In 2D game development, the creation of sprites is a labor-intensive task; moreso if the sprites are animated. One cost-effective method for increasing the variety of game characters is to reuse the same sprite, but using a different color palette.
This is seen in some platformers, but it most often appears in Role Playing Games and Fighting Games. In fighting games, this is commonly used to differentiate players using the same character, but it is also employed to create "new" characters. In the 8- and 16-bit era RPGs, it was pervasive: because of console limitations, disk and screen space were serious concerns. Palette Swapping was used to create a large variety of different enemies, often using different colors for various power levels. (The most famous group of these are probably the Slimes, topped by the powerful Metal Slime, of Dragon Quest fame.)
In 3D game development, however, changing only the colors has mostly died off, but there are similar variations. Because animation is no longer tied directly to models, it is much easier to create new models and textures for a character while still using the same animation set. Clever code can even allow you to use differently sized characters with the same animations. However, this was not new to 3D: On the SNES, some RPGs were able to use the foreground and background layers to put something in front of the tiles, changing the appearance of the original monster "sprite",note Not actually sprites: They were actually animated background tiles overlaid with animated foreground tiles. Basically, a sprite can be moved 1 pixel left, a tile fits into a grid (usually 8x8, 16x16, or something in that line), so if you want to show a tile moving 1 pixel left, you either have to move the whole grid, or have another copy of the tile in the tileset which has everything moved 1 pixel left. making this aversion Older Than They Think.
Not even modern games are entirely immune to this primarily 2D game pitfall, however. Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games MMORPGs are often set in a very large world that must be populated by monsters. Palette Swap to the rescue! By changing the size and textures used on the same model, the designers can make many types of monsters from only a few basic meshes. Sometimes even bosses are simply re-textured and are huge versions of weaker monsters.
Some fans of fighting games use the term to refer to characters that use the same animations and move sets, even if the characters look very different. Individual characters may also have a choice of several different colors or costumes (or both).
Color-Coded Multiplayer is a Sub Trope, applied to player characters. When the head (or any other body part) is changed as well, then it's more accurately a Head Swap. Color-Coded Armies may also show up in 2D games. For a similar time-saving technique, see Ambidextrous Sprite.
Palette Swaps are also used in Sprite Comics, where they're known as recolors.
See also Colour Coded For Your Convenience. This trope is used in part to create Copy And Paste Environments, Ditto Fighter, and Underground Monkeys. Only Six Faces is a related animation version. Though the visual effect may be similar, this trope is not related to Adaptation Dye Job.
It was "explained" in the game. Termina seems to be a sort of "mirror-universe" next-door to Hyrule (dimensionally speaking)...in several cases, the names don't even change, regardless of how similar the counterparts are to each other aside from appearances — notably, Koume and Kotake, whose Hyrule counterparts were stated to be Ganondorf's surrogate mothers, are merely shopkeepers in Termina's Southern Swamp and not evil like the former two. In other words, the people of Hyrule have mirror counterparts in Termina. This is a common sci-fi and fantasy trope.
It was also originally intended to be an expansion of Ocarina of Time on the ill-fated N 64 DD, so they were limited by that concept during development.
All the Legend of Zelda games are guilty of this. In the first game, most monsters came in Red and Blue, with one color (usually blue) being tougher than the other. In Zelda II The Adventure Of Link, orange was added for weaker variants of enemies, with red being stronger than orange and blue being stronger than red, though with armed enemies the weapons often change with the color (such as the orange variant of the Daira enemy in Death Mountain swinging its axe at Link and the red variant throwing axes at him). It's even common to palette swap Link for his different tunics. Same style and cut, different color. Like the fire-proof tunic (red), and the inexplicablewater-breathing tunic (blue). Boy, it's astounding what they can do with cloth shirts these days. It wasn't until The Legend Of Zelda Twilight Princess that the different tunics actually looked different beyond their colors.
In Blaster Master , the Stage 6 and 7 bosses are palette swaps of the Stage 2 and 4 bosses, respectively. The palette-swapped versions were very hard to beat.
The handheld Castlevania games since Castlevania Harmony Of Dissonance have been accused of palette swapping (some point out the Saturn Port of Symphony of Night had Maria's spells being copied out of Gradius games, showing that this practice has been around much longer then most initially suspected). Some think the naming of the recolored Minotaur in Aria of Sorrow as simply Red Minotaur might be a Lampshade Hanging.
The palette swapping of the Metroidvania games shares a common source point: Castlevania Rondo Of Blood. Almost everything else is from Castlevania Symphony Of The Night instead. This is literally sprite reuse going from 1993 to about now. Harmony was worst about this though: many enemies had level 2 and even level 3 versions.
Three of the bosses in Wonder Boy In Monster Land have their sprites reused later in the game, Death becomes the Poor God, who steals your gold coins, the Giant Kong is palette-swapped as the Snow Kong, who summons ice cube-throwing Mini-Kongs instead of throwing rocks, and the Red Knight has Blue and Silver variations.
Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle (a port of a Famicom Disk Sytem game starring Roger Rabbit-don't ask) has differently-colored enemies of the same type that behave slightly differently.
Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition plays this perfectly straight. When playing as Vergil and you come to the boss battles against Vergil (the game is usually played as Dante, with the Vergil playability a feature of the Special Edition), the Vergil you fight is dressed in red instead of his usual blue. Apparently it's to give the impression that you're fighting Dante, but the only difference between the two versions is the colour; the boss' moveset remains the same.
In the Rolling Thunder series, the attack patterns and hit points of the Maskers can be determined by the colors of their clothes and hoods.
Steve's jacket in Shatterhand turns from green to red when he buys the double strength Power-Up.
Beat Em Up
The arcade version of Double Dragon, in addition to the two player characters (Billy and Jimmy Lee), has a set of three enemy mooks (Williams, Rowper and Abobo) that it uses for every stage, but with a different palette each time, along with the occasional black variants. The two bosses, who are themselves head swaps of other characters, reappear in the final two stages as well (in particular, the third boss is the first boss with green skin). The only enemies who don't have palette swapped variants are Linda (who wears the same purple outfit in all of her appearances) and Machine Gun Willy (the final boss).
The Foot Clan ninjas in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (and its sequel, Turtles in Time) come in numerous colors in addition to the standard purple variant from the 1980s animated series. The Foot Soldiers are color coded to indicate their weapons of choice. For example, the white Foot Soldiers attack with katanas, while the orange ones wield boomerangs.
In the "Dueling" mode featured in the sequels, the second player is assigned a different palette if he chooses the same character as the first player.
In the first game, Onihime and Yasha (aka Mona and Lisa), the twin bosses in Round 5, were both palette swaps of Blaze but with a green outfit instead of red. In Round 8, they appear one more time with a dark purple outfit. When the twins returned in Streets of Rage 3, they were given a unique design.
In the third game, the boss of Round 3 was a robot copy of Axel, only difference was his gloves were purple instead of red so that players who played in co-op wouldn't attack each other by mistake if one of them was playing as Axel.
Cyborg Justice pretty much embodies this trope since the player character can choose torso, weapon and legs which are interchangeable and used by virtually every other cyborg in every level at some point including bosses. The only unique enemy in the entire game is the end boss who is a giant brain. If you play with two players, then player 1 is primary gold and player 2 is primarily purple.
Golden Axe has a huge amount of palette-swapped characters, from the mooks to the bosses to the Bizzarians to the energy-replenishing elves.
Final Fight mostly averts this by making variants of the same enemy head swaps as well, but there are a few notable exception: Roxy is just Poison with orange hair and everyone in the Andore clan are identical except for the colors of their clothing (lavender for the standard Andore, red for Junior, gold for Father, black for Uncle and blue for Grandpa). There are also red-clothed variants of Holly Wood who carries Molotov cocktails instead of his usual knives.
Final Fight 2 for the SNES has a cheat code that allows both players to use the same character if selected, distinguishing the second player with a different palette.
The GBA version of the original game, Final Fight One, also allowed two players to choose the same character after defeating a certain number of enemies.
The arcade version of Ninja Gaiden (aka Shadow Warriors) features six stages, the same four staple adversaries, a few novelties here and there, three distinct end of stage bosses, one final boss, and a different palette for each stage. There are also ninja mooks who are just palette swaps of the player characters (who are already themselves palette swaps of each other).
The character designs in Fear Is Vigilance are basically limited to three: male, female, and Marcy in disguise. Everything else is palette swapping.
