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By Thomas Wheeler

I don't often go looking around for new action figure lines to collect. The ones that are among my prominent priorities generally keep me busy enough – Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, DC Universe, Star Wars, some of the Marvel items, occasional Transformers, periodic Power Rangers – I don't really need to go looking for anything to add to that.

But, every once in a while – usually when a significant majority of the aforementioned lines hit something of a collective doldrums and not much seems to be turning up – I will look around a bit and see what there is to see from elsewhere in the world of action figures.

One such line caught my attention recently. It's a line of action figures based on the characters from the popular video game concept SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.

I've often thought that one of the hallmarks of the real success of a video game concept is how well it branches out beyond its video game roots. Let's face it, there's literally thousands of video games in existence, and while they don't all end up in the clearance aisles or the bargain sections at Big Lots or Ross, most of them don't exactly make it to the top of the mountain, either.

Ask someone who pays some attention to pop culture and video games to name the top concepts that have endured for a fairly extensive period of time, and that have entered formats beyond their original video game roots, be it animated series, comic books, movies, action figures, novels, or whatever, and it's generally a pretty short list, and you'll start hearing the same names time and again: Street Fighter. Mortal Kombat. Halo. And as incongruous as it may sound after those three examples, Sonic the Hedgehog makes that list as well.

Sega's high-speed blue-furred hedgehog has been running around for roughly twenty years. And while he's certainly had toys in that time – as well as animated series, comic books, and who knows what else – the most recent series of action figures from JazWares is, in my opinion, the most impressive I've seen.

It's a little surprising to me to say that about JazWares. I had a very negative experience with them some years back when they turned out a line of roughly 6" scale Mortal Kombat figures. They looked terrific, but ultimately, the quality turned out to be quite poor. Their current Mortal Kombat line is a distinct improvement, but it definitely seems as though their Sonic the Hedgehog line is the real masterpiece of the company.

Although most of the Sonic action figure line features figures sold individually on cards, I discovered a three-pack of figures, three of the prominent characters in their "Super" modes. This set includes Sonic, Shadow, and Silver. It's also a Toys "R" Us Exclusive, something to keep in mind when you go looking for it.

Allow me to present a brief history of the Sonic the Hedgehog concept, and the three individual characters, and just how they get to be so "super".

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 the 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 games also feature a large cast of other characters such as Miles "Tails" Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Rose, Shadow the Hedgehog, and the Chao creatures. Most games in the series are platform games, although spin-offs have encompassed other genres such as racing, fighting, action-adventure, role-playing, and sports. Several of the early games have been recognized as classics in video game history. The series has collectively sold over 80 million units.

There have been literally over four dozen assorted games across multiple game platforms featuring Sonic and/or his friends.

As to Sonic himself, he is most often described as 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.

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. Many of his abilities are variations on the tendency for hedgehogs to roll into tight balls for protection with the addition of spinning his body. Since his introduction in 1991's "Sonic the Hedgehog", Sonic's primary offensive maneuver is the basic "Spin Attack" (or "Sonic Spin Attack"). Later games in the series expanded on this basic attack and two of these enhancements have become mainstays of his: the Spin Dash which was introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and involves Sonic spinning on the spot before blasting off at full speed, and the Homing Attack, officially introduced in Sonic Adventure, in which Sonic dashes toward a target in mid air. Sonic's only weakness is that he cannot swim, sinking like a rock if plunged to a deep body of water. However, he can overcome this by running on the surface of water.

Another prominent character in the Sonic series is Shadow the Hedgehog. Shadow is an artificially-created life form whose trademark hover shoes propel him at extreme speeds that rival those of Sonic, and with a Chaos Emerald he has the ability to distort time and space using "Chaos Control." Often referred to as being the "Ultimate Life Form," he is a black and crimson male hedgehog that debuted in Sonic Adventure 2. He resembles Sonic in many ways, such as the ability to travel at incredible speeds. He is Sonic's rival and is the antithesis of Sonic himself in all aspects of his life. He has been featured in a variety of games, including his own self-titled game. Shadow works together with either Sonic's group or Dr. Eggman, depending on what suits his own needs.

Shadow's debut was in the game Sonic Adventure 2, where it is explained that he was created fifty years prior to the game's events, by Professor Gerald Robotnik. Professor Gerald Robotnik had been charged with the task of researching a path to immortality, something that he does in the hopes that he could cure his granddaughter, Maria, of the terminal illness "NIDS" (Neuro-Immune Deficiency Syndrome). He created Shadow as "The Ultimate Life Form", a first step towards achieving that goal, but the government deemed Project Shadow a threat, and dispatched G.U.N. troopers to the space colony ARK. G.U.N. destroyed the research, shut down the ARK, and killed all those present, including Maria. Before she died, she ejected Shadow towards Earth in an escape pod, telling him to give people "a chance to be happy". Gerald, driven insane by her death, designed a program that would cause the research station Space Colony ARK to crash into Earth once all seven Chaos Emeralds were placed inside it. Back on Earth, he modified Shadow's mind so that he would carry out Gerald's plan if he was ever released.

