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Head Swap

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Take Ryu, swap his head, and then change the color of his skin and clothes, and you'll get a new character.note 
A sub-trope of the 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.

Not to be confused with Digital Head Swap, a type of special effect.


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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 with their own assortment of foes (various members of the Mad Gear Gang's international branches in the former, the Skull Cross Gang in the latter).
  • Double Dragon:
    • 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-heeled 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.
  • Streets of Rage 3 has Zack and Slum, basic mooks that share the same body type and the differences are in their heads (Zack being brown skinned and wearing a bandana and Slum being a white blonde haired guy with sunglasses and a headband)) and torsos, which have slightly different clothing styles. Likewise, the The Men in Black enemies all use the exact same bodies while using different heads to have multiple enemies of the same type.

  • Street Fighter:
    • Ryu and Ken and their various clones (Akuma, Dan and Sean) 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.
    • Dan's character design is also meta-reference to the head swapping. Dan is a Take That! to Art of Fighting where Dan's character design is Robert Garcia's head on Ryo Sakazaki's body.
    • 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 was 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 has 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. When Hwa Jai crossed over to The King of Fighters XIII, the same applied.
  • 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.
  • Darkstalkers:
    • Lilith, who was introduced in Vampire Savior (the third game in the 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 BloodStorm 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.


  • Among the most intentionally disturbing and hilarious of Head Swaps is one found in a mini-DLC for Borderlands 2, when the model of testosterone-poisoned Mr. Torgue is reused for his grandmother. Apparently she's just as badass as he is, or was in her day.
  • 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 were built by the same creator.
  • Due to the limitations of the Gamebryo engine, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas have three body types for human characters (athletic physiques for the men, big breasts and youthful bodies for the women, and petite figures for children). Apparently there are no fat people, slim men, or petite women in the Capital or Mojave Wasteland.
  • 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).
    • Star Wars: 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.
      • Played across the entire series, as characters are created with a base costume which then has a unique head on it that matches the skin tone. A mis-match of this in Mass Effect 2 where a human head was attached to a blue-skinned Asari body made the rounds on Tumblr.
  • One Piece: Nanatsu Shima no Daihihou noticeably depicted female enemies as reskins of Nami with a different head and sometimes another kind of pole weapon. Due to this, they didn't even bother depicting mermaid enemies with fish tails in-game.

  • In Smash TV, the Evil M.C. is a head and torso-swap of the first boss Mutoid Man.
  • In Bloody Wolf, the Player 2 character is just Player 1 in desert fatigue and a bald head.
  • Cuphead: To keep gameplay balanced, Cuphead and Mugman are more or less identical, with only a few subtle differences. Cuphead has round eyes, a small red nose, a long bendy straw with red stripes, and red shorts; Mugman has ovular eyes, a big blue nose, a short straw with blue stripes, and blue shorts.

    Simulation Games 
  • Theme Hospital used a combination of this trope and Procedural Generation to vary up the patient sprites, with an assortment of head, torso and leg pieces that were semi-randomly mixed and matched. The variety wasn't particularly large, but it was mildly impressive for the mid-1990s.

  • Punch-Out!!:
    • The arcade games have Glass Joe/Kid Quick, Bald Bull/Mr. Sandman and Vodka Drunkenski/Super Macho Man (both of which appear in the NES game) and Piston Hurricane/Pizza Pasta/Great Tiger.
    • In the NES version, every character except King Hippo shared a character model with another boxer: Glass Joe/Don Flamenco, Von Kaiser/Great Tiger, Bald Bull/Mr. Sandman, Soda Popinski/Super Macho Man, and Piston Honda/Mike Tyson. Mr. Dream was also just a headswap of Tyson.
    • The Super NES game has Bald Bull/Mr. Sandman once again, as well as Gabby Jay/Bob Charlie, Bear Hugger/Mad Clown, Piston Hurricane/Aran Ryan, Dragon Chan/Heike Kagero, Masked Muscle/Super Macho Man, and the two Bruiser Brothers. The only characters with unique models are Narcis Prince and Hoy Quarlow.
    • Given that the Wii game uses 3D models instead of sprites, this is less blatant with all of the fighters having unique models and animations, though the body type similarities still remain as they did in the NES game. Disco Kid's similar to Piston Hondo, King Hippo and Bear Hugger are both overweight, and Aran Ryan is closest to Glass Joe and Don Flamenco. Only Donkey Kong is so obviously unique.
  • 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.
  • The players in the Inazuma Eleven games have a few different body types (normal, short, fat, etc.) with a unique head sprite and model for each and every one of the 1000+ characters.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ubiquitous in Warhammer 40,000; 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.