River City Ransom recycles the same enemy gang of nine members by changing the colors of their t-shirts, as well as modifying their stats and attack patterns.
Mortal Kombat was one of the most notorious examples of this trope with its "Palette Swap Ninjas". There was an increasing number of ninja characters (Scorpion, Sub-Zero, et al.) of three basic types — male, female, cyborg — in the games, almost all of whom used the same basic set of sprites, with the color scheme altered to match the individual character. Illustrated here◊. With the advance of video game technology, in Mortal Kombat 4 and beyond the various ninjas have been redesigned to avoid this, however - particularly Reptile and Rain.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy was seriously getting short on colours for male ninjas: Sub-Zero (blue), Scorpion (yellow), Reptile (green), Rain (purple), Noob Saibot (black), Ermac (red), and Human Smoke (gray). In mirror matches, the twin was usually a slightly different shade of the same colour.
Note that the default ninjas in all four 2D Mortal Kombat games for the arcade (counting the original version of 3 and the Ultimate edition separately) actually had different fighting stances from each other, so they were not full-fledge palette swaps. However, the hidden variants played this straight.
In the first game, Reptile used Scorpion's fighting stance.
In Mortal Kombat II, Smoke uses Reptile's stance, Noob Saibot uses Sub-Zero's (which would foreshadow his identity as the original Sub-Zero gone evil), and Jade uses Kitana's (setting up their relationship in 3 quite nicely).
In Mortal Kombat 3, Robot Smoke uses Sektor's stance. Since none of the "human" ninjas were in the third game initially, Noob was instead a palette swap of Kano.
In Ultimate, all three female ninjas used their own stances; Noob, Ermac and Masked Sub-Zero used Scorpion's; while Rain and Human Smoke used Reptile's.
In Trilogy, Khameleon and Chameleon's stances would reflect who they were currently copying.
A famous example of the skin-color aspect of this trope was the character Nakoruru from the Fighting GameSamurai Shodown. The swapped palette used on her portrait in the character select screen made her look like her own Evil Twin. Naturally, the idea quickly entered Fanon, and Samurai Shodown V actually turned "Evil Nakoruru" into her own character.
This was most likely also a result of SNK actually intending the "Slash/Bust" division to represent good and evil sides (or at least different personalities), never being able to pull it off, and ultimately simply deciding to just make a couple variant characters and call it a day. The other, BTW, is Rastesumaru, a much, much different version of Haohmaru. (He has purple skin, for one. He's completely psycho, for another.)
In the Fighting GameSoul Calibur, the character Kilik is a Palette Swap — in the shared motion data sense — of Seung Mina. (This is explained in game by both characters using the same fighting style: Ling Sheng Su.)
Hwang is an odd case. In the original Soul Edge, he was a "motion swap" of Mitsurugi for Korean localization. In Soul Calibur, he became a swap of Xianghua, but shared some kicks with Seung Mina. By Soul Calibur III, he was the representative of the Chinese Sword style.
Actual Palette Swaping entered the Soul Calibur series with Custom Characters, as well as the ability to alter the colors worn by the standard fighters. Meanwhile, Tekken 5 offered color choices along with custom items as unlockables.
The Tekken series of games has had THREE. Mokujin (Tekken 3) and Combot (Tekken 4), which randomly emulated all the characters fighting styles, one per round, and Unknown (Tekken Tag Tournament) who looked sort of like Jun Kazama, but could only emulate about 15 or so characters out of the 30+ available (in addition to the resemblance, she always started with Jun's moveset). However, pressing down on the right stick on the PS2 controller (R3, as it is) would let you change fighting styles on the fly instead of having to tag out and back in all the time.
Namco's games also did tend to have fighters who shared many moves. Examples include the Jack 'clones' (ironically, of the ones with that label, only Kuma's been in all the games in some playable form), as well as characters with similar styles in game (Anna and Nina Williams, King and Armour King, Yoshimitsu and Kunimitsu). They're working on making each character more unique, though.
When Bandai released Gundam: The Battle Master 2 in the US as Gundam Battle Assault, they replaced one of the mecha with the titular Gundam from Gundam Wing in order to cash in on the show's then successful run on Cartoon Network. Despite going through the trouble of making a separate sprite for it, however, they gave it the same moveset as the Zeta Gundam. Further annoying is the fact that its super move involves grabbing the opponent instead of shooting its BFG.
Epic Megagames' fighting game One Must Fall makes extensive use of palette swaps. The game has 11 distinct (sprite) models of robots, but many more colour-schemes, all of which are achieved by changing parts of the game palette. In tournament mode, you can customize your robot's colour-scheme in three areas, and the game provides you with 16 colours to choose from.
There is an external free tool that lets you create your own tournaments, and you can give the computer opponents anything you like for their colour-schemes by editing the palette of the picture to go with their character.
To a lesser degree, in some of the games there were characters with move sets very similar to each other with small deviations such as their speed and power (Mario/Luigi, Pikachu/Pichu, ect) though later games tended to give new moves and bigger deviations so that similar characters felt a little more unique.
Blood Storm sported secret characters that were, for the most part, mere palette swaps of the ordinarily available characters with slightly different moves.
When the Street Fighter series started featuring same character matches (beginning with Street Fighter II′: Champion Edition), the game changes the palette of one player to distinguish it from the other. Depending on the character, some alternate palettes will simply change the color of the character's clothing (i.e. Ryu's gi and bandanna), while others (such as Dhalsim's and Blanka's) will change the character's skin tone to improbable colors such as blue or grey.
Because green is a natural colour, eh.
Super Street Fighter II in particular features eight palettes for each character and each player chooses which one they want to use on the character select screen depending on the button pressed. However, the control panel only has seven buttons for each player (six attack buttons and Start), so the eighth palette can only be chosen by pressing any button and keeping it depressed for a few seconds.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo gave all of the returning fighters a new default palette, while the original default palettes are now used by alternate versions who retained their moveset from the original Super Street Fighter II. Moreover, these alternate versions of the characters have their own alternate palettes as well.
In the arcade version of Street Fighter Alpha 2, the character's palette changes depending on whether the player is using the Manual fighting style (three-level Super gauges) or Auto (one-level gauges, simpler inputs for Super Combos and Alpha Counters and auto-blocking). This was carried over to Alpha 3, when the fighting styles were expanded to A-ism (Alpha-style), X-ism (Super Turbo-style) and V-ism (Variable Combo-style).
Some versions of Alpha 2 (specifically the U.S. arcade release and the Zero 2 Alpha released in Asia) allowed players to control alternate versions of certain characters such as Zangief, Dhalsim, Ryu, Ken, classic outfit Chun-Li, Sagat and M. Bison who used their movesets from Street Fighter II Dash and had alternate color schemes. Evil Ryu and Shin Akuma were also palette-swaps of their regular counterparts.
In Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, there are a total 13 palettes for each character (except for Gill, who only has two). There are six standard palettes chosen by simply pressing any of the attack buttons, six alternate palettes chosen by holding Start and pressing any of the other buttons and a hidden 13th palette selected by pressing LP+MK+HP.
Capcom's Versus series do this, both mirror match style and new character style. The first Marvel vs. Capcom features War Machine, who is a palette swap of Iron Man from Marvel Super Heroes. Also, both Marvel Super Heroes Vs Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom use palette swaps in creating the secret characters. Sometimes an attempt would be made to make them logical characters—MSHvsSF featured a US Agent as a Captain America swap, for example—while others made no sense whatsoever. Orange Hulk anyone?
A number of surfaces which basically look the same, but have something a different colour (such as a row of tiles on a wall) use an internal palette change to provide more graphical variety without needing to include more textures.
Coloured lighting uses a palette change over the whole palette of anything in the area in question.
The ever-common alien Troopers and Captains in Duke Nukem 3D use the same sprites, but different internal palettes. The base sprites use blue for the uniform, but the Troopers use a palette that replaces it with green and the captains use one that replaces it with red.
On a similar note, the different colours of the trousers on the player sprites in multiplayer games are the result of palette swaps.
Putting the same palette used for blue light onto a sprite such as a weapon or switch in the level editor will (at least for Duke Nukem 3D) make that sprite only appear in deathmatch games.
Different palettes on special sprites which control level functionality can have various effects, ranging from simply changing the colour of a light to making a teleporter that doesn't show the usual teleporter effects, to determining what kind of enemy teleports in.
Palette swaps combined with translucency are also used to give the enemies shadows. Squash a copy of the sprite vertically, put it on the ground, put an all-black palette on it, then make it translucent.