Fifty years later, Shadow was released from suspended animation by Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik, grandson of Gerald Robotnik, who sought after Shadow after learning from Gerald's diary that he was the ultimate life form his grandfather had created. Dr. Eggman hoped to use Shadow to conquer the world. Shadow, having sworn revenge on the humans who caused the death of Maria (due to Gerald's plan), tricked Eggman, along with Rouge the Bat, into helping him collect all seven Chaos Emeralds. The trio placed them in the ARK, nearly allowing it to crash into Earth. Amy Rose managed to trigger Shadow's true memory of Maria and her wish, and the ARK was placed back into orbit using his skill, Chaos Control, using up the last of his energy and sending him falling to Earth, seemingly dead.

In Sonic Heroes, Rouge discovered Shadow in a stasis tube in Eggman's secret base. Suffering from amnesia and unable to remember anything except his name and brief images of Maria's death, Shadow joined forces with Rouge and E-123 Omega in order to track down Eggman. After defeating the final Eggman robot, Rouge stumbled into a room full of what appeared to be Shadow clones, and deduced that Shadow was also a clone. Omega then walked in and stated that the original Shadow must be alive for clones to exist, and began to search for him. They then went on to fight Metal Sonic with the others.

In Sonic Battle, Rouge saves Shadow while they are investigating Dr. Eggman's secret base. Believing that he is a weapon, he insists the people of Earth must destroy him, but it is revealed that he ultimately has the heart and soul of Maria Robotnik and so is not the enemy of humanity. In one of Gerald Robotnik's journal entries, he mentions that "Project Shadow" was put on hold because of Project Gizoid. In his story of Sonic Battle, Shadow and Emerl travel together in order to discover more about Emerl. Seeing as both of them were created as weapons, and under the same creator (Emerl was tweaked by Gerald Robotnik), they form a bit of a bond as Shadow's story develops.

In Shadow the Hedgehog, Shadow, still with no memory of his past, meets a malevolent race of aliens called the Black Arms and Black Doom, their leader, who seems to know Shadow. Throughout the game, Shadow has constant flashbacks of his past. Black Doom also baits Shadow with the knowledge of his past, while Eggman tells him that he is simply an android created by himself to mimic the real Shadow. In the final story, Black Doom reveals to him that while working on his immortality project, Gerald Robotnik contacted Black Doom and made a deal with him. If Black Doom helped him with his research, Gerald would deliver the seven Chaos Emeralds to him in fifty years' time. Using his own blood, Black Doom helped Gerald create Shadow, an immortal life form that would both help with Gerald's research and collect the Chaos Emeralds for Black Doom in the future. However, once Gerald learned of Black Doom's plot to take over the world, he created the Eclipse Cannon as a means to destroy the Black Comet (the Black Arms' home), and left it up to Shadow to stop the Black Arms. While fighting Black Doom, Shadow learned from Eggman that he in fact was not an android, but the original Shadow, whom Eggman had rescued with one of his robots after Shadow fell from space (Sonic Adventure 2). He destroys both Black Doom and the Black Arms, and vows to leave behind his past. While the game features several alternate endings and certain routes leading to those endings, this ending is generally accepted to be the true outcome of events, since it is the only one that features Super Shadow, a common way to conclude stories in modern Sonic games.

Finally, we have the character of Silver. Silver the Hedgehog is a silver-furred anthropomorphic hedgehog from 200 years in the future of the main timeline. He first appeared in the 2006 "Sonic the Hedgehog". His individual episode revolves around him traveling back in time with Blaze the Cat to find and kill Sonic the Hedgehog, known to them as the "Iblis Trigger", who they believe is the cause of their world being destroyed in the future.

Since this first appearance, he has been relegated to the Sonic series spinoffs, multiplayer games, and small cameo roles. He is one of the main characters in Sonic Rivals and Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, Sonic Free Riders, and Sonic and the Black Knight, though he was known as Galahad in the latter. He also makes an appearance in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. Cameos include briefly being seen in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, in the background of Sonic's Green Hill Zone stage, as a trophy and sticker, watching a tennis match in one of the Sonic stages in Sega Superstars Tennis, and in the DS version of Sonic Colors.

Silver is a playable character in Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games and a rival boss in Sonic Generations.