Non-video game examples:

    Live-Action TV 
  • A few Ultra Series kaiju were made using this technique:
    • The most famous example is the use of a Baragon suit to portray Pagos by attaching a new head, then swapping it with another head to create Neronga, Gabora and Magular.
    • Aboras from Ultraman was made by attaching a newly-created head to Red King's body and painting him blue. The suit would be reverted for Red King's reappearance in Episode 25, while Aboras' arch-nemesis Banila would also be given a new head to portray Imora.
    • Ultraseven has Alien Perolynga, who was made by giving the scrapped Piniya-man a new, avian head and repainting him in bizarre, psychedelic colours.

  • Dolls and action figures are pretty much subject to this, utilising a common body design shared across most if not all characters in a line to save on production costs. This is also done to ensure that clothes for one character are mutually compatible with the other within a particular collection, in case a doll's owner wants to dress Maryellen in let's say Molly's Christmas dress for example. The key difference is mostly with the face paint or mold, hair, skin complexion and wardrobe, and for character dolls such as those from the American Girls Collection, their backstory.
  • Wrestling figures made by Jakks Pacific, in particular the Ruthless Aggression line, have identical head joints to the other figures in the series, which makes it easy to swap them if you wish to make a version in a different costume (such as if they have since formed a tag team with someone wearing matching attire).

    Web Original 
  • The "Pokefusion" meme involves taking one Pok√©mon sprite's head and color scheme and switching it with another's, then giving the resulting aberration a Portmanteau name.

    Real Life 
  • Manufacturers do this all the time with things like vehicles, gadgets, computers and the like, more often than not to cut costs and save on inventory and the trouble of supporting a dozen or so platforms. Platform sharing became common practice since the mid-20th century, where early examples such as the Volkswagen Beetle were used as a basis for otherwise different models such as the Karmann-Ghia. Laptop manufacturers such as HP would use a couple or so shells on their devices, only varying with displays, processors, keyboards and such depending on the price point and region sold.
    • For example, Harley-Davidson uses one engine for their Big Twin line, swapping frames, bodywork and other accessories to make new models out of existing parts, case in point the FX Super Glide designed by Willie G. Davidson where he took an existing FLH Electra Glide and installed fenders and forks from a Sportster, codenaming the frankensteined bike "FX" which stands for "Factory Experimental". The only other models in their current lineup which use a unique engine are the Sportster and Street.
    • Ditto with car companies such as Ford, GM, Volkswagen and the like, where upmarket versions of their mass-market vehicles are sold under different marques and garnished with different fascias and trim to suit the price point—the Ford Expedition having an luxury variant called the Lincoln Navigator, and as mentioned earlier, the VW Beetle-derived Karmann-Ghia coupe.
    • Apple did this with their SE sub-line of iPhones, where the chassis, display and cameras were derived from a previous-generation unit yet sport internals from the current generation—the first-generation SE uses the same form factor as the iPhone 5 and 5S but shares the same underpinnings as the 6S and 6S Plus, while the second-generation SE was derived from the iPhone 8 with internals from the iPhone 11 series.
    • Chinese smartphone manufacturer Realme also used a similar approach with their smartphones, like the C3 sharing the same externals and display panel as the 5i before it, albeit with a different MediaTek processor and three cameras instead of four on the 5i. Indeed, cases made for the 5i will fit on a C3, but not vice-versa due to the longer camera bump on the 5i.
    • Shoe manufacturers do this all the time as well, as they would use a selection of soles and other common parts and just pump out (pun not intended) variations of the same basic design. This is easy to spot with shoes sold by Clarks, where shoe styles are named by the sole used and design variation, e.g. "Scala Pure", "Rene Lace" or "Rene Loafer".