Some levels also use all-black translucent palette swaps of sprites to add nice shadows to certain areas.
Then there are user-made levels which give oddly-coloured enemies via palette swaps just for the fun of it. Some sadistic authors put the all-black palette on the enemies and make them transparent. Great, now you're fighting almost-invisible aliens.
Doom, on the other hand, use palette swaps mostly for changing the uniform color of different players in multiplayer mode (the green armor becomes indigo, brown and red for players 2, 3 and 4); however a variant of palette swap is used for one of the monsters: the Spectre is a Demon whose sprite's shape is replaced by a zone of transparent static. In Doom 2, a palette swap was used to create the Hell Knight from the Baron of Hell; however both sets of sprites are present in the game's data and the two are treated by the game as totally separate enemy types, other than being hard-coded against the usual rules for responding to friendly fire.
Doom RPG, however, had "classes" of enemies that changed palettes according to their type and subsequent difficulty.
Team Fortress 2 is the epitome of palette swaps - not only are the classes identical save their team colour, at least three levels contain what are basically palette swapped bases, with changed materials and propaganda posters.
Not only that, but the September 30, 2010 update allows players to paint their hats.
Player-created maps are sometimes guilty of this as well. There are several variations of 2fort with the exactly same layout, but one is at nighttime, etc.
Pretty much every Capture the Flag map is literally just two bases that are exactly the same except they're mirrored and palette-swapped, with a few paths in between that connect them.
There was actually a contest to "dress up" a Valve-designed map that only had basic geometry. The winners of which were later used for the Mann Manor Halloween update.
Several other maps also had Halloween versions.
Referenced in the Developer's Commentary. They noted that, for balance's sake and outside of Attack/Defend maps, they had to make both the RED and BLU bases identical, as otherwise it would offer a tactical advantage to one team over another. To help players not get lost however, they had a strict set of materials, colors and styles they could use for each side; Red was wooden, red (obviously), and used sheet metal and hay. Blu, on the other hand, used concrete and industrial pressed metal, as well as having an overall blue tone. Red was also suppose to be more rustic while blu was more industrial design-wise.
Bioshock only had a few distinct Splicer models, with palette swapping used (mostly on their clothes) to make them slightly less identical.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil has a few of these; the Cave Worm is a giant version of the Swamp Worm, the Fireborn is a firey version of the Endtrail, the Blind One Sentinels are a palette swap of the Flesh Eater Sentinels, and the Trooper is a palette swap of the Mantid Soldier.
Left 4 Dead 2 has the laser sights and special ammo using the same inworld model, but with different textures.
As well, to increase variety, the common infected use similar models, but have different skin/clothes colors.
Perfect Dark for the N64 had Joanna (the main character) and her head-swap Velvet (controlled by Player 2 during Co-Op Mode). Since they were both Carrington Institute agents, they both wore the same uniform.
In Conduit 2, the models of the soldiers are all the same, but the armor they wear is chosen randomly.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes has Samus' arm cannon weapons use the same "configuration" models as the ones used in the previous game with the only difference being the textures of the inner workings (Samus' arm cannon changes shape based on what beam weapon is currently in use). Dark Beam=Ice Beam, Light Beam=Wave Beam, and Annihilator Beam=Plasma Beam.
PAYDAY The Heist has the Clown mask model recycled for other masks and use different textures, namely the Golden and Secret masks.
Dallas' Vyse mask is also the Clown mask retextured while Hoxton's Vyse mask is a different textured version of his Beeef mask. Chain's Vyse mask is the same model as the Moderator and Overkill/Dev mask and those two masks are palette swaps of each other. The Alienware masks are a single model with different textures as well.
Some old games palette swap everything after each level to give the player a sense of progress. Desert Falcon for the Atari 2600 looped between about eight colors as enemies moved slightly faster, so even field below changed from yellow to green to... pink?
Even the NES version of Tetris does this as the game's level increase.
The Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and the Super Game Boy (for the SNES) allowed users to Palette Swap original Game Boy games entirely (at least the ones that weren't designed to take advantage of the color features of the devices).
Hack And Slash
The Diablo series is infamous for this, frequently featuring the same enemy 3-5 times by recoloring and renaming it.
One of the first games to use Palette Swaps was Pac Man. If you haven't noticed, each of the 4 Ghost Monsters has a different way of chasing the player. note Namely: Blinky (the red ghost) actively chases you, Pinky (the pink one) tries to maneuver around you and then cut off your path in an ambush, Inky (the light blue ghost) tries to avoid you unless he really has to chase you, and Clyde (the orange ghost) will keep searching for you in every nook and cranny even if you are right in front of him.
Phantasy Star Online plays this straight for their non-unique weapons. All basic weapons only differentiate in color and name to denote how powerful they are (from weakest to strongest, the colors are green, blue, purple, red, and yellow.)
Phantasy Star Universe takes this a step further. In addition to non-unique weapons differentiating in color, both non-unique and rare weapons have a bland-looking "Kubara" version that usually has worse stats, but offers larger grind bonuses.
Most fluffs are recolors and/or upscales of one another with minor details changed.
Kat's Kokeshi Doll and the Kokeshi Collectibles are palette swaps of normal Kokeshi Dolls.
Gift Boxes from the 2008 Christmas event were Christmas-themed recolors of Flying Giftboxes.
Lightning Bugs, Shockroaches, and Deathroaches share the same base model.
Landstriders are green and black versions of the Walker.
Outlaw Wolves are green Outlaw Pups.
Heck, it's probably safe to say that half the enemies of the game are palette swaps of a different enemy.
Faction ship models in EVE Online are their base ships with different color schemes. This is true of their pirate counterparts as well.
City of Heroes makes frequent use of Palette Swapping in uniformed enemy groups such as Arachnos, where different ranks (and sometimes entirely different classes!) of enemies share the same uniform with a modified color scheme. I.E. Psychic Fortunatas wear red versions of the normal Night and Blood Widow uniforms. Arbiters (who are the highest ranking members of Arachnos, said to be above even the four Archvillains in terms of authority) wear shiny versions of the Wolf Spider uniform.
Also interestingly enough, a player using the Mission Architect can actually palette swap preexisting enemies! Even AVs! And, of course, due to the game's customization system, the vast majority of models use one of three basic animation sets anyway.
Dynasty Warriors: online. Given that all mooks on different sides are simply palette swaps of each other, but the custom outfits can also be. You can individually "dye" each item so that they change color, There are three different dyes that give you a unique color for each one. the Weapons also change color when you add an innate element to it. They will take on a basic color for the element, but other colors on more complex looking weapons will change to fit the theme of the main color (like gold might change to silver). You have ice (blue and silver), fire (red and gold), wind (green and silver), Lightning (yellow and bronze), vorpal (purple and bronze).
RuneScape Classic used this trope: the game environment was 3d but the enemies were 2D sprites, so enemies such as "thief" "man" and "farmer" were often simply palette swaps of one another. Also, the customizable player character models could be considered this as well.
SD Gundam Capsule Fighter has the "-U" rank units, "User-Created" special units from the Korea server who color certain units (all but one being a C-Rank) and are granted different skills and stats, usually having the skills make up for the weaker stats.
In Super Mario Bros, Red Koopa Troopas are smart enough to turn around when they come to a ledge, while Green ones walk right off, even into a Bottomless Pit.
Water and lava used the same sprite with different colors. It wasn't until the All-Stars port that gave water and lava their unique sprites.
Mario's brother Luigi also began life as no more than a palette swap, but he later evolved into the taller, thinner look that he is known for when the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic was ported to the west as Super Mario Bros. 2. This differentiation between Mario and Luigi has stuck ever since, as did the alteration of their shirt and overall colours (switching in SMB2 from red/green overalls and blue shirts to the more natural blue overalls and red/green shirts).
This was parodied in Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door: Mario could change his shirt and hat color to green by wearing the L Emblem badge. Despite this being the only change, the president of the Luigi Fan Club (and no one elsenote except for Pennington, but he mixes them up even when Mario is wearing red...) can be fooled when Mario uses this badge. In fact, this is how you solve one of the troubles.
A more subtle joke lets you get Waluigi's purple colors by mixing the L badge with the W badge (which normally gave you Wario's colors).
