Palette swapping: 17 games that did it right

The 17 most memorable palette-swapped video game characters ever.

  • #9: Ryu and Ken (Street Fighter 1)

    While some may have argued that Street Fighter 2's depiction of Ryu and Ken utilized palette swapping, a true palette swapping aficionado would know that only the original and extremely crappy Street Fighter exploited the swapping of palettes. Unfortunately, if you do consider yourself to be a palette swapping aficionado, many people, or all the people, probably consider you to be the world's biggest nerd (you would, however, be in the good company of this article's author).
  • #6: Green and Red Koopa Troopa (Super Mario Bros.)

    While a turtle's shell is often seen as an instrument of self-preservation, in the Koopa Troopa's unfortunate case--and as Mario has proven time and time again--it's just the opposite. Mario will kick and throw these shells at ease, and the color of your shell determines your ability to combat the oppressive plumber. Red Koopas traverse a small sect of land, walking back and forth, while their green counterparts willingly walk off cliffs to their demise.
  • #7: Zombie Marine and Zombie Sergeant (Doom)

    As a zombie soldier, there is no higher honor than to be promoted to Zombie Sergeant, and with this sizable promotion comes big perks. Such perks include a shotgun, and a new black uniform. If that's not enough, the Zombie Sergeant doesn't make an appearance until the third level, so he can enjoy his undead life for 2 levels more than the Zombie Marine before the breathing space marine comes and shoots in his brain-eating face.
  • #5: Mike Tyson and Mr. Dream (Punch-Out!!)

    A few words of advice to you celebrities who want to avoid getting palette swapped in your own video games. Don't get sent to prison on rape charges, don't assault motorists after you crash your car into theirs, and don't bite the ears of your opponents during highly-publicized athletic contests. And while it's not illegal, you should also probably avoid threatening to eat your adversary's children or his heart, because family-friendly Nintendo is most likely to frown on that and then give you the ol' swaparoo.
  • #3: Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Rain, and Noob Saibot (Mortal Kombat)

    Midway--the world-renowned Gods of the palette swap--has turned the art of making new characters from other, different-colored characters into a science. After riding the success of its first batch of swapees (Scorpion, Reptile, and Sub-Zero), Midway ratcheted up the ninja assembly line and cranked out Ermac, Rain, Chameleon, Smoke, and Noob Saibot. No word yet on how the production of Laser, Charcoal, Steve, Testicle, and Tartar Sauce is coming along, but I'd expect to see them soon.
  • #8: Red and Blue Octorok (Zelda)

    Never does one become worried after the appearance of a Red Octorok, but when a Blue Octorok rounds the corner, well, one still probably remains pretty calm before driving his or her sword through its rock-spitting head. In the Blue Octorok's defense, it usually takes two sword thrusts to its skull before it's put out of its misery, which could be seen as an accomplishment to some. Actually, only to the Red Octorok would that seem like an accomplishment.
  • Gamers love large character rosters, but game developers (heck, people in general) like working less than they have to. Thus, the palette swap character was born. If you need to create a wealth of enemies, fighting game characters, or a second player, why not photocopy and recolor? Here are 17 games that did palette swapping the right way.

  • #10: Popo and Nana (Ice Climber)

    What's more adorable than ice-climbing, midget, Eskimo twins attempting to reclaim their stolen produce? If you answered, "pretty much anything," you are correct. But while these doppelgangers' plight may seem odd, you can't deny the imaginative creativity that went into their unique character design. One dresses in pink while the other in blue, y'see, since one's a boy and the other's a girl. Genius.
  • #13: Kuma and Panda (Tekken 3)

    So you are a grizzled video game programmer who wants to make a fighter with 23 characters. The only problem is you only have room for 22. Fortunately, one of your characters is a non-descript, fighting bear, who--with a few tweaks and embellishing--could be easily converted into an all-new (looking) second fighter. And luckily for you, Mother Nature has already created a variety of Ursidae Caniform (bear) that comes pre-embellished. This palette swap is notable for the fact that Kuma (the paletter) is actually in love with Panda (the palettee). You'll soon notice that this would be disturbing for most of the other entries.
  • #15: Iron Man and War Machine (Marvel vs. Capcom 2)

