REVIEW: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG KNUCKLES THE ECHIDNA
If you've been reading my reviews long enough, you've likely determined by now that although I have a fairly varied interest in action figures, it also tends to be a rather focused one, mostly on G.I. Joe, Transformers, along with various super-heroes, science-fiction, and certain lines that are based on popular concepts from a few decades back, like Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats. You'll also find some influence from video games, such as Halo and Mortal Kombat.
There's also some things you WON'T find among my reviews. I am no fan of horror concepts, so don't look for Freddy Krueger or anyone from "The Walking Dead". Not going to happen. Nor am I really a fan of Mini-Mates of bobbing head figures. I don't object to them, I'm just not a fan of them. And I only wish I could afford some of the high-end fancy stuff of the type Sideshow puts out in Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and such.
But every so often, I'll browse the aisles of stores I visit, anywhere from Toys "R" Us to Walmart, to Ross and Big Lots, even to grocery stores, just to see if I'm missing anything interesting and amusing that's within my budget. And although it doesn't happen all that often, every once in a while, I'll come up with something. Such was the case recently when I came across a very impressive-looking series of action figures based on the long-running video-game concept known as SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.
Now, to be direct -- I'm horrible at video games. I've played them occasionally. I've played Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and a number of others, and I have played Sonic. I'm not saying I'm frequently victorious in battle, or get all that far from one level to another, but I've played them.
It may seem odd that someone who admits to his own ineptitude at playing video games would be a fan of their characters, but I like to think I know a cool concept when I see one -- interesting characters in an interesting environment -- even if I'm not all that good with the direct participation side of it.
I tend to think that one of the hallmarks of a truly successful video game -- and given the massive and varied world of video games, it sincerely astounds me that any concept from any genre is able to rise to the top -- is its ability to extend itself into other forms of entertainment. And here is where we get into some pretty rarefied company. It's not hard to name off some of the top, really long-running video game concepts that have established themselves well in the pop culture world beyond their game formats, and managed to maintain a significant presence. Street Fighter has done it with comic books, animation, and -- okay, so the live-action movies haven't been that great. Mortal Kombat has done it with movies, comic books, and TV shows. Halo has done it with comic books, novels, non-video games -- and a lot of people are wondering why there hasn't been a movie. And although hardly fitting into the same genre as these, Sonic the Hedgehog has managed it as well, with comic books and cartoons.
And they've also all had action figure lines. Now, I have Street Fighter figures in my collection, I have Mortal Kombat figures in my collection, I have Halo figures in my collection -- why not throw in a few from Sonic? Especially when they appeared to be as well-designed and articulated as they were. So recently, I picked up the figure of one of Sonic's best-known rivals -- and sometimes ally -- Knuckles the Echidna.
Let's consider a bit of the history of the Sonic the Hedgehog concept, as well as of Knuckles' presence in the games.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a best-selling video game series released by Sega starring and named after its mascot character, Sonic the Hedgehog. The series began in 1991 with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive, which was responsible for turning Sega into a leading video game company during the 16-bit era in the early to mid-1990s.
Nearly all games in the series feature a blue hedgehog named Sonic as the central player character and protagonist. The games detail Sonic and his allies' attempt to save the world from various threats, primarily the evil genius Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik, the main antagonist of the series. Robotnik's aim is to rule the Earth; to achieve this, he usually attempts to eliminate Sonic and to acquire the powerful Chaos Emeralds.
