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File:Ryu Ken type head swaps 3847.png

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.

Examples of Head Swap include:

  • Ryu and Ken and their various clones (Akuma, Dan and Sean) from the Street Fighter franchise are the quintessential examples of this trope in action. Although Ryu wore red slippers and gloves, while Ken fought barefooted and wore armbands in the very first Street Fighter, their respective outfits became more or less identical from Street Fighter II aside for the differences in color. Akuma on the other hand, usually wears a prayer beads around his neck and a pair of sandals and his hands are drawn differently in the Street Fighter Alpha series, while Dan wears an undershirt and bends his knees differently.
    • Yun and Yang from Street Fighter III, who originally started out as having the same move set (even sharing the same slot on the character select screen), but evolved into different characters from 2nd Impact and onward. Urien, who also introduced in 2nd Impact, is a head swap of Gill (the series' boss character).
    • Juni and Juli from Alpha 3 are both head-swaps of Cammy and in turn, of each other.
    • Averted with Fei-Long, who was supposed to be introduced alongside a head-swapped rival in Super Street Fighter II. The rival ended up being replaced by Dee-Jay, who has a unique design.
    • Karin Kanzuki was originally planned as a head swap of Sakura as well in her aborted video game debut in Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, but her final design in Alpha 3 gives an entirely different fighting stance and style.
  • 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). Abigail, the boss of the Bay Side stage, is himself a head swap of Andore. Roxy and Poison, as well as all five Andore variants, are plain palette swaps, on the other hand.
  • 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 the boss in Mission 2 is a head/palette-swap of the Lee brothers.
    • In the arcade version of Double Dragon II, all of the returning enemies (except for Jeff and Willy) are 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, we have head swap variants of Abobo (bald, mohawked and afro-haired), Steve, Chin and the Five Emperors of Gen-Setsu-Ken.
  • In Crude Buster, Ruth (Player 1 in yellow) sports a fauxhawk, while Sid (Player 2 in green) has a bald-style mohawk.
  • Joe Higashi and Hwa Jai in the original Fatal Fury. Save for their difference fighting stances, many of their moves share the same animation frames.
  • In Art of Fighting, the final boss (Mr. Karate) is a head swap of Ryo Sakazaki. There's a good reason for this.
  • In Smash TV, the Evil M.C. is a head and torso-swap of the first boss Mutoid Man.
  • 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.
  • All the warriors in the ZX Spectrum game Dark Sceptre.
  • Lilith, who was introduced in Vampire Savior (the third game in the Darkstalkers series) is a head swap of Morrigan with much smaller breasts, meaning that the head is not the only body part changed.
    • Dee, from Darkstalkers Collection, is Donovan's head on Demitri's body with a combination of their moves.
  • 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.
  • All of the boxers (except King Hippo) in the NES version of Punch Out (Glass Joe and Don Flamenco; Von Kaiser and Great Tiger; Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman; Soda Popinski and Super Macho Man; Piston Honda and Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Capcom's 1994 Punisher arcade game, not only were most of the enemy grunts head-swaps of each other, but the two sole female NPCs (a bystander in Stage 1 and a hostage in Stage 2) are head and torso swaps of each other. They both wear the same type of skirt and high-heel pumps, but one of them is wearing a white blouse and the other a halter dress.
  • Foreman Spike in Wrecking Crew is a head swap of Mario (and Luigi).
  • 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.
  • The Player 2 character in Bloody Wolf is just Player 1 in desert fatigue and a bald head.


  1. In Akuma's case, he gets a different pair of arms as well.
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