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Graphics-Induced Super-Deformed
Same character: Official artwork vs. in-game sprite.

In video games, there is a tendency for characters' proportions to change considerably between their official artwork and their in-game appearance. It's quite frequent to see box art with relatively realistically-proportioned characters, while the same characters appear with large heads and small bodies when they're in game.

The reason for that is usually graphical limitations. When you only have a 16 x 16 block of pixels to work with, trying to make a sprite with realistic proportions will result in a character with almost no visible face to speak of. This is especially true in older video games (especially licensed games) appearing on fourth-generation and older game consoles; only a few games (like Rolling Thunder) seemed to avert it. Strategy games on home computers of the time were more likely to avert it.

It should be noted that many Japanese games didn't originally use the "original" cover art Western players are familiar with; covers were often completely redone to appeal to American and European sensibilities, with characters not looking Super-Deformed even if that was a deliberate design choice (as in the case of River City Ransom).

Mostly averted by early Western video game designers who tried to use proper proportions, and thus wound up with faceless 'walking stick' characters.

See Super-Deformed for other uses of big heads and small bodies. For the artwork changes that can't be chalked up to graphical limitations, see Covers Always Lie.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Action 
  • The Ghostbusters game for the Sega Genesis uses super-deformed sprites, but characters are normally proportioned in portraits and cutscenes.

    Action Adventure 
  • The first game in The Legend of Zelda series.
    • Also, the three Game Boy games: while the manuals and other artwork weren't deformed, in the color remake of the first game, it crept from the sprites to the photographer's pictures. All these games, including the first above, used 16x16 sprites.
    • The SNES game, while still a bit deformed, was more reasonable, not unlike Chrono Trigger.
  • In Golden Axe Warrior, a Legend of Zelda clone for the Master System, the hero is depicted as a shirtless gladiator on the game's cover illustration and title screen, but looks more like a cute knight in the actual game.
  • Cave Story. Provides the page picture. Apparently, the chibi sprites have become iconic enough that the higher-resolution WiiWare port used the same proportions—and the Nintendo 3DS remake also uses those proportions for character models.

    Arcade 

    Beat 'Em Up 
  • Scott Pilgrim: The Video Game renders the characters as somewhat chibified compared to the comic versions.
    • The comics themselves are slightly chibi as a reference to this trope.
  • The character sprites in the NES version of Double Dragon, while not super-deformed per se, are greatly simplified and rather cartoonish compared to the illustrations in the game's manual, which made the characters look like they came out straight from the pages of Fist of the North Star. Some of the character sprites only vaguely resemble their illustrated depictions in the manual (Abobo doesn't sport his trademarked mustache in the manual for example). However, the in-game sprites are actually more accurate to the character designs in the original arcade version than the illustrations were.

    Fighting 

    First Person Shooter 

    Platform 
  • La-Mulana. In Updated Re-release on WiiWare, character's head indeed is smaller compared to Retraux-PC-MSX version due to having more pixels (480p/480i on Wii vs. 240p on pseudo-MSX).
  • Apparent in the original Super Mario Bros. when grabbing a Magic Super mushroom. Mario's proportions change by head getting smaller relative to body. Even more pronounced in Super Mario Bros. 2.
    • According to the developers of Donkey Kong, most of Mario's facial features and his overalls were due to technical limitations at the time of its release.
  • Blaster Master games where in-game, main character's head is about as big as the rest of the body.
  • Psychosomnium. Everyone has really big, rectangular heads on tiny bodies; one character even looks like they should, by all logic, fall over from the sheer proportional weight of their cranium.
  • The original Mega Man series. Apparent when it reached its 7th installment, especially by comparison with Mega Man X.
  • Averted in the NES versions of the Contra. The 8-bit hardware couldn't replicate the distinct character designs that were given to Bill and Lance in the original arcade version, so instead the designers concentrated on making them both into musclebound shirtless commandos, with the colors of their pants being the only difference.

    Puzzle 
  • The NES version of Lode Runner uses the same sprites that Hudson Soft would later use in Bomberman. Most computer versions, however, averted this, having sprites more reminiscent of stick figures.

    RPG 
  • Disgaea, Super-Deformed as in-game characters, relatively normal in portraits in cutscenes.
    • Downplayed in Disgaea 4, due to the new high definition sprites allowing for much more detail on the characters, though the body proportions are still a bit off in the case of the humanoid characters.
  • Attouteki Yuugi Mugen Souls has every character appear like this in game and during cutscenes that use the in-game model.
  • Seen in-game in Final Fantasy VII: Overworld/dungeon/towns use Super-Deformed models to keep the polygon count down. Battles and FMVs note  use realistic models.
    • See also every Final Fantasy game that uses 2D sprites. VI and the PSP version of IV, like the Chrono Trigger example below, are slightly more proportionate, but it's still very noticeable.
  • Chrono Trigger is a less egregious example than most; the game's sprites are fairly proportionate except for the heads (some enemies are closer to reality there, but they're bigger). Portraits are still done in a radically different style.
  • The Super Robot Wars series probably followed this trope from its early days on the Game Boy but have since taken the concept to heart, with only a few exceptions (Shin Super Robot Wars and both versions of Super Robot Wars Gaiden). This is used to keep the sizes of the varying Humongous Mecha reasonable. For example, a Zaku II is 17.5 meters tall, while Eva Unit-01 is about 70 meters tall. Though it should be noted that when attack animations go into a close-up of the robot, they're in their proper proportions.
    • The series usually uses proper proportions when it duplicates iconic footage from a robot's original series.
  • Half-Minute Hero plays this straight.
  • Tales of Symphonia has a bit of this, much like the FFVII example. It's not nearly as extreme as it would be with 2D sprites, but in portraits, anime cutscenes, and the OVA, the art is definitely more realistically proportioned than the cel-shaded gameplay models.
  • Some Pokémon games have this; the portable games started out this way but grew less top-heavy as hardware power increased (Pokémon Black and White are the most proportionate so far sprite-wise, although this trope is still in effect; the difference between fully-proportioned and super-deformed character is even more subtle in Pokémon X and Y). The console games don't use this at all, though.
    • In fact, all of the games introduce you to your character's in-game battle sprite, and signal the start of gameplay by the sprite morphing into the smaller in-game sprite.
  • Golden Sun has all the characters appear to be as big as Final Fantasy characters are on the SNES, but once a battle starts, everyone appears in proper proportions and looks. This is more evident in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn where the characters look a LOT younger than how they appear in their artwork due to using low polygons in the overworld maps and the new graphics style. However, they resemble their artwork appearance more closely once they enter a battle.
  • Most character sets created for non-3D RPG Maker video games are this, especially when they're made to resemble anime or film characters.
  • The first four Dragon Slayer games, through Legacy Of The Wizard, had all character sprites fit the size of a single tile. Sorcerian moved away from Super-Deformed sprites, but The Legend of Heroes brought the look back.
  • Many Harvest Moon games follow this trope.
  • The Lunar games featured super-deformed character sprites until Lunar: Dragon Song.
  • Indora no Hikari, a Famicom game by Kemco, has the hero's in-game sprite looking more Super-Deformed and less Bad Ass than his depiction on the cover.

    Turn Based Strategy 

    Pinball 

    Visual Novel 

    Webcomic 
  • Oddly enough for a webcomic, Homestuck has this. Being an adventure game / RPG pastiche, the art for the main characters consists of copy/pasted "sprites" about knee high to most adult characters. However, when depicted in hand-drawn action shots, they suddenly gain much more realistic proportions, sometimes even lapsing into Noodle People. An excellent demonstration of the style is this animation from the fourth act. (Warning: sound.)

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