Silver's primary ability is psychokinesis which is also known as telekinesis. He is able to levitate objects (including himself) and use them as projectiles, and fly. He can also fire shock waves that temporarily paralyze his enemies. He is able to use many standard abilities similar to those of Sonic and Shadow and he can utilize Chaos Control in order to warp through time and space. He is able to transform into "Super Silver" by using the power of the Chaos Emeralds, and he becomes able to use a special "Shield of Light" to draw in and throw any object within a large circular field.

So, there's the characters. Now, what makes them able to transform into "Super" modes? As stated a couple of times in the character profiles, that would be Chaos Emeralds. When the seven Chaos Emeralds are collected in most Sonic games, Sonic can initiate a Super transformation into Super Sonic, a faster and invulnerable version of himself that can fly. He can normally transform into Super Sonic with 50 Rings. While transformed, Sonic slowly loses Rings during the time he is in Super form (usually about one every second) and returns to normal when all the Rings are used up.

What are Chaos Emeralds, from a story standpoint? The Chaos Emeralds are, in most games, seven emeralds with mystical powers; they are a recurring feature of Sonic games. The emeralds can turn thoughts into power, warp time and space with a technique called Chaos Control, give energy to all living things and be used to create nuclear or laser based weaponry.

They are the basis of many of the games' plots, and the player is frequently required to collect them all to fully defeat Doctor Eggman and achieve the games' "good endings", super forms, or both. The methods used to acquire the Emeralds and the end-results after collecting them differ between titles in the series. Most early games require the player to find the emeralds in Special Stages, while some modern games implement the emeralds as a plot element. In certain games, such as Sonic R and the 8-bit versions of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the player is required to find the Chaos Emeralds within the zones themselves.

So, how are the toys? Really outstanding. Consider that while the animal characters in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog are, for all intents and purposes, humanoid – that is, they have a head, atop a torso, with arms out to the sides, and legs below the torso, their overall appearance and bodily proportions are rather exaggerated and somewhat cartoonish. As a rule, they have immense heads, relatively small bodies, and fairly long, but very narrow arms and legs, with rather big hands and feet.

When one considers the fact that most of the articulation of the average action figure is found in the arms and legs, this cannot have been an especially easy transition to bring characters designed like this into the three-dimensional world of poseable plastic. Nevertheless, JazWares has done a truly amazing and impressive job with these figures, and given them all far more extensive articulation than one might expect, especially for figures that are under 4" in height.

I'm inclined to call these figures "4" scale" despite them not being that tall, since in the "Sonic X" animated series, where they interacted with human beings, they were pretty short. But I don't really think it's a fair comparison. In the animated series, they were shorter than this, and given their rather extreme physical forms, I don't think they can readily be compared scale-wise to any more realistic action figure line. They're the size they are, and it's a very decent size.

All of these figures are available in their standard-colored forms, of course, and for the most part, these are recolorations, but they're entirely legitimate ones.

Let's start with SONIC. He's not just a recoloration. The figure has been given an entirely new headsculpt, whereby the spiky fur on his head has been upswept and extended from its normal appearance (seems to be these Chaos Emeralds must be the functional equivalent of sticking your finger in an electrical socket – NOT recommended!), and his facial expression gives his eyes more of a scowl than his standard version, and his mouth is downturned rather than grinning.

Sonic is colored a very bright yellow in his Super mode, far more than the other two figures. Interestingly, his arms are colored yellow. For reasons I've never fully understood, in his standard color scheme, Sonic's arms are flesh-colored, unlike the blue of the rest of his body. I've just never quite figured out why. But in his Super mode, although he maintains his flesh-colored muzzle, his arms turn yellow right along with the rest of his body. Now, Sonic's arms to seem to be a slightly different color than the rest of his body, a very slightly paler shade of yellow, but they're definitely not the same flesh tone as his muzzle or the oval on his torso.

The irises of his eyes are red, but the rest of his coloration remains much as before. He has a little black nose, white gloves with hands that have four fingers and a thumb, and red sneakers with white trim, gray treaded soles (credit to JazWares for actually sculpting the treads), and yellow buckles. The shoes either have fancy yellow cuffs, or Sonic is also wearing white socks.

Next, let's consider SHADOW. He's a somewhat darker shade than Sonic, which makes sense given the character. He's sort of a light yellow-orange. In his normal form, Shadow is black, with red trim on his hair spikes. The red trim is still there, and given the rather significant color shift of the rest of his body from black to light yellow-orange, it's even more pronounced. For the most part, it's neatly painted, and it's interesting to note that the mold has very fine indented guidelines. A couple of the painted areas are a little off, but not seriously. It's probably rather tricky to access these details to begin with. I can't even imagine what the molds must look like.

Shadow's eyes are outlined in red as well, and this is maintained, as is a small amount of red trim on his lower arms and lower legs. The head is the same mold as before, since it was already mean-looking enough. Shadow has a scowl to his eyes, and a frown on his muzzle.