    Prior to Hollywood's blockbuster treatment, there was once a time when Iron Man was the Nicky Hilton to the rest of Marvel's Paris. So if Iron Man seemed slightly obscure to some, think of how many sweaty, overweight, arcade-dwellers scratched their heads after seeing War Machine. However, War Machine ultimately ended up being the arcade player's preferred character, largely because black is much cooler looking than red.
  • #17: Zangief and Mech Zangief (Marvel Superheroes vs. Street Fighter)

    When you use a human model to create a robot, the selected model should embody the best attributes of humanity. Using this logic, we can understand why M. Bison based his android on the hairy, scarred, drunk, Russian wrestler we call Zangief. And while few of us knew that wrestling was so big in that ex-communist state, I think we can all recognize that wrestling robots make the best robots.
  • #16: Rash and Zitz (Battletoads)

    If you've ever seen a toad in real life you know that besides their color they all look pretty similar, so when Mother Nature (a.k.a. game developer) makes said toads anthropomorphic, it would seem unnatural to give them distinguishing physical characteristics. At least that's probably what the developers at Rare said when creating these nearly identical protagonists, which most people would probably interpret as saying, "we're lazy."
  • #1: Mario and Luigi (Super Mario Bros)

    Throughout most of their gaming lives, Mario and Luigi had little to set them apart in terms of physicality and personality. Sure, Luigi jumped and spoke higher, but most games kept the same character model. Thankfully today we've got the heroic Mario and spastic Luigi to help us tell them apart. We're guessing Peach is happy too, since she won't have any more mix-ups in the bedroom. The 8-bit era was a craaaaazy time.
  • #11: Mileena and Kitana (Mortal Kombat)

    From all outward appearances Mileena and her twin sister, Kitana, are nearly identical. They are both adorned with Michael Jackson-esque masks that cover their grills, both prefer wearing clothing that shows off their inflated mammary glands, and both have used the usually endearing gesture of kissing as a fatality. However, if you gauge Mileena's attractiveness simply based on the size of her baby-feeders, be ready for some disappointment when she removes her mask.
  • #2: Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde (Pac-Man)

    Did you know that each of the four ghost haunting Pac-Man have their own names and personalities? And that each of them has a different tactic to preserve the precious dots from the greedy yellow circle? No, you probably just assumed they were the work of some lazy designer. Well now you know better. Oh, and Ms. Pac-Man is not just Pac-Man with a bow. Thought we should clear that one up too.
  • #12: Foot Clan (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

    If there is one advantage the evil Shredder possesses, it is a near infinite supply of brightly-adorned ninjas in a rainbow of colors known as the Foot Clan. Unfortunately for this Ninjutsu master, the Foot Clan are about as competent of fighters as you and I (I'm assuming you're a frail 27-year-old, who has never been in a fight as well). Foot Clan pros: easy to join, you can tell chicks you're a ninja. Cons: Frequent ass-kickings by sentient turtles.
  • #4: Red, Green, and Blue Slime (Dragon Quest)

    Like the Octorok before it, the slime's differing colors determine how strong or tough a foe will be. Only now, in an effort to blow the minds of Nintendo players the world over, the weaker of the slimes is blue whereas the weaker Octorok was red. Now, if your head hasn't yet exploded from these brain-busting revelations get this: the slime actually has its own exciting line of games in Japan, where I guess you slime things or something.
  • #14: Nick Bruiser and Rick Bruiser (Super Punch-Out!!)

    If Nick and Rick Bruiser were insulted for being termed palette swappers, they might try and argue that brother Rick--the less skilled of the two boxers--is substantially different due to the pair of earrings he wears. Yet, even they would have a tough time arguing their point, largely due to the fact that neither one of them is capable of performing any actions (persuasive arguing included) outside of their programmed punch-throwing.
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