The first Sonic game, titled Sonic the Hedgehog, was a platform game released in 1991 that featured protagonist Sonic running through the game's levels in order to foil Doctor Robotnik's attempt to take over the world. The game focused Sonic's ability to run and to jump at high speeds with the use of springs, slopes, and loop-the-loops. Its sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, a platform game released in 1992, increased the overall size and speed of the series' gameplay and was the second best-selling Genesis game of all time. The game introduced Sonic's sidekick, Miles "Tails" Prower, who followed Sonic throughout the game, and the "spin dash" maneuver, which allowed Sonic to boost forwards quickly when stopped. The next sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, was a third platform game in the Sonic series released in 1994. The game introduced a temporary shield maneuver, added new shield types to the series, and allowed Tails to fly under a player's control. It also introduced a new character, Knuckles the Echidna, who served as an additional antagonist with Doctor Robotnik for the game. Sonic & Knuckles, another platform game in the Sonic series, was released later in 1994. The game introduced Knuckles as a playable character with gliding and wall climbing abilities, and allowed gamers to plug in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 to the top of the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge as part of the game's "lock on" functionality. This allowed gamers to play the game as it was originally intended; the games were intended to be one title, but were split due to space and time constraints.
And beyond that, there's been way too many games to readily list or get into much detail here.
A number of cartoons have been made based on the Sonic the Hedgehog video games. DIC Entertainment's Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog was an American animated television series that was first broadcast in September 1993, and ran in cartoon syndication for a number of years afterward. It follows the escapades of Sonic and Tails as they stop the evil Dr. Ivo Robotnik and his array of vicious robots from taking over the planet Mobius. The plots very loosely followed the style of the early video games series, but focused very little on character development.
DIC also produced the second Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, called Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series, which originally aired from September 1993 to June 1995.
The anime Sonic X is the longest-running animated series based on Sonic to date. It spanned 3 seasons and 78 episodes and was inspired by the plots of the Sonic Adventure series.
A number of Sonic the Hedgehog comic books and manga have been produced. The Sonic the Hedgehog manga series, published in Shogakukan's Shogaku Yonensei was written by Kenji Terada and illustrated by Sango Norimoto.
Sonic the Hedgehog is also featured in an ongoing series of American comic books published by Archie Comics. All of Archie's Sonic-related publications take place in the same fictional universe, which incorporates aspects of the video games and Sonic the Hedgehog: the Animated Series in addition to elements unique to that comic universe. Archie Comics also published an ongoing Sonic X comic book that supplemented the stories from the animated series of the same name. It began in September 2005 and was originally meant to be a four-part series; however, due to the positive reaction to the series' announcement, it was extended to ongoing status before the first issue premiered. The comic borrowed elements from the animated series' first two seasons and characters from the Sonic Adventure storyline. The comic was eventually canceled, its place taken by the new Sonic comic book series entitled Sonic Universe.
As for Knuckles the Echidna - his first appearance was in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, released in 1994 to introduce a new rival for Sonic. He was presented as an antagonist who was tricked by Dr. Eggman into fighting Sonic. But after discovering this, he has been friends with Sonic since then. Knuckles is a 16-year-old red anthropomorphic echidna, who is both physically powerful and highly resilient. In most Sonic games, his skills include climbing on ledges or walls and gliding in the air for short periods of time. He has a white crescent on his chest and four knuckles total, two on each hand, which are actually sharp spikes. He is both a friend and a rival to Sonic.
During conception of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the development team wanted to create a new rival for Sonic. The final design of Knuckles was the result of dozens of possible designs inspired by numerous different animals. The emphasis of the character was to break walls.
Ever since the character appeared in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, he has been thought of as an "intimidator" because of his powerful abilities. The character was given a headlining role in the next game, Sonic & Knuckles, where fans had the opportunity to play as Knuckles for the very first time.
In Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Knuckles was tricked by Dr. Eggman (aka Dr. Robotnik) into thinking that Sonic was attempting to steal the Master Emerald, and that Dr. Eggman was trying to protect it. However, Dr. Eggman had lied to Knuckles, and was planning to use the Emerald to repair his space station, the Death Egg.
In Sonic & Knuckles, in the Hidden Palace Zone, Eggman's betrayal was revealed when the doctor stole the Master Emerald with a modified Egg-O-Matic and attacked Knuckles. Since then, Knuckles has repeatedly joined Sonic and Tails throughout their many adventures to help stop Dr. Eggman.