In Super Mario Bros. 2, similar to the Koopa Troopas of SMB fame, there are actually two colors of Shy Guy, although the two colors are closer. The difference is exactly the same: Shy Guys in pink turn around when they hit edges; Shy Guys in red walk right off. The three kinds of Birdo have more strikingly different colors, and they indicate what they spit: eggs only, fireballs only, or both. Snifits come in even more colors with a wider variety of behavior, from walking off of cliffs to turning back to spontaneously changing directions to jumping and firing more rapidly. Also, the flicker of damaged enemies or things about to explode changes based on what character you're using.
The flicker changing colours by character choice is because all sprites on an NES screen*
Actually, on a horizontal line, but SMB2 can't actually take advantage of that since the throwing things play mechanic means sprites could end up ANYWHERE.
can only make use of one of four sets of three colours (chosen from a palette of 53). In most games, the player character gets one of these sets, and in SMB2, each player character uses a unique colour set. But since you don't want enemies changing colour based on which character you're playing, that only leaves 3 sets left for every single other sprite, which includes vegetables and pretty much anything else that has to move around the screen.note Though note that it's moving around the screen that matters here: tiles - the other type of object used in NES games - get their own four colour sets, and can be animated by flicking through a series of tiles, but they have to fit into the grid, and the NES can only have a limited number of tiles ready to use at the same time. You can't change the colour scheme assigned to the enemy without changing all other enemies and whatnots using that colour choice, but you can switch that particular enemy's sprite to one of the other colour sets, and the player character's colour set is about the only one that's at all predictable.note By the way, this restriction actually determines what vegetables are used in a level. The new vegetables seen in the battle against Wart use his (or his bubbles') colour scheme, for example.
Also also, the 1up Mushroom was a Super Mushroom with different-colored cap and spots. Although this was the case with the Poison Mushroom in the original version of Super Mario Bros The Lost Levels (which wasn't originally released outside Japan until the remakes), it gained a more distinct appearance in later versions of the game to make the game slightly less frustrating.
Additionally, the darker effect for the underground levels is achieved by Palette Swapping everything, including the enemies, with the Goombas' blueish appearance being the basis of the appearance of the Gloomba line of enemies in the Paper Mario games, which also appear underground.
Paper Mario had different colors of Shy Guys seemingly just for variety; however, most color changes in enemies do indicate an increase in difficulty. Red and Blue Goomba, the minibosses for the Prolouge, have slightly different HP, for example.
Fire Mario is a palette swap, and star power switches through palettes rapidly.
Super Mario Bros 3 had brown Paragoombas that hopped along the ground, and tan Paragoombas that actually flew around, dropping Microgoombas. Gold Cheep-Cheeps and green Parabeetles were among the Dummied Out enemies.
Super Mario World expanded on this by giving us four colors of Koopa. The original two colors retained their behaviors, while Blue and Yellow were a little different. Take note that a Koopa wears shoes that correspond to their shell color, which can change if a Koopa enters a different colored shell. Additionally, while Yoshi had a shell in his mouth that was a different color than green, he would have a certain power. We also see different colored Yoshis right off the bat. Yoshis other than green ones add the corresponding shell color's power as long as they have shells in their mouths, so you could actually have two at once.
Don't forget about these: a Koopa climbing into a Yellow Shell would become a color-flashing and resilient Koopa that relentlessly chases you down, and a Koopa stomped out of a Blue Shell would become a shell-kicker. The caped-and-flying Koopas are from red, green, and blue shells.
Lampshade by Cranky Kong in the Game Boy Advance version of Donkey Kong Country, after a boss battle with "Really Gnawty", a recolored version of the first boss, "Very Gnawty", which is itself a big version of a normal enemy called "Gnawty". The quote at the top of the page comes from after defeating Master Necky Sr., a palette swap of Master Necky Jr.
In the SNES version of Donkey Kong Country 3, there was a hidden code to give Kiddy and Dixie Kong different colored clothing. It didn't affect the game, but the alternate colors looked cooler than the regular colors.
This is used heavily in the TurboGrafx16 game Dragon's Curse, where eventually you will run into three colors - red, green, and blue - of every enemy in the game.
Several of the Metroid games have enemies who are color swaps of each other, though Super Metroid mixed it up by making some common enemies larger instead.
The Metroid Prime series used this fairly often. For example, the Phaz-Ing in 3 are reskins of the Inglets in 2, the Mechlopses in 2 are reskins of the Triclopses in 1, 2 used reskins to create "Dark" versions of many enemies, and so on. In a somewhat odd aversion, the Bombus from 1 were reused as Luminoth drones in 2 with no changes to appearance and only the most minor alterations to activity.
Although the Phaz-Ing can be seen as a continuity nod, seeing as how both Metroid Prime and Emperor Ing were leviathan guardians descended from the same planet.
Even the weapons get this; the Ice Beam and Plasma Beam in Prime show up in Echoes slightly reskinned as the Dark Beam and Light Beam, respectively. The scan for the Metroids in Echoes even mentions that they're vulnerable to the "freezing effects" of the Dark Beam.
Kirby Super Star uses different palettes for the Helpers and their enemy counterparts (with the exception of Wheelie). Of note is that the Helpers' colors are in fact their standard palettes as Mooks in other Kirby games. Milky Way Wishes adds a third palette to most (all?) enemies, and the Helper to Hero mode in Kirby Super Star Ultra adds a fourth to their playable versions.
Several of the bosses reappear under different palettes, as well, though they aren't acknowledged as different bosses.
Not to mention Amazing Mirror, where you get three palette-swapped helpers and the ability to change your color. You can change colors in Squeak Squad as well.
Many of Kirby's hats for his copy abilities are palette swaps of each other, including bandannas, backwards baseball caps, and crowns.
Blinx: The Time Sweeper does this with at least two pairs of bosses. In one, the first monster is yellow; later, you face an identical red counterpart.
Averted by the main characters in the arcade versions of Contra and Super Contra, which used different sprites for Bill and Lance (Bill wore a white tank top, while Lance was shirtless). Due to hardware limitations of the NES, their versions of both games used the same sprite for Bill and Lance, changing only the color of their pants, making Bill the "blue guy" and Lance the "red guy". Oddly enough, Contra III: The Alien Wars for the SNES followed this convention as well.
In Super C and Contra III, the red colored enemy soldiers are usually the ones who actually shoot their guns.
The four main characters in Contra 4 (Bill and Lance, and their "counterparts", Mad Dog and Scorpion) are all palette swaps of the same sprite, with no real playing differences between them. This was due to a 4-Players Mode that was Dummied Out from the final version of the game. The extra characters (Probotector, Sheena, Lucia, Jimbo/Sully) all happen to have four selectable color palettes each as well.
The character running sprite from the Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Special Stage is the same no matter if you're playing as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles when locked-on to Sonic and Knuckles. Only the head (and Tails' titular appendages) are changed - the body is palette swapped.
This happens again in Sonic Advance 2 with Amy who is nothing more then a palette swap of Sonic with some minor changes made to animations and a lack of two mostly useless moves and a larger air attack radius.
Spyro The Dragon provides a 3D example. About midway through the game, Spyro encounters wizard enemies that shoot lightning bolts and wear green robes. Later on in the game, he encounters the same exact enemy model, except these wizards have blue robes and the additional ability to animate suits of armor.
Shows up in a Hero's Tale with Ember and Flame who use the same basic model of Spyro but slightly changed and when you unlock them as costumes no new voice clips for Ember the girl.
Mickey Mousecapade for the NES has a seasonal-themed level where you walk through the woods in all four seasons, with only color changes to represent the seasons. Purple leaves for the trees in spring, green leaves for summer, brown leaves for fall, and white leaves along with white "grass" and "ice" replacing the path for winter.
Forza Motorsport uses a bit of this with its cars; some manufacturers have what is essentially two cars that are exactly the same sold under different brands. The Acura NSX and Honda NSX are prime examples, being identical except for the badges, default colors, and maybe which side the steering wheel is mounted on. Purpose built racing cars by the same manufacturer hit this as well, as many of them are based on the same car, with the same internals, but with the livery and maybe the default tuning setup (such as suspension height) changed; once the player adds his own livery, the difference between them is almost nonexistent. Some cars also have performance versions, which are generally the same thing but with a spoiler and slightly more power.
Gran Turismo 5 - Famous for having around 40 versions of the Nissan GT-R / Skyline, though many are separate generations (and thus, have different bodywork and internals).
Real Time Strategy
As noted above, the Warcraft franchise does this a lot, particularly World Of Warcraft, which is notorious for reusing character models and animations. Although it's understandable why a polar bear would share the same model as a grizzly bear, it's slightly jarring when you encounter a boss like Murmur who is clearly a copy of Ragnaros with only minor changes.
