage, the team encounter the rock-like Kron Colony, who assist them on their journey by providing them with a Chaos Emerald.

Next, they meet the N'rrgal Colony, who will give the team their Chaos Emerald if they take a weapon from their enemies, the Zoah. Having gained the Zoah's weapon by defeating their leader in combat, the team discover it is another Chaos Emerald — the two races realise they have been duped by Ix, who gave them the Emeralds to keep each other in check.

Two further Emeralds are found in the Voxai Colonies, inhabited by a telepathic race who have been controlled by a group of three Voxai known as the Overmind, whose dominating telepathic power stemmed from the use of Chaos Emeralds. The team defeat them, and the new leader gives them the two Emeralds that had been given to them by Ix.

With the remaining two Emeralds on Nocturne, the team gathers the leaders of all encountered colonies and carry out a plan to invade the Nocturnus home world. The Voxai find weaknesses in the force field around the planet, the Zoah fly a spaceship created by the Kron towards it and launch a missile which deploys a small group of N'rrgal to eat a hole in the force field. Splitting into two teams, they defeat two Gizoids who each use a Chaos Emerald to wield the elements of fire and water, and also lower the force field surrounding Nocturne in order to allow the invading forces from the other Twilight Cage races to attack.

Both Knuckles and Sonic's team then fight Ix, and are victorious. Ix then uses the Master Emerald to achieve a Super Transformation, but Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic, and defeats him.

As Nocturne begins to fall, and is nearly destroyed, the team escapes to the Cyclone and heads back to Earth. Once back in Metropolis, they find Eggman waiting for them with a rebuilt Metropolis, and the team take the Cyclone to confront the new Eggman Empire. The game ends at this cliffhanger moment. Sonic, Tails, and Omega then break the fourth wall by citing the credits themselves.

For a cat that just wants to kick back and live an easy life, he manages to get caught up in some serious trouble, doesn't he?

Big was a playable character in "Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing". Racing -- really? What did he drive, a Mack truck?

He was also featured in a McDonald's promotion in December of 2004, promoting little handheld games sold with Happy Meals. Big was shown fishing. I'm surprised it didn't show him eating an entire McDonald's kitchen.

And maybe I should watch the jokes. The magazine "Nintendo Power" praised a preview of the game "Sonic and the Secret Rings" for the fact that Big was apparently not in the game, calling him a "dim-witted, morbidly obese feline" -- but, guess what? He turned up later on anyway!

So, how's the toy? Well, it's one massive piece of heavy plastic, I'll say that. You wouldn't want to accidentally drop him on your foot if you weren't wearing shoes. Let's say that "Big" definitely lives up to his name in basically every dimension that can be measured.

Most of the typical Sonic figures, like Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow, Tails, etc, are around 3" in height, or slightly more, depending on how their "hair" is styled. Big is an even 4" in height -- a substantial difference at that scale. And his gut is about 2-3/4" in diameter. His arms are decidedly bigger around than the bodies of any of the others.

One question that might be asked is -- how much does Big look like a cat? And the answer to that would be -- about as much as Sonic looks like a real hedgehog. These are cartoon characters, ultimately. Granted, even as a cartoon character, Big is stretching the definition of "cat", and the biggest stretch of all has to be his ears. I've seen jackrabbits that don't have this sort of audio capacity, never mind cats. I hear that if Big needs better reception on his cell phone, all he has to do is point his ears straight up. If he shakes his head really quickly, he produces a nice cool breeze.

Big is purple. What the heck, if you can have a blue hedgehog and a bright red echidna... Most of Big's body is a fairly light purple, but he has darker purple tips to his ears, a vertical stripe over his head, patches around his eyes, and stripes on his arms and tail. His tail, has a very frizzed our dark purple tip, and there's evidence of a single stripe near the top of his back. His feet are also dark purple, but lacking any apparent toes, I'm wondering if these are feet, or socks. The fur on the back of Big's head is somewhat frayed, as well.

Big has yellow eyes with black pupils, a very small black nose, and a surprisingly small mouth for what must be a prodigious appetite. The insides of his ears are white, as is the muzzle around his lower face, which frays out into whiskers near his ears, and his massive chest is also white. The guy could make some serious money just be writing "YOUR AD HERE" on this huge white expanse.

Big's wardrobe, like name of the Sonic characters, consists of gloves and footwear. In Big's case, he's wearing yellow gloves, and has entirely human-looking hands with four fingers and a thumb each. His footwear appears to be brown sandals, with two straps on each sandal. And for some inexplicable reason, Big is also wearing a belt. It's tan in color, fairly thick, with a huge yellow buckle. The really scary thing is that there's still a few holes in the belt for the buckle. This massive cat still has room for abdominal expansion!

A number of things impress me about this figure. For starters, the head is molded as a single piece, as far as I can tell. And that can't have been easy with those ears, and the spiky fringe on the back of the head. Most of the standard Sonic figures have their muzzles molded separately, and attached during assembly. Not Big.

Also, the articulation pegs on the arms are surprisingly small given the size of the arms. This does, I will admit, make them less obtrusive. One also hopes they're reasonably sturdy given the size of the arms.

Paintwork is neat on the entire figure. The stripes have sculpted outlines, and have been painted with great precision. All of the details have been really very well done, right down to the facial details, and the buckles on the sandals.

Big is very capably articulated, given his size and girth. He is nicely poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists (well, glove tops, anyway), legs, and tail. The legs have a rotation to them as well as back and forth movement.

Now, admittedly, this is a little less than most Sonic figures, which tend to also feature waist articulation, as well as knees and ankles, or shoe top rotation. I was surprised that Big is not articulated at the waist, since it does seem there is a part separation at the belt level. But, he doesn't turn. And given the thickness and yet relatively short length of Big's legs, barely an inch out of the entire 4" height of the figure, and taking into consideration the huge girth to which the legs need to be attached, I don't think knee articulation would've been possible. So, I'm not complaining.

Big comes with Froggy, but it's a little hard to see this character as much more than an accessory. He's neatly sculpted, but he doesn't have the same anthropomorphic characteristics as most of the characters in the Sonic Universe, and he isn't at all poseable. Basically, he looks like a cartoonish but still very recognizable frog, a fairly intense green in color with a gray underbelly, a few orange stripes, and a long pointy tail from swallowing that Chaos Emerald.

So, what's my final word? This is a cool, if admittedly somewhat goofy figure, from a line that has impressed me much more than I expected it to, due in no small part to being manufactured by a company that honestly hasn't impressed me all that much in the past. Clearly, JazWares has gotten their act together for Sonic and his friends.

If you're a fan of the various games and characters from Sonic the Hedgehog, then I highly recommend the entire action figure line, and you should certainly try to track down Big the Cat. He's a boxed figure, not carded, but he's still hard to miss. The line is a little tough to find, but I've seen it most especially at Toys "R" Us, and occasionally at Kmart and Barnes & Noble.

BIG THE CAT (and FROGGY) from the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG line definitely has my highest recommendation!