He also can be played in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 when that game is plugged into the Sonic & Knuckles lock-on cartridge.
Aside from appearances in the main Sonic series, Knuckles featured prominently in Knuckles' Chaotix, a relatively unknown spin-off title developed for Sega 32X. The game also introduced Team Chaotix, a group of detectives.
In Sonic Adventure, the Master Emerald shatters when Dr. Eggman frees Chaos and Tikal's spirit from within it, causing Angel Island to fall. Knuckles' goal is to reassemble the Master Emerald from its shards. These levels are large, explorable areas in which players must hunt various Action Stages for three shards per stage.
In Sonic Adventure 2, Knuckles the Echidna is guarding the Master Emerald when Rouge the Bat attempts to steal it. In the middle of their argument, Dr. Eggman snatches the emerald. Knuckles then shatters it in order to prevent Dr. Eggman from using its power. Knuckles then sets off to find the pieces and restore the Master Emerald before Rouge the Bat. The gameplay is similar to the first Adventure title.
In other Sonic titles, he has been seen away from the Master Emerald at times, such as in Sonic Heroes, where Knuckles joins forces with Sonic and Tails, becoming the power member of Team Sonic.
Knuckles has appeared either as a playable character or in a supporting role in almost all Sonic titles, although not always with a particularly major role in the storyline. He did, however, have an important part to play in Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood; a portion of the game's story centers around Knuckles being kidnapped by the Nocturnus Clan, as well as the story making connections to both his clan and the Nocturne.
He makes a cameo appearance in Sega Superstars Tennis in the Green Hill court, and in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. He is also a playable character in the Wii game Sonic & the Black Knight; portrayed as Sir Gawain of the Knights of the Round Table, where he brandishes two swords.
He appears in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games both times as a Power character. He was confirmed to appear in Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games with the same thing.
He also appears in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. He rides a red quad bike and his All-Star move is using the power of the Master Emerald to beat his opponents.
He has also appeared in the DS version of Sonic Colors and in console versions of Sonic Generations as involved in celebrating Sonic's birthday. In the game he can be found beside the entrance of the Sky Sanctuary level, and in missions you have to race against him or use him to search for a certain amount of coins.
Official profiles state that, as the last survivor of The Knuckles Clan, Knuckles lived most of his life in seclusion on Angel Island, an island floating in the air. As such, he is something of a loner. He is honest and gullible with a one-track mind. Knuckles is shy around girls.
Although he is cool and determined in battle, his short temper gives rise to situations in which Knuckles, often instigated by the trickery of Dr. Eggman, begins fighting Sonic the Hedgehog. Additionally, Knuckles has been tasked all his life as being the Guardian of the Master Emerald, as only descendants of his tribe are capable of controlling it.
Although they started as antagonists, Knuckles sees Sonic as both a friend and a rival. He finds Sonic's adventurous lifestyle enviable. He is also described as hating strong light. Various literature from the early games list his favorite food as being fruit, or to be more specific, grapes.
Knuckles is physically one of the strongest characters of the Sonic series, if not the strongest. His brute strength is often depicted as equivalent to that of Sonic's speed. His extraordinary physical strength enables him to perform feats such as shattering boulders with his fists. He is a master of martial arts with a specialty in punching. He uses Spin Attacks like Sonic, which are variations on the tendency for echidnas to roll into tight spiny balls for protection. Knuckles can also swim. By trapping air under his dreadlocks, Knuckles can glide for short distances. Knuckles is also a proficient burrower, and can use the spikes on his eponymous knuckles to climb walls.
Like several other characters in the Sonic games, Knuckles can make use of the Chaos Emeralds to transform into a Super Form named Super Knuckles, giving him "ultimate power".