Even in the RTS games, some units share the same model as another one. Like how a tinted Acolyte model was used for a "Fallen Priest" and "Heretic" in the Orc campaign for Reign of Chaos. But some are more subtle like how Harpies use a modified Gargoyle model.
If you lacked 3D rendering skills, this was what you were reduced to doing for custom maps with custom creeps in Warcraft 3's World Editor. The game itself gave you some flexiblity in changing their sizes and tinting them different colors, but apart from that you had to work with what was shipped.
In Command And Conquer: Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2, the 3D models of each units used a palette with some "remap" colors, which were assigned to the team colors. The rest of the palette didn't change.
The entire franchise does that, and the first two games had unit sprites in common.
The first two games made no attempt at a distinction between the basic infantry and some of the buildings. This even carried over games, as the Soviets had pretty much the same tanks and infantry as GDI, except they were red as opposed to yellow. The Allies and Nod had some tiny variations, since they changed the sizes of some of the tanks to differentiate them, but otherwise the Allies was a palette swap of Nod.
In the Star Craft campaign, special units were often assigned a different team color so the player could tell them apart from their normal counterparts. Only Kerrigan in her Zerg form had a completely unique character model.
Incidentally, the way this was done (put the "hero" unit on another team and set that team/unit to "rescuable" status, meaning that you gain control of it when you get close enough to it, then put it right next to your starting units) also led to the unit's appearance being accompanied by a short audio jingle, as if to say, "I'm important, so don't go getting me killed, kthx".
Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption example: Grand Admiral Thrawn's flagship, the Admonitor, is a blue version of the Accuser, Captain Piett's ship from the original Empire at War, but with a different special (all Star Destroyers have a tractor beam special).
Sacrifice has five sides with 9 unique units each. A few of these 'unique' units are palette swaps. The manual explains all of them: Some are the same creatures that defected to the other side, and were granted different powers by their new god. Or were killed by Charnel and raised as The Undead.
Most characters in Popn Music have palette swaps that can be selected by pressing a yellow button on the character select screen. Sometimes the character's palette-swapped form takes on a different name (i.e. Vic Viper's swap is called Lord British), and sometimes you'll get a different character altogether.
Dance Dance Revolution character dancer's outfits are palette swaps of each other. In Hottest Party 1, and each new character introduced in Hottest Party 2-3, gets 1 outfit in four colors. I don't know if the PS2 characters outfit's do the same thing, but it's possible. One palette can make a character look great. Some, on the other hand... http://www.konami.jp/bemani/ddr/jp/gs/hp/basic/chara.html# (hint, hover over Rena's yellow outfit. ick. her green one is ick too.)
Roguelike games such as Net Hack use standard ASCII characters in place of actual graphics, so using different colors is the only way to have a large number of distinguishable objects or creatures.
Role Playing Game
The Final Fantasy games feature a lot of these, including Underground Monkeys. Perhaps the most noticeable example is Final Fantasy X's Monster Arena, where all the bonus monsters are simply previous enemies and bosses colored differently (save for Neslug).
Final Fantasy VIII is just about the only game that does not use palette swaps in copious quantities, and even that game has Ultima/Omega Weapon and Elnoyle/Elvoret as swaps.
Justified in that Elvoret was an Elnoyle residing the tower and Omega was Ultima reincarnated by Ultimecia.
FFVIII was the only game not to actually need this because the monsters leveled up with you. The other games had to make palette swaps from necessity.
Final Fantasy IX had just about as little of it as possible too. The only palette monsters are the friendly monsters, the black waltzes and the crystal versions of the four chaos bosses. Mind you, while the -enemies- were almost all unique, the NPCs could be another story (though they too were often more varied than expected).
Final Fantasy X 2 at least tries some mild deviation, by making its palette swapped baddies progressively bigger. Although the game still suffered this trope for a few enemies, including the Final Boss; the final boss is basically a copy of the main character from Final Fantasy X in different clothes and uses the exact same battle animations, right down to his critical HP and KO animations!
Final Fantasy XII still uses Palette Swaps, but rely on them a lot less than the past games did. For example, dragons and wolves will still come in different colors, but will also have other features added to make them different from their weaker counterparts, such as spikes on the skull, sport flaming eyes, being larger than the previous monsters, etc. However, the animations are still recycled for all monsters that are in the same family tree. There are mentions of migration and evolution of creatures occasionally in the lore, though, which explains a good few examples... but not why the wolves' basic attack is an uppercut performed with their snoutsnote since they use the same animations as the Hyenas, which have a sharp horn on their muzzles that the wolves lack.
Final Fantasy XI has similar explanations for why monsters of the same family had such bizarre separations across environments. On the other hand, FFXI barely even uses palette swaps; including many 'Bosses' (rare monsters referred to as NM, although mostly not storyline related) using the same sprites as the regular mobs that surround them (although occasionally with an inflated size). This was particularly bad where, for quite awhile after they were introduced, five of the most powerful monsters in the game (at the time of their release) used the same models as far more mundane creatures. They've since been reskinned, but still use the same base models.
In Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings, all the regular summons (bar the ones like Levianthan, Ifrit, and so on), are palette swaps of each other, so that like the above example the player can tell them apart.
Another Squaresoft RPG, Chrono Trigger, was brutally honest about its use of palette swapped enemies. The imps that you fight early in the game are named "Blue Imp" and "Green Imp" respectively, and the bestiary in the DS version differentiate between the two versions of the "Hench" monster by designating them (Blue) and (Purple). Other palette swapped enemies are given unique names, however.
Kingdom Of Paradise's field enemies consist merely of differently-colored versions of a few models (archer, swordsman, golem). The color of the uniform lets the player know which clan they're from.
All drell characters in Mass Effect 2 look exactly identical save for skin colour. Multiplayer characters in Mass Effect 3 are palette swaps of various Mooks and player's armor suits.
MOTHER 1 did this, but had the decency to occasionally add subtle changes to their swapped sprites (a dog-collar on the wolf sprite to make a 'stray dog', rust marks on the robot sprite to make the 'scrapper'...)
EarthBound parodied this by giving the palette swaps goofy names.
Monster Hunter uses Palette Swaps to differentiate standard wyverns from their upgrades. For example, a low level Rathalos is Red, a medium powered one dark blue, and a high level one silver.
Some of them have distinct fighting styles though.
Tales Of Legendia is a big offender. The same twelve enemies appear constantly throughout the game, sometimes twice in the same dungeon, with only their palettes swapped out. This gets ridiculous within the first ten hours of the game, but in a seventy hour game, it begins to feel incredibly monotonous.
Mega Man Battle Network uses this a lot - while there are numerous viruses over the six games, each has three to six different palette swaps, e.g. Mettaur, Mettaur2, Mettaur3, and MettaurOmega, just to name one set. Third-level and Omega viruses often have slightly changed attacks, but for the most part, the only difference is increased HP, speed, and damage output.
The Omega versions of the bosses in the fourth game also receive a palette swap, perhaps to help indicate that they're on a completely different level from the previous versions strength wise.
Backlash ensued when in Gen V, the Kami trio turned out to mostly be this. (There are some minor differences in the tail, but essentially they are Palette Swaps of each other.)
It's alleviated a bit in Black and White 2, however, as the Kami trio are all given alternate "beast" forms that are very different from each other (being a bird, a dragon and a tiger, respectively)
Which is really odd when you consider that the Lake Trio in Gen IV were even more similar to each other (physically only different in the shape and color of their "hair" and the state of their eyes; they even all share the same elemental type) and yet did not recieve nearly the same amount of ire from the fandom. Of course it may be that the rage was always there, and the Kamis made it boil over.
The standard editions of the Kingdom Hearts games mostly avoid this (surprising for a Square Enix game), only using palette swaps to denote the elemental affinity of the mage-type Heartless; however, the Final Mix editions of both games use palette swaps in interesting ways. First of all, nearly all of the standard Mooks in the Final Mix games have had their colors changed from the original game's colors—for example, the first game's purple and pink Wyverns became blue and gold in the original Final Mix, and the second game's blue Hook Bats became red in Final Mix+. Some enemies, such as the black Shadows, remained the same in all editions, and though there was a rumor that the palette-swapped standard enemies had their stats tweaked, they really are the same enemies. The Final Mix editions of the game also included extra monsters; of these, many of them are palette swaps of standard enemies with slight changes in the mesh, high stats, and a host of annoying special abilities.
