Palette Swap, a Head Swap is a character in a 2D video game who shares the same sprite of another character, but with a different head (and perhaps another body part like hands or feet), and often (but not necessarily always the case) with a different palette. Very common in Beat Em Ups and Fighting Games, where it allows the game designers to fill out their character roster without having to draw an entirely unique sprite for everyone. Also common in two-player action games, where it allows the game designers to give the different player characters individuality instead of making everyone control a clone of the same protagonist.
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- Foreman Spike of Wrecking Crew is basically Mario's body with a meaner-looking head.
- Done literally in both, the original Wonder Boy and Adventure Island. The boss in each world is actually the same bad guy with a different head. Every time he is defeated, he literally loses his head and gains a new one for the next round.
- Villainess Sophia Leigh in Tomb Raider III shares the same face model as the protagonist, Lara Croft, with the differences being in the hair and makeup. Funnily enough, both characters are voiced by the same woman.
- All the warriors in the ZX Spectrum game Dark Sceptre.
Beat 'Em Up
- In Final Fight, most of the enemies have head swap variants: Bred and Dug, Jake and Simons (who are themselves head swaps of Bred and Dug, but with jackets), El Gado and Holly Wood, Axl and Slash, and the three fat men (G. Oriber, Bill Bull, and Wong Who). Roxy and Poison, as well as all five Andore variants, are plain palette swaps, on the other hand. The boss Abigail is a headswap of them though.
- The SNES sequels (Final Fight 2 and 3) continued the tradition.
- In the arcade version of Double Dragon, the boss in Mission 1 is a head/palette-swap of Abobo with black skin and a Mr. T-like mohawk and beard, while Jeff, the boss in Mission 2, is a head/palette-swap of the Lee brothers with the same moves as the player.
- In the arcade version of Double Dragon II, all of the returning enemies (except for Jeff and Willy) are technically head swaps of their predecessors.
- In Super Double Dragon, Billy and Jimmy were made into head swaps, as were Williams and Rowper (who originally had different sprites in previous games). Strangely, Jeff (the aforementioned Lee brother head swap from the first arcade game) was now a pure palette swap of Billy this time.
- Double Dragon Advance added even more head swapped characters. In addition to Billy and Jimmy, some of the enemies (namely Abobo, Steve and Chin) have head swap variants with different hairstyle. Abobo in particular has three styles: his standard bald form, his mohawked form and a new afro do. There's even an entire boss squad (the Five Emperors of Gen-Setsu-Ken) consisting entirely of head swaps.
- In Crude Buster, Ruth (Player 1 in yellow) sports a fauxhawk, while Sid (Player 2 in green) has a bald-style mohawk.
- In The Punisher (Capcom), not only are most of the enemy grunts head-swaps of each other, but the two sole female NPCs (a bystander in Stage 1 and a hostage in Stage 2) are head and torso swaps of each other. They both wear the same type of skirt and high-heel pumps, but one of them is wearing a white blouse and the other a halter dress.
- Guardian Heroes featured quite a few head-swapped enemies. Katie and Gash, two imperial knights, are head-swaps of Serena and Han respectively (with Gash wearing a body armor), and there's also a one-armed skeleton knight who is a head-swap of the undead hero who accompanies the player. Manon F. Brown, Randy's mentor and a non-playable character, is a head-swap of Kanon G. Grey.
- In Robo Army, the only differences between the two player character models are their heads and shoulder parts.
- Ryu and Ken and their various clones (Akuma, Dan and Sean) from the Street Fighter franchise are the quintessential examples of this trope in action. Although Ryu wore red slippers and gloves, while Ken fought barefooted and wore armbands in the very first Street Fighter, their respective outfits became more or less identical from Street Fighter II aside for the differences in color. Akuma on the other hand, usually wears a prayer beads around his neck and a pair of sandals and his hands are drawn differently in the Street Fighter Alpha series, while Dan wears an undershirt and bends his knees differently.
- Yun and Yang from Street Fighter III, who originally started out as having the same move set (even sharing the same slot on the character select screen), but evolved into different characters from 2nd Impact and onward. Urien, who also introduced in 2nd Impact, is a head swap of Gill (the series' boss character).
- Juni and Juli from Alpha 3 are both head-swaps of Cammy and in turn, of each other.