Now, I'm going to take a brief moment to explain what an echidna is. I think most of us know what a hedgehog is. And Sonic's closest friend, Tails, is a fox, and I think most of us know what a fox is. An echidna? Maybe not so much.
Echidnas, also known as spiny anteaters, belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. There are four extant species, which, together with the platypus, are the only surviving members of that order and are the only extant mammals that lay eggs. Although their diet consists largely of ants and termites, they are no more closely related to the true anteaters of the Americas than to any other placental mammal. They live in Australia and New Guinea. The echidnas are named after a monster in ancient Greek mythology.
Now, admittedly, I don't believe that most echidnas are bright red, have the fur on their head designed to look like dreadlocks, or are in the habit of wearing white gloves and colorful trendy sneakers. But at least we have a general idea of what species we're dealing with.
So, how's the figure? Really extremely well done. My greatest concern in picking up this figure was the company that made him -- JazWares. My first experience with JazWares, years ago, was not an especially positive one. They had created a line of Mortal Kombat action figures, about 6" in height or so, that looked really spectacular. However, I discovered when I opened them, they were really rather cheaply made, and even tended to fall apart. That's the sort of thing that can put you off buying a company's products.
However, in more recent times, JazWares produced a new series of Mortal Kombat figures, and when I purchased a few of the 4" figures, still with some concern, I discovered much to my surprise and delight that they were actually very well made. They're not perfect, but they're vastly, vastly better than they were. So, I hoped that this Knuckles figure would be decent enough.
And indeed he is. In some respects, he may actually be superior in quality to the Mortal Kombat figures, and arguably almost on a par with action figures from more notable companies such as Mattel and Hasbro.
Granted, it's a difficult comparison, especially from a purely visual standpoint. The characters from Sonic are far more cartoonish in appearance than what I'm used to bringing into my collection. Arguably the most fanciful, cartoon-like figures I have around here are some of the characters from Toy Story. Trying to visually compare Knuckles to the vast majority of my collection just isn't terribly workable.
Knuckles is a humanoid animal, very much in a cartoon style that's been in use for decades, ever since somebody figured that there was an audience for cartoon animals that walked and behaved like human beings. There's a definite anime influence here as one would expect, especially with Knuckles' wide eyes, narrow pupils, and small nose and mouth.
In figure form, Knuckles stands about 3" in height -- of which about 7/8" is head, not counting how far the dreadlocks hand down his back. It's interesting to note that Knuckles is no taller than the figure of Tails which I have, despite the fact that Tails is supposed to be a younger character. It sort of makes me wonder if this Sonic line is something like Bandai's Ben 10 line, in which the characters are all within the same basic size range despite how large or small they might be in the cartoon, although the size range of the alien heroes in Ben 10 is far greater than the size variance in any of the Sonic characters featured in this line from JazWares.
Knuckles' body is barely 5/8 of an inch in length, and he has fairly long, narrow arms and legs relative to the rest of his body, and huge hands and feet. His arms, counting the hands, are 1-1/2" long, and his legs, including the feet, are also 1-1/2" in length.
Two things amaze me, considering the measurements. One is that something with such bizarre bodily proportions can manage to look as reasonably cute as he does -- although Knuckles definitely has a few aspects to his appearance that give him an "edge". The second is that any toy company could design an action figure around these dimensions, and not only get away with it, but incorporate the level of articulation that Knuckles has.
And that's likely the other reason I chose to purchase this figure. Clearly, it was well-designed, well-constructed (I hoped!), and distinctly well-articulated. This is hardly the first line of toys based on Sonic the Hedgehog characters. I've seen plenty before, everything from more limited action figures all the way to stuffed animals. I've never bothered much with them because, despite a passing familiarity with and enjoyment of the characters, I was never terribly impressed by them. Too many of the figures looked pre-posed or had other limitations. If I'm going to buy an action figure of anybody, I always prefer that that action figure be as straightforward as possible, no pre-posing, no useless gimmicks, and decently articulated. Knuckles and his assorted companions in this line definitely qualify.