As with Sonic, the other color details remain the same. Shadow has a small black nose, white gloves with four fingers and a thumb each, with yellow and black cuffs, and rather high-tech-looking angular shoes, mostly white with red and black trim and yellow cuffs, with undersides that almost look like they were borrowed from Iron Man's boot jets.

Finally, there is SILVER, who in Super mode doesn't exactly live up to his name. He's a paler yellow than Sonic, but he doesn't lean towards orange the way Shadow does just a bit.

Silver seems slightly smaller than Sonic and Shadow, but most of this is due to a distinctly different hairstyle. Whereas the huge head spikes on Sonic and Shadow are brushed backwards, Silver's head spikes are not only smaller, they're styled differently. Silver has five spikes close to the front of his head, and two additional huge spikes pointed behind.

The front spikes also form a sort of brow over his eyes, and give him a scowl of sorts, although he doesn't look nearly as mean as Shadow. He is, nevertheless, frowning.

Silver's eyes are outlined in black, and his entire body, except for the flesh-colored muzzle and the little black nose, is yellow. His gloves and footwear remain the same as the standard version of the character, of course. He is wearing white gloves with yellow cuffs. Some narrow lines and circles can be seen on the gloves, doubtless a reflection of Silver's futuristic origin. Interestingly, whereas Sonic's and Shadow's hands are formed into fists, Silver's hands are open, with each of the four fingers and thumb separate from the other on each hand. This is some impressive design.

Silver's footwear looks more like boots than shoes. They are mostly dark blue in color, with white and red trim, and yellow cuffs, with gray soles with some very fancy-looking tread designs in them.

Let's discuss common traits of all three figures. Each one has two additional spikes on his back, and a short tail. The figures tend to not only be top-heavy, but rather back-heavy as well, Silver being the least of these. Obviously, JazWares had to work with the designs they had, and balance isn't a necessary factor in the computer world. It is possible to get these figures to stand up on their own, if you move their arms forward a bit so that their large hands counterbalance the backs of their heads.

I have to believe that the heads were the toughest things to mold on these figures. The spikes must have been a nightmare, and the mold lines would seem to bear this out. One very wise thing that JazWares did was to mold the muzzles separately, and attach them very neatly during assembly. These figures are all excellent likenesses of their video game counterparts.

Paintwork is, for the most part, very neatly done, especially around the eyes. I'm extremely impressed by JazWares' efforts here.

But even more impressive is the articulation. When you consider the structure of these characters – the big heads, the tiny bodies, the narrow limbs – I doubt there's a lot of toy companies that would've gone to the lengths that JazWares went to.

Consider that these figures average about 3-1/4" in height. Of that, 1-1/4" is head. That leaves 2" for the rest of the figure. Barely half an inch of that is body. The rest is legs, with those huge shoes, and you've also got the arms. And these three figures have very narrow limbs. I've got larger-scale action figures who have fingers bigger around than these guys' arms and legs.

And yet, listen to the articulation capabilities here, of Sonic, Shadow, and Silver – each figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. There's more human-proportioned action figures in the world that don't move that well!

And it's not just back and forth movement, either. The arms move forward, backward, and outward. The legs move forward, backward, and also rotate at the hips. It's really incredible.

I've said any number of times that among the attributes that will get my attention as an action figure collector is a figure that is well-made with a lot of quality, imagination, and creativity in it. These Sonic figures definitely qualify on all counts.

Accessories? Yes, this set has them, too. Specifically, it has all seven Chaos Emeralds! These guys can't really change to their Super forms without the Chaos Emeralds, so they're included.

Admittedly, "emerald" is a bit of a misnomer, since "emerald" traditionally describes a green gemstone, and these aren't all green. They're all largely identical except for color. They have a fairly traditional diamond gemstone shape to them, flat on the top, pointed on the bottom, faceted along the sides. The Chaos Emeralds are each 3/4" in height and 1-1/4" in diameter, and are colored translucent green, blue, turquoise, yellow, red, pinkish-purple, and clear.

So, what's my final word? These are impressive figures. This is an impressive line, although it's not the easiest to track down sometimes. I've found them in typical places like Toys "R" Us, but also odder places like Barnes & Noble. Odd for toys, that is. It's a fine place for books.

Clearly, this is JazWares at its finest, and these figures could readily stand alongside the product of any other company, and be a good match as far as quality and imagination is concerned. And there's certainly no question that Sonic the Hedgehog and his friends are a highly popular and enduring concept. There have been toys before, but I am convinced that these are the best, and if you're a Sonic fan, you will definitely enjoy these fine action figures!

The SONIC THE HEDGEHOG SUPER 3-PACK featuring the Super forms of SONIC, SHADOW, and SILVER, plus all seven Chaos Emeralds, definitely has my highest recommendation!