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By Thomas Wheeler

I am not often in the habit of adding new action figure lines to my collection. I am generally content to stick to my core interests, which would, if I were to list them, be largely comprised of DC Universe Classics, Masters of the Universe Classics, G.I. Joe, with some participation from Star Wars, Marvel Universe, Power Rangers, Transformers, and a few others.

But every once in a while, I'll look around a bit. See what else is around. Generally this happens when a fair number of the core lines that I do collect somehow manage to hit sort of simultaneous doldrums, where none of them seem to be producing or shipping much of anything, or at least nothing that I am immediately interested in.

Such as this happened recently, so I was looking around a little bit, in those areas of the action figure aisles and some stores that I generally don't pay a lot of attention to, just to see what there was to see. And I came across a line based on the popular video game characters from SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.

I was reasonably familiar with Sonic. I even had one of his earliest games, from the Sega Game Gear. Although I can't say I was ever all that adept with it, and frankly, sending Sonic plummeting off a cliff to his untimely if temporary demise, only to have him bounce up once with this helpless sort of "Why me?" look on his face before going down for the final time got to be far too demoralizing. At least my miniature golf and blackjack games were far less character-centric.

But beyond that, I knew that Sonic was one of those rare cases in the massive mountain of video games that had come and gone -- usually to the clearance bins -- that had succeeded far beyond his original origins and expectations. Sonic had been the focus of comic books, animated series, other toys, and now, action figures.

The Sonic line is extensive, and it wasn't too hard to find some of Sonic's friends and supporting cast. Tails, Knuckles, Shadow -- but Sonic, perhaps not inappropriately for such a high-speed character, remained a bit elusive. It also seemed that there was more than one Sonic available. There was one that looked like Sonic as he first appeared, twenty or so years ago, in 1991. Although perhaps an accurate rendition, he didn't look as though he'd blend terribly well with the other characters that I had acquired, since they were more modern versions. Finally, though, I did come across a modern Sonic figure.

The only thing that gave me a momentary pause for concern in picking up any of these figures was the manufacturer -- JazWares. I had had a less-than-pleasant experience some years earlier, when JazWares produced a 6" or thereabouts line of Mortal Kombat action figures. Although they looked impressive, and on that basis warranted a decent review at the time, they soon proved to be horribly fragile, and broke preposterously easily. Not the sort of thing that makes one think fondly of the company. JazWares had also come out with a new Mortal Kombat line, in both a 4" and 6" scale, and while I couldn't speak to the quality of the 6" figures, the 4" figures were a distinct improvement over their larger ancestors. Granted, it would've been hard to have made them worse. The 4" figures weren't perfect, but they were a lot better.

And visually, the Sonic figures seemed to be well made. And I soon discovered, once I picked up a couple of them, that they were, quite likely, JazWares best product. Very impressive detail, excellent overall quality. If JazWares did this well with their entire product line, I wouldn't have a thing to gripe about.

By the time I located a modern Sonic figure, I had no hesitation about purchasing him. Let's consider some of the history of Sonic the Hedgehog, both as a franchise and as a character, and then have a look at the figure.

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.

The first Sonic game, titled Sonic the Hedgehog, was released in 1991, and 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, 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 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 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.

There were several Sonic games for the Genesis that were not 2D platform games. Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, released in 1993, was a pinball simulation modeled after the Spring Yard and Casino Night Zones from the first two Sonic games. The game, unlike general pinball simulations, had an overall goal of collecting all the Chaos Emeralds in each level and defeating the levels' bosses. It was one of the few video games that had elements from the cartoons Sonic the Hedgehog and Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

The Sega Genesis had "add-on" systems that incorporated Sonic titles. Sonic CD, released for the Sega CD, was a 2D platform game released in 1993. The game introduced the character Amy Rose and featured levels that differed depending upon whether Sonic was in the past, present, or future time frames.