Knuckles' head is an interesting assembly. I was trying to figure out how they'd managed the sculpt of the dreadlocks so effectively, and still connect the head to the body. The head is actually made in two parts. There's the top of the head, which includes the dreadlocks, and there's the lower part of the head, which includes the face, and the attachment point to the neck. The top part of the head secures at the point where the eyes meet the brow, so it's a surprisingly seamless look. Now, granted, Knuckles' head doesn't turn very much, as the dreadlocks are notably not flexible, but the figure certainly looks like the character from the games and such.
Knuckles has a slightly mean look to his face, thanks to a sort of scowl from his brow, and a rather sloping forehead. It gives his eyes an especially intense look. He has a flesh-colored muzzle, with a small, sharp nose, and a sort of smart-alecky grin on one side of his face.
His body id almost entirely red, including a relatively short and narrow tail in the back. Apart from the flesh-colored muzzle, he has a tiny curve of white fur on his upper chest.
The extent of Knuckles' wardrobe consists of white gloves, and fancy shoes. The gloves are more like mittens, as they do not have individual figures, but they do have two large spiked knuckles each! Hence his name, no doubt, and his reputation for smashing through things. The shoes are more or less sneakers, in keeping with the footwear worn by most of the characters in the Sonic games, but I'd be hard-pressed to put a brand to them. They're mostly red, with gray soles -- complete with very highly detailed treads on the bottoms, yellow stripes, green cuffs at the top (either that, or Knuckles is wearing green socks), and gray well, I'm not sure what they are, on the top of the shoes. Presumably they're what keep Knuckles' shoes on his feet, but they're not laces, and they don't look like velcro strips. If anything, they look like a couple of Lego pieces.
The articulation of Knuckles is incredible, especially when you consider how narrow his limbs are. Knuckles, like virtually everyone in this line, has very slender limbs. Nevertheless, consider this range of articulation. The head would probably turn if it wasn't for the dreadlocks. The arms move back and forth as well as outward. The elbows move. The wrists rotate. He turns at the waist. Now this probably could have easily been left out and no one would have missed it, but there it is. The legs move back and forth, and rotate. The knees bend. And the feet rotate.
That's fourteen points of articulation on a three-inch-tall figure that has some seriously delicate sections to his body design. I've got more human-looking, more evenly proportioned figures that don't move that well. Is it any wonder I'm impressed with this little guy?
The paintwork is excellent, and precise. If anybody wants some proof that JazWares managed to climb up from whatever caused them to produce such plastic disasters as their first foray into Mortal Kombat, you need not necessarily look at their modern Mortal Kombat offerings. Look at the Sonic line.
Any complaints? A couple of Knuckles' articulation points are a little loose, and the proportions of the figure make him a little tricky for someone like me with my adult-sized hands to readily handle. But these are extremely minor issues.
So, what's my final word? This is a cool figure. Okay, he's a cartoon animal from a video game. He may have a little trouble fitting into a collection of action figures that consists mostly of super-heroes, soldiers, transforming robots, armored future warriors, and assorted aliens. But the one aspect where Knuckles fits very well is that he's an extremely well-made action figure. And as I also have a figure of Tails, Knuckles isn't alone, and I may well be trying to track down a few more of these figures if I can.
I've noticed that the Sonic line isn't necessarily easily found, but it's worth tracking down. It seems to be most prevalent at Toys "R" Us at the moment, and I've also seen it at Kmart. And certainly Sonic the Hedgehog and his friends are a long-established concept in the pop-culture world, and have gone well beyond their video game beginnings. This JazWares line is perhaps the ultimate expression of these characters in action figure form, and if you're a fan of Sonic and company, then you really should look them up. I'm very pleased that I did.
The SONIC THE HEDGEHOG action figure of KNUCKLES THE ECHIDNA definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!