This isn't the case in 358/2 Days. Most of the bosses are larger palette swaps of average heartless you fight normally, with a few other minor aesthetic alterations. Also, some of the Keyblades are palette swaps of each other, and when you equip the Zero Gear, the Kingdom Key+ is just the Kingdom Key with higher stats. Though this could be justified considering this is a DS game and they focused on putting the good stuff in other areas. Which they did pretty well.
Also from Days: Xion is a Palette Swap of Roxas minus the dual-wielding.
The dream eaters in Kingdom Hearts 3 D are perhaps the most notable examples of this in the series, with the friendly Spirits having bright colors, the Nightmares having dark colors, and the rare Nightmares using a blueish-white as their primary body color instead of whatever the normal versions used. The only differences they possess aside from color are the shapes of their eyes; the Nightmares all possess circular red eyes, whereas the Spirits have four different shapes per variety that change based on their disposition.
The7th Saga has the infamously Genre SavvyBounty Hunter Pison, who, after begin defeated the first time, shows up unexpectedly later in the quest and proudly announces that he is now Red-Pison. Turns out to be Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and you immediately fight a stronger version of the original enemy, now palette-swapped to red. He even does this again even later on, becoming Metal-Pison and getting a gunmetal gray recolor.
The World Ends With You does this with the Noise. There are sometimes cosmetic differences between the various versions of each Noise species, and the boss versions of a few of the more powerful versions often have tattoos all over their bodies in addition to more threatening characteristics (bigger horns/tusks), but overall most Noise are palette swaps of about fifteen or sixteen different species. Unlike all of the other bosses, who except for the two bat bosses and boss versions of normal Noise all have unique sprites, the Bonus Boss is a Palette Swap as well, of two of the bosses, one on each screen.
Sword Of Vermilion was a heavy offender from the 16-bit era. All the common enemies came in six different colors (in order of ascending power: green, blue, red, black, silver, gold). Also, only the Final Boss was truly unique, all other bosses were palette swaps of four different models (dragon, giant, fire demon and necromancer).
In Jade Cocoon 2, some Divine Beasts come in multiple elemental varieties. For example, Mau Divine Beasts come in Fire, Wind and Earth varieties, each with their own stats and attacks, but not Water because it is the opposite to the Mau family's main element, Fire.
The Persona games make use of this. All enemies in 3 and 4, even bosses, save for the plot related ones, are palette swaps of their base-type.
The earlier Shin Megami Tensei games loved to do this. The most notorious example? The three seraphs' sprite when they are in your party is the same as the archangel's: the second demon of the "divine" clan.
In .hack//G.U., Atoli and Shino are palette swaps. Of course, this is easier to understand when you remember that this takes place in an MMORPG; that, and the fact that they look the same is a major plot point. Also, all the NPCs running around "The World" consist of palette swaps.
A number of characters from .hack//Sign and the first PS2 game series are palette swaps of each other, including Bear and Orca, Mimiru and BlackRose, and Tsukasa and Elk. This is Played for Laughs in the .hack//Gift OVA, where one of the Blademasters (Bear and Orca's class) is killed in-game, and because dead characters are grayed out, nobody can tell which one of them it is.
Shining The Holy Ark was really bad with this, to the point where simliar looking enemies would reappear in the dungeon after the next. It was probably because they were all heavily animated (for the time) so the game couldn't physically have as many enemies.
Shining Wisdom is split into two areas, east and west. Most of the enemies in the east (the latter part of the game) are just the same enemies with a different colour scheme and new attacks.
The various Phantasy Star games have used this. The first Phantasy Star had one notable (for an ancient 8-bit game) detail: the skeleton-type enemies had a different shield design for all three of their swaps.
Yars' Revenge does this quite oddly. The Quotile constantly palette swaps as part of its normal function, going through a rainbow of the colors that the 2600 could produce. When it turns red, it becomes a Swirl and tries to kill you. On later levels, if the normally red shield around the Quotile is blue, the Quotile will turn into Swirls when it turns blue and yellow as well. Of course, the original red Swirl is faster and usually trickier to avoid/kill.
Hardcore fans of the Gradius series were disappointed to discover that in Gradius V, the Player 2 ship was not Lord British (the red, single-nosed 2P ship of Life Force), but just a red-colored Vic Viper.
One of the final bosses in Darius Gaiden is a palette swap of the first boss, making for a nasty trick for any unprepared player.
Galaxian was the first game to have palette-swapped enemies where sprites were multi-colored. In fact, this is the oldest game to have multi-colored sprites.
Raizing's "Bat" series of shmups does this differently. Pressing certain buttons or button combos not only changes the palette of player ships, but also gives them different abilities, such as enhanced speed, bomb, shot and option firepower, and in some cases, a smaller hitbox.
The Guardian Legend does this with bosses Fleepa, Optomon, Bombarder, and Clawbot, each of which recurs in different colors, and the last of which reuses the top half of the Bombarder sprite.
The different enemy factions in BLOODCRUSHER II are just reskins of the same basic enemies.
In Descent and Descent II, some enemy robots would have textures that looked like textures found within the games' walls or floors. Although some were for camouflage, some 'bots had their textures changed to denote different behavior (such as dropping bombs, instead of firing laser or missiles or what-have-you).
Red Medium Hulks are three times tougher than Brown Medium Hulks, and use homing missiles, in barrages, nonetheless. Class 2 Platforms have a green Demonic Spider variation that shoots rapid-fire concussion missiles. Play In Descent II, the goddamned Red Hornets later have a more demonic green variant, the Spawns.
Harvest Moon Grand Bazaar was really lazy with this in comparison to the rest of the series. While the other games will use palette swaps for minor characters and other insignificant things (items, animals, etc.), a lot of the major townspeople in Grand Bazaar share sprites with at least one other villager. The two main character choices (a male and a female) are just swaps of each other. Claire shares the same sprite with Nellie, and Isaac with Wilbur; Cindy with Lauren (justified, because they're twins), along with every other young girl (including your daughter); Kevin with all other young boys (including your son); Ethel with Joan; and Raul with Diego and Enrique (they're all brothers). They at least get somewhat different Character Portraits, but because of this they wear really similar clothing in their artwork.
In Punch-Out!!, each of the boxers (except King Hippo) has a swapped counterpart with a different face:
The arcade version has Glass Joe and Kid Quick, Piston Hurricane and Pizza Pasta, and Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman.
The NES version has Glass Joe and Don Flamenco, Von Kaiser and Great Tiger, Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman (returning from the arcade game), Vodka Drunkenski / Soda Popinski and Super Macho Man (returning from the arcade sequel Super Punch-Out), and Piston Honda and Mike Tyson / Mr. Dream.
This virtually happens in all Punch-Out games, save for the Wii game, in which for the first time, all of the characters have distinct character models, although they still have similar appearances, indirectly referencing this trope.
All generic units, enemy and ally, in the Final Fantasy Tactics series are color swaps of each other so players can identify units from each other. Example, a Nu Mou Black Mage is generally clothed in blue while an enemy one has red clothing.
This makes things moderately confusing when you have to fight Blue Mages dressed in red and Red Mages dressed in blue.
In tactics A2 this becomes funny. The red king is dressed in blue, the blue king is dressed in red, the the black king is dressed in red, the green king is dressed in purple. not only that, they arn't master of their namesake magic, they use others more. So apparently magic type can get palette swapped as well.
Almost all of the non-plot-related enemies and characters in Disgaea have higher class ranks that are palette swaps of their base class, each with slightly better stats than the last.
3 introduces a service that allows one to change a unit's color to that of any of their other creatable ranks for a fee, and 4 expands on it by introducing unique colors that aren't used by any of a class' ranks, and extends the palette swapping privileges to unique characters.
The Fire Emblem series plays this in several different ways:
There is usually just one or two (if both genders are possible) character model per class; everyone in a particular class is a palette swap of that model. Generic units are coloured by affiliation, while playable, boss and other important characters have their own unique colour scheme. Some characters have their own individual class (e.g. Lord) and thus look unique. Radiant Dawn alleviates this to some extent by giving every player and important character a unique skin to their model which reflects their actual appearance, but the model's animations do not change at all. That is why the fans clamor for the official character art—these portraits tend to add a touch of personalization that the in-game models often do not portray.