- Averted with Fei-Long, who was supposed to be introduced alongside a head-swapped rival in Super Street Fighter II. The rival ended up being replaced by Dee-Jay, who has a unique design.
- Karin Kanzuki was originally planned as a head swap of Sakura as well in her aborted video game debut in Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, but her final design in Alpha 3 gives an entirely different fighting stance and style.
- Joe Higashi and Hwa Jai in the original Fatal Fury. Save for their difference fighting stances, many of their moves share the same animation frames.
- In Art of Fighting, the final boss (Mr. Karate) is a head swap of Ryo Sakazaki. There's a good reason for this.
- All the player and enemy characters in River City Ransom, which gives the added benefit of allowing the player to carry a weapon from one scene to the next, since everyone uses the same animation frames (something which the NES Double Dragon games never allowed since the enemies in those games had their unique sprites). The schoolgirls in the shopping malls were also head-swaps, as were the children added in the NES localization.
- Lilith, who was introduced in Vampire Savior (the third game in the Darkstalkers series) is a head swap of Morrigan with much smaller breasts, meaning that the head is not the only body part changed.
- Dee, from Darkstalkers Collection, is Donovan's head on Demitri's body with a combination of their moves.
- Hellhound and Freon from Strata's Blood Storm were head swaps of each other. Furthermore, the game had eight bosses who were head swaps of the eight playable characters (which meant, in turn, that Hellhound and Freon's boss counterparts Blood and Shadow were head swaps of each other - or, in Blood's case, a headless swap). Moreover, with secret codes, there were seventeen additional secret characters who were just the eight playable characters with the oversized heads of the developers or other people, including then-senator Joe Lieberman.
- Party member Aschen and antagonist Cardia in Endless Frontier have virtually identical facial expressions and poses in their dialog portraits, bodies that are a few minor details away from being a Palette Swap, and use several similar or identical moves in battle. A justified example, since they're both androids from the same series and build by the same creator.
- The Neverwinter Nights 2 engine only has one male and one female body for each race. Everyone is a head-swap except for the few NPCs with unique models.
- Bioware really likes this trope, usually because their ambitious art goals vs. art budget. Nearly all character models in Knights of the Old Republic consist of a separate head model attached to the body, so that either element can be reused, and in the case of most Mooks, their "body" is reused from one of the player's body armor options (e.g. a bounty hunter wearing a combat vest uses the same model as the player or a party member wearing the same armor, except for the head).
- The Old Republic is comparatively luxurious, having four models (regular, skinny, fat, and tall) of each gender that are expected to serve as everything from a human to a Gand with only changed heads, changed skins, and in a very few cases features like spines or spikes. (Basically, Rubber-Forehead Aliens, but applied to basic models rather than actors.)
- This trope is particularly strange in Mass Effect 3, as since all male characters share the same body and ditto for female characters, it makes every human in the galaxy suddenly look like soldiers in peak physical condition. It's especially strange in cases like Kaidan Alenko, who prior to this game had a fairly lean build, but now shares the same buff, knotty-muscled body as every other male.
- All of the boxers (except King Hippo) in the NES version of Punch-Out!! (Glass Joe and Don Flamenco; Von Kaiser and Great Tiger; Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman; Soda Popinski and Super Macho Man; Piston Honda and Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream).
- All the players in the NBA Jam series during the Midway/Acclaim-era (back when the games featured digitized sprites) were head/palette-swaps of the same stuntman with a different NBA player's face for each.
- Ubiquitous in Warhammer40k; rare indeed is the model that doesn't serve two or more purposes on the tabletop. It's especially prevalent in vehicles; for instance, the Space Marine Rhino APC and Predator Tank are literally the same vehicle, the Predator just has a gun turret and two sponsons attached to the hull. The Imperial Guard Chimaera can be virtually anything you want, except a tank: APC, self-propelled artillery, scout vehicle, flamethrower truck, all made by combining the same treads, one of two different hulls (enclosed and open-topped), and the appropriate gun(s). In many cases, these are explicitly the result of the same few vehicles (referred to as "Standard Template Constructs") having been produced across the galaxy over the last 10,000 years, making innovation as simple as finding a way to mount your new gun on the existing chassis.