Due to the success of Sonic games on the Sega Genesis, the series was introduced to the Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear. Sega began by releasing Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. Sega later released Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in 1992. The game differed from its Genesis counterpart with different levels and music and by not including a "spin dash" maneuver. It also featured a different storyline in which Doctor Robotnik kidnaps Tails, who is non-playable in the Master System/Game Gear version. One of the last games for the Sega Game Gear, Sonic Blast, was released in 1996.

After the Sega Dreamcast, Sega ceased producing its own video game hardware, focusing solely on manufacturing software for the Nintendo GameCube, followed by releases for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

The first game released for the GameCube was Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, followed by Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut, each ports from the Dreamcast. Sega later released Sonic Heroes, the first Sonic game made for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. It was released on all three systems on December 30, 2003 in Japan, with American and European releases following soon after. The game was similar to that of the Adventure games, although the player now controlled the lead character of a team of three, with the other two following behind. The player could then switch to a new leader at any time in order to use that character's special abilities.

Two Sonic games appeared on the PlayStation Portable: Sonic Rivals and its sequel, Sonic Rivals 2.

There were a number of different Sonic games released for the Nintendo DS. The first was Sonic Rush, released in 2005, featuring gameplay similar to the Sonic Advance series. It received a sequel, Sonic Rush Adventure, in 2007, which featured some additional new elements, such as the driving of jet skis and submarines.

A newgame, titled simply Sonic the Hedgehog, was released in November 2006 for the Xbox 360 and December 2006 for the PlayStation 3. It continued in the Sonic Adventure direction, but was highly criticized for being sloppy and rushed for the launch window of both consoles. Sonic Unleashed was released in 2008 for the Xbox 360, Wii, PS2 and PS3. While possessing the same name and rough themes, the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions were markedly different games than the Wii and PS2 versions.

While the prior game in the era continued the use of numerous playable characters and play styles, the following games would return to only have Sonic playable. Sonic the Hedgehog 4, an episodic high-definition 2D game akin to the 16-bit Sonic games, was developed for the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare.

Sonic Colors a game for the Wii, was released in November 2010. It introduced a power-up system in the form of alien beings called "Wisps". Sonic Generations was developed by Sonic Team for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Dimps for Nintendo 3DS which was released in November 2011, featuring both modern and classic interpretations of Sonic.

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.

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.

As to the character himself, while many individuals at Sega had a hand in Sonic's creation, programmer Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Oshima are generally credited with the creation of the character, a blue 15-year-old anthropomorphic hedgehog, who has the ability to run at supersonic speeds and the ability to curl into a ball, primarily to attack enemies. This is a major part of the gameplay of the series.

According to various official materials from Sega, Sonic is described as a character who is "like the wind": a drifter who lives as he wants, and makes life a series of events and adventures. Sonic hates oppression and staunchly defends freedom. Although he is mostly easy-going, he has a short temper and is often impatient with slower things. Sonic is a habitual daredevil hedgehog who is honest, loyal to friends, keeps his promises, and dislikes tears. He took the young Tails under his wing like a little brother, and is uninterested in marital proposals from Amy Rose. In times of crisis, he focuses intensely on the challenge as if his personality had undergone an astonishing change.

Sonic is known as the world's fastest hedgehog. Sonic's greatest strength is his running speed, which is faster than the speed of sound.

When the seven Chaos Emeralds are collected in most Sonic games, Sonic can initiate a Super transformation into Super Sonic, a faster and invulnerable gold-colored version of himself that can fly. He can normally transform into Super Sonic with 50 Rings.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. JazWares has really done an outstanding job capturing the likeness of this animated hedgehog in action figure form. I tend to be of the opinion that it may well be slightly harder to create a three-dimensional action figure based on what is essentially a cartoon character, than something more realistic, simply because the cartoon character generally has a more exaggerated design, and if that character has been primarily featured in traditional animation, isn't necessarily geared to be brought into a three-dimensional world. JazWares has succeeded admirably.

Sonic, like most of the other figures in this line, stands about 3" in height. There are other Sonic figures in the overall, and extensive, Sonic product line from JazWares, that are larger, but I have chosen the 3" line because it has the largest population of different characters in it (finding them is another matter). That's not to put down the larger Sonic figures. From what I've seen they're excellent.