Several exceptions exist to this tendency, particularly in the GBA era. The Sacred Stones introduced three apprentice classes; there is only one character each that as such looks rather unique... until he/she promotes into a proper class. Blazing Sword's Hawkeye - comparatively not that important a character - has his own completely unique Berserker sprite which differs significantly from the normal in its movement, whereas all other Berserkers use the generic sprite. Weird.
Surprisingly for a game of its complexity, Jagged Alliance 2 has this. All enemies, mercs and militia are basically the same 3 models (Big Male, Regular Male, and Female) with a different palette for each. Mercs have the most diversity, as each has a different clothing color combination, and of course there are all sorts of combinations for hair color and skin color for everyone in the game.
Luminous Arc and its sequel are horrible about this. There are probably less than ten different monster sprites that are recolored to make all the generic enemies you face.
Heroes of Might and Magic suffers from a bad case of palette swapping when units upgrade. Granted, some bells and whistles are usually added, but it's painfully obvious the models were built from the same sprite.
This is possibly a Justified Trope since upgraded units are supposedly the same units as pre-upgrade.
The economic edutainment game M.U.L.E. does this with the players' characters if any of them are the same species, but since they only share the screen during auctions, it's not really a problem.
Shining Force III does a pretty good job of subverting this, until around half way when you notice the earliest monsters reappearing but with a different colour. The humble bat, one of the earliest enemies, reappears in Chapter 4 as the Vampire Bat which is bright red.
Wide Open Sandbox
Prototype has both lighter-colored USMC and darker-colored Blackwatch palettes of military vehicles, the ones you can actually hijack. Blackwatch ground vehicles are tougher to kill while their aircraft carry more ammunition(and are also slightly tougher), than their Marine counterparts. They can also be easily identified with their respective logos too.
Also the civilian populace, where any given civilian model has a few color themes affecting attire and skin.
In Saints Row The Third, you can unlock new skins for your gang members (like hookers, cops, mascots, National Guard soldiers, and even rival gang members) by completing story missions and minigames. If you actually apply these skins to your gang, it quickly becomes obvious that they are simply palette swapped versions of the originals, right down to the ones modeled on rival gangsters continuing to make disparaging remarks about the Saints during battle.
Non-video game examples:
Every year people get ads in their newspapers showing collectibles for the big local pro or college sports team. Ceramic villages with the team logo on it, Santa wearing the jersey, etc. What you don't really see until you go online to their website is almost every city got the same ad for the same village and often the only thing different in the picture is the team logo and colors.
Anime and Manga
Common throughout the Digimon franchise; though it has well over one thousand mons, it is slightly padded with palette swaps:
Sometimes, the difference in color is used to denote a variant of a different level, attribute type, or associated with different elements/powers. For example, Otamamon's has water powers and is of the Virus attribute, while Otamamon Red is associated with fire and is of the Data attribute. Both are of the Child level. On the other hand, sometimes there are less reasonable instances: there's Monochromon, an Adult, and Vermillimon, a red Monochromon of the Perfect level. There are many more examples.
Digimon World is horrible about doing this to differentiate random enemy Digimon from recruitable ones. You can recruitBetamon and Drimogemon (frog and drill-nosed mole, basically). You fightModokiBetamon and NiseDrimogemon. (Modoki means 'seems like' or 'looks like;' Nise means 'false.') The only difference at all between them is that ModokiBetamon is a slightly different shade of green and NiseDrimogemon has a mustache instead of whiskers.
Not as bad as Gottsumon, a Child-level golem Digimon who has two palette swaps, Icemon and Insekimon. At least Icemon (Adult-level) is clearly white as opposed to Gottsumon's grey so you can easily tell them apart, but Insekimon is distinguished from Gottsumon and Icemon solely by being a slightly lighter shade of grey with a green tinge, and what really takes the cake is that he is a Perfect. You heard correctly, a Perfect is a palette swap of a Child. This was lampshaded neatly in Digimon Savers - when Gottsumon evolves to Insekimon, Yoshino comments that all that seems to have changed is his colour.
Gururumon has to be Bandai poking fun at themselves over this practice. The difference between Garurumon and Gururumon is that Gururumon's blue stripes are slightly more purplish in hue; I dare you to tell them apart if you don't have their pictures/trading cards side by side. Many are the fans who thought that "Gururumon" was just a typo.
Vegimon has two palette swaps: Zassoumon and RedVegimon. RedVegimon, at least, has the decency to differ in design somewhat insofar as having large clubs at the end of its tentacles instead, but otherwise it just looks like a Vegimon that is blue.
The third kind is random recolourings which serve no purpose at all, are given little to no context, are not differentiated from the main Digimon at all, and seem to be there for the hell of it. Digimon World 3 is a massive offender in this regard. The entire Amaterasu Server (before you free it) is a Dark World-themed palette swap of the Asuka Server, and most of the Digimon in it are palette swaps of the ones from Asuka.
The Koubu mecha in the first Sakura Taisen games are identical aside from color. The second game added another set of sprites for the two characters with European designed mecha. Once the games entered 3D with the third game, each characters mecha became more individualized with unique emblems, animations, and weapon models.
The "Rose Bride dress" of Revolutionary Girl Utena: The original dress is red and worn by Anthy during the duels. In the first ending sequence and in episode 38, Utena wears a light pink version of the dress, and in the third story arc, Kozue and Shiori gain dresses that match their hair colors (indigo and purple, respectively).
During Yu-Gi-Oh!'s DOMA Arc, Jonouchi / Joey adds the Blue Flame Swordsman to his arsenal. This is, unsurprisingly, Exactly What It Says on the Tin—a blue Palette Swap of his already existing card, Flame Swordsman, with the exact same stat (ATK: 1800, DEF: 1600, Level: 5). On the plus side it does have a useful ability that the original card does not possess—when it's sent to the Graveyard it allows Joey to summon a regular Flame Swordsman to take its place.
Kisara is basically Serenity with white hair and pale skin.
In Ultimate Comics: Avengers, Gregory Stark is introduced as Tony's twin brother. He has blonde hair and wears white suits.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's also Mattboo Sux, Sidney, Casy, "Evil Pac-man 64 clone", etc.
That may be explained by the fact that the original character designs were made in MS paint.
A particularly lazy example with My Little Unicorn; as seen on the author's YouTube video on the characters, as the cast consist of just recolours of Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Scootaloo. Made even more obvious by the fact that; with the exception of Lightning Dawn, the author never actually bothered to recolour their eyes.
Heck; Rhymey isn't even a recolour just Fluttershy with a horn, clothing, yellow tail, mane and different hairstyle.
The newer series of Kamen Rider have tended to reuse the same rubber suits for their Monster of the Week, with the differences ranging from a complete repaint to a differently coloured scarf. Sometimes this is given a lampshade, as in Kamen Rider Agito where monsters embody members of certain animal genera (and thus Agito fights three recolored jaguar monsters in the first two episodes). Considering that the cost of creating one of these expensive monster costumes from scratch greatly outweighs the cost of a simple repaint, it's more due to budget constraints rather than a lack of creativity. Some Kamen Riders also fall prey to the budget-saving repaint: most of the movie-only Riders, Evil Twin Ryuga from Kamen Rider Ryuki, the Super Prototype Hopper Riders and Evil Twin Dark Kabuto from Kamen Rider Kabuto and Zeronos' Deadly Upgrade Zero Form from Kamen Rider Den-O.
In Denji Sentai Megaranger, the suits, which often have some sort of variety per season, are rather homogenous this time around save color. Perhaps a moment of Fridge Brilliance, since this season was about video games, particularly ones made in the mid-90s.
The same thing happens quite frequently in Dinosaurs. Every single puppet not used for a protagonist was used as countless different characters, made male or female simply by changing the clothes.
In the Psych episode "We'd like to thank the academy", Shawn shoots two civilian cardboard cutouts in a training exercise. His justifications:
"The first woman with the groceries was exiting a library that doesn't allow snacks. I know this because we've tried on several occasions. And the second woman was simply a replica of the first woman, but they painted her face brown, which is both offensive and suspicious."
The MAD Magazine comic Spy vs. Spy features the titular black and white spies, palette swaps of one another.
Miniatures wargames will often have this. The players will actually play the same army by the same rules, but represent in universe alignments by paint scheme. For example, one player may represent the WWII 10th Mountain Division and another may represent a US Ranger Battalion by using the same miniatures and rule set, but simply paint the 10th in snow and the Rangers in drab greens. This is especially prevalent in Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 where many in universe armies might follow the same rule set.
Transformers being what it is frequently redecos (puts different colors and painted designs on an old mold) and/or retools (puts new parts on old models) the same model several times to get better return on their toys. This can vary from a new paint scheme on a character to making a completely different character. Starscream, in particular, shares most of his body with his fellow Seekers, Thundercracker, Skywarp, Sunstorm, and Acid Storm. Move some things around (retool) and you get the 'coneheads,' Thrust, Dirge, and Ramjet. Even Optimus Prime gets reused as a different guy from time to time. Original Ultra Magnus? Totally a Prime repaint with a different trailer◊. Magnus' robot mode is actually the toy's Super Mode - the toy's normal robot mode is never shown to avoid confusion. And then, of course, there are all the 'evil' repaints, such as Scourge (repaint of Generation 2 Laser Prime toy) and the various incarnations of Nemesis Prime (Scourge color scheme added to other Optimuses... Optimi?) There's even a Nemesis Breaker, an Evil Twin of Leobreaker from Transformers Cybertron.
Transformers Cybertron interestingly avoids this, for the most part (okay, not in the toyline), with Thundercracker having a standard Seeker body... but Starscream himself is a completely different design, with only the head looking particularly Starscreamy. (It's actually based on Screamer's pre-Earth design from the War Within comics.) The exception is Galvatron. After upgrading to Galvatron, visually, Megatron is Palette Swapped to G1 Megatron's colors. Major Homage, bordering on non-sexual fanservice.
Actually lampshaded and justified in Transformers Prime, where Skyquake and Dreadwing are explained as twins with two halves of the same spark, explaining why they look essentially the same, just with different colors.
Also justified in Transformers Animated, there they were explained as having the same "body type" in-fiction. Oddly, though, only a handful of toys actually got recolored, namely Starscream as his clones and a couple of Bot Con exclusives. More recolors came out in Japan or were cancelled before release.
This has been done so often in both the official toyline and the shows, that it's considered a fairly acceptable method of inventing an Original Character (that one plans to create art of).
G.I. Joe has several 'covered head to toe' enemy characters. Each meant to be a different mook an identical uniform. Swaps come as ideas do. The 'Python Patrol' was, storywise, a way to make characters invisible to sensor equipment. The heroes had, for example, 'Tiger Force', which swapped the usual uniform colors with yellow, brown and red. Nameless Joe Greenshirts (think 'redshirts') got this, though their heads were clearly seen. Some were logical (light skin and a tanned one could mean a sibling was in the sun) but others were different races, same facial features.
Nearly every LEGO minifigure ever, if for fairly understandable reasons. It's only within the past few years that they've started implementing unique body, limb and head designs for non-human characters.
In BIONICLE, the act of palette swapping represented a very disliked trend throughout the line's early run, commonly known as "clone sets". The most infamous case is that of the Bohrok and Bohrok-Kal lines: 12 sets that, beyond their weapons (and usually their collectibles), are exactly the same model, just in different colors. The same could be said for most of the Matoran sets, which only differed in their colors and/or mask designs. Yet narrowly avoided by most of the original Rahi two-packs which had two almost identical models, but each had at least one tiny detail that differentiated it from its partner (the exception being the Nui-Jaga scorpions). Outside of the toys, story material also had its share of these, but not many were truly canon. The green Vortixx from the comic Shadow Play was colored that way so that the readers could tell him apart from the black Roodaka. On the other hand, Tuma's green colored Rock Steed from Rise and Fall of the Skrall is canon.
At the beginning, Hero Factory somewhat dipped back into the practice for its Heroes (the villains still averted this). This was somewhat justified, however, as they were built in a factory as variations of the same basic design rather than individual and unique life-forms. The first wave Heroes were recognizeable solely by their different helmets, weapons torso armour designs (the three rookies had the same one, however). The 2.0 and 3.0 waves, thanks to the new building style, added subtle differences that made each Hero unique: limbs length, shoulder width, armour size and orientation, colour schemes. By the Breakout arc, though Heroes are still all built off the largely same basic frame, Hero designs are even more varied in height, designs, colour schemes, armour and other elements.
Not only do the current (as of 2011) line of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic figurines resemble more toward pre-G4 versions, but various background characters (sometimes not even existing in the series
not yet anyway
) are palette swaps of the main characters, if their packaging graphic is anything to go by. For instance, look up Dewdrop Dazzlenote of Twilight Sparkle, Feathermaynote of Rainbow Dash, Flitterheartnote of Fluttershy, Lulu Lucknote of Rarity, Plumsweetnote of Pinkie Pie, Snowcatchernote of Rarity also, Twinkleshinenote of rarity yet again if you're already familiar with the main G4 cast. Some other examples show attempt to differentiate however, such as "Cupcake" being a wingless version of Fluttershy, or "Sunny Daze" being a non-unicorn Sweetie Belle, or even "Minty" as an Applejack mold sans the hat.
Nerf blasters are often released in recolored versions as store exclusives, notably the Sonic Series from Toys R Us, the Clear Series from Target, and the legendary Red Strike series from Walmart, which was only for sale for one Black Friday and is now one of the most sought after and expensive repaints ever in Nerf history. Subverted in Walmart's Whiteout series in that they actually improve the blasters' performance.
The world of Adventurers! apparently suffers from a severe case of this. The characters get to fight monsters like dark blue spectres and navy blue spectres, each requiring different tactics to defeat. It was also lampshaded in a discussion between the Big Bad and his minion, where the Big Bad complains he has no time because he has to create new monsters to send after the protagonists, and the minion points out he usually just takes an existing monster and puts 'Ice' in front of it's name.
In Dragon City, Natasha was a brown version of Erin, but she was later discovered to be an alternate universe version of Erin, so it doesn't really count.
In Aventure Dennis the protagonist fights Shadow Dennis a palette swapped version of himself.
In later seasons, when the current game in the series allowed for customized pieces of armor, this cleared up a bit.
On user-created-adoptable site Squiby it's common for users to take a single format for a creature and use creative colorfills to make multiple versions. Some popular lines that use this formula include Mites,Tencats,Shika and Coons.
Being one of the web's most potent Fountain of Expies characters, there are a massive number of recolored Sonic the Hedgehog lookalikes on sites like Deviant Art. The least modified are simply Sonic with a new color scheme or some clothes on.
Very common for the background ponies in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. With the exception of their "cutie marks", most of them are Palette Swaps of each other, and in a few cases such as two of Apple Bloom's classmates, of main/minor characters. There're also the red and green dragons that appear in separate episodes.
In the Futurama episode "The Farnsworth Parabox" the crew of Planet Express goes to a Parallel Universe where they meet palette-swapped versions of themselves (Fry has black hair, Bender is gold-plated instead of gray), otherwise nearly identical in personality.
In Gargoyles, Owen and Vogel. They say nobody's ever said they look alike. Turns out it's because Puck based his Owen identity on Vogel, the trickster enjoying the irony of playing The Comically Serious.
Fairly common in South Park for background classmates at the boys' school, or for adults in other crowd scenes. Although the animators have put together more distinct character models for extras in recent seasons, palette swaps can still occur when they don't feel up to making even more new ones.
In The Mr. Men Show, Mr. Bounce looks like a yellow Mr. Tickle with a pink hat instead of a blue one.
A number of Muppets are actually the same puppet with different clothes, hair, and other accessories. The Creature Shop calls them "Anything Muppets." Sesame Street fans reading this will probably not be surprised to learn that the characters Prairie Dawn and Betty Lou, for example, are the same puppet, not to mention Zoe and Rosita.
Any product that is mass produced can also be made with different colors. Cars are a big example of this.
Nintendo is very fond of making their consoles and accessories in different colors. The Nintendo 64 had controllers of various colors, ranging from red, blue, green, purple, etc. The console itself would also be produced in colors beyond black late in its life. When the Gamecube was launched, it came in either black or purple, along with its controllers. Later on, there would be a silver/platinum version and for a short time, there was orange, but that color was used only for the controller. The Wii initially released only in white, but it was also produced in black years later and there were controllers in black as well, along with pink, blue, and a limited edition of gold. The Wii-U (so far) only comes in either black or white.
Badge engineering. A car company takes one of their cars, swaps out the badges, then maybe changes the bodywork slightly before selling in one of their subsidiaries. General Motors is/was infamous for this, famously selling seven versions of effective the same car in the 1980s, all in the same market. The modern Volkswagen group likewise does the same, though they usually make more significant changes between brands.