I suppose it could be argued that Sonic, although 3" in height, might fit a 4" scale. When he's appeared in animated series like Sonic X, alongside somewhat more realistic human characters, he's tended to be pretty short. This is likely appropriate, although determining what the height of an "actual" cartoonish-looking blue humanoid hedgehog "should" be is something I'm not even going to speculate on.

Out of Sonic's 3 inches of height, a full inch or so is his head. He has a fairly small body, barely half an inch in length, and, need it be said, rather long legs, about 1-1/4". His arms are also about 1-1/4" in length. He has rather large hands at the ends of those arms. He's wearing white gloves, and has four fingers and a thumb on each hand. He is also wearing fancy red sneakers with white trim, and what appear to be yellow buckles. The soles of the shoes are gray, and have distinctly sculpted treads. Impressive amount of detail here. And either the shoes have white cuffs at the top, or Sonic also has white socks.

One of the things I've always considered something of a mystery about Sonic is his overall coloration. And not just because he's a blue hedgehog. Most of Sonic's body is blue. However, the area around his nose and mouth is flesh-colored, as is a small oval shaped area on his torso. These are not uncommon areas on certain cartoon animals for a certain amount of color variance. Look at Bugs Bunny for example. What is unusual about Sonic is that his arms are also flesh-colored. I honestly don't understand why they're not blue. This doesn't seem to be an attribute shared by any of the other animal characters in the Sonic universe. Their arms are the same color as the rest of their bodies.

The only explanation, and it's strictly a guess on my part, is that given the limited capability of computer animation when Sonic first came on the scene, and that his primary activity was running, the game developers wanted the player to be able to easily see Sonic's arms moving as well as his legs. Blue arms up against a blue body would not have been all that distinct, so they were changed to the flesh tone. Again, that's just a guess on my part, but it does make Sonic look a little unusual.

Sonic has large white eyes, with green, oval irises and black pupils. He has a flesh-colored muzzle, with a small black nose and a grin off to one side of the muzzle. This is actually a separately molded piece, attached to the head during assembly. The molding is very precise and is superbly well done.

His hair, if it can be called that, sweeps back from his head in a series of six long spikes. There are two more smaller spikes on his back, and he has a small tail that could easily be mistaken for another spike.

From a figure standpoint, this makes Sonic not only very top-heavy, but extremely back-heavy. I've discovered that the only real way to get him to stand up on his own and stay standing is to bend him slightly forward, and then bend his arms at the elbows, so that his forward-pointing fists, and he does have large hands, counter-balance the weight of the back of his head. It works remarkably well. Granted, it also helps that Sonic has pretty big feet.

JazWares should be commended for creating such an effective action figure from a character with such an unusual anatomy. Sonic's head is huge relative to the rest of his body, and his arms and legs are almost painfully thin. I've got figures around here whose thumbs are bigger around that his arms and legs, and I don't just mean Galactus.

But what's really amazing is that JazWares has been able to incorporate a truly amazing level of articulation into this figure, especially given his physiognomy. Sonic is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. The arms move forward, backward, and outward. The legs move forward, backward, and they rotate. It's really incredible. And I'm glad I wasn't on the assembly line.

Paintwork is, for the most part, very neatly done. There were a few touch-ups that I had to do, but nothing major, and I've certainly seen far worse from far larger companies' products that should have known better.

Sonic comes with a small accessory called a Spinner. One of Dr. Robotnik's evil creations, obviously, this bizarre little thing is mostly purple, with silver and gold trim, has two blue eyes that have a surprisingly disdainful expression (the last time I had a toy look at me like this, it was a Lex Luthor action figure), and two half-circle blades out to the side which I suspect give this creature its propulsion as well as its name.

So, what's my final word? I'm glad I found Sonic and his friends. Sonic is a well-established pop culture concept, and JazWares has done a truly astounding job with these figures. Sonic is accurate to his design, exceptionally well-made, and amazingly articulated for his size and structure. If you're any sort of fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, you will certainly welcome this fine figure of him into your collection.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG definitely has my highest recommendation!