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Video game sprites or polygon models of different colors to tell otherwise identical Player Characters apart. This was especially prevalent in games up to the mid 80s, where ROM size meant even different sprites for them would take up too much space. Although, even as games grew bigger, allowing game designers to give each player character a different design, it was still kept on because it also turned out to be a convenience for players.
In those days, certain players were forcefully assigned certain character colors with no way to choose a different color. Nowadays, there are a few games that allow players to choose colors.
Even 3D games in the present day will have this once in a while.
A common choice for four-player games are the colors red, blue, yellow, and green (not necessarily in that order).
SRPGs often do this with the generic classes.
Also, there can be some minor differences, as long as the color is the primary way to tell them apart.
Action Adventure Games
- The Legend of Zelda Four Swords and The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Adventures has Link shattered into four people by the Four Sword. His clothes are red, blue, green, and purple.
- Crash of the Titans and Mind over Mutant did this with the introduction of Carbon Crash, a white and green recolor of Crash. However, Carbon Crash is often deployed only when Coco can't be there plot-wise.
Beat Em Ups
- Double Dragon — In most games in the series, Billy (Player 1) wears blue and Jimmy (Player 2) wears red.
- The only exception is the arcade version of Double Dragon II, where Billy and Jimmy wore black and white respectively. The NES version brought them back to their original colors.
- The arcade version of Double Dragon 3 allowed up to three players simultaneously, depending on the cabinet, in which Player 3 controls a yellow-clad Lee brother exclusive to this game named Sonny. There are other playable characters in the game (selectable from the get-go in the Japanese version, but available only as purchasable extras in the export versions), but rather than being individual characters, the additional characters are grouped as teams of siblings (Urquidez, Chin and Oyama), essentially an excuse to allow all three players to control the same character type, but with a different name tag and palette.
- In Super Double Dragon and Double Dragon Advance, Billy and Jimmy actually have different hair styles for their sprites. Instead of the regent style they used in the arcade and NES games, Billy has straight brown hair, while Jimmy has a blond flap-top style.
- Castle Crashers, though, going by the FAQs, there is some debate over whether one of them is the Yellow Knight or Orange Knight.
- In addition, there are several unlockable enemy characters.
- The arcade version of Bad Dudes had two main characters whose only differences were the colors of their parachute pants (white for Player 1 and green for Player 2).
- In the game's pseudo-sequel, Crude Buster (aka Two Crude Dudes), Player 1 wears yellow and has a faux-hawk style, while Player 2 wears green and has a bald mohawk.
- The arcade version of Ninja Gaiden has Player 1 as a blue ninja and Player 2 as a red ninja. While neither character are actually identified in the game, Ryu Hayabusa (the main character in the NES version) wears a blue ninja outfit, while his father Ken wears a similar red outfit, matching the colors of the two player characters (leading some fans to speculate that the events depicted in the arcade version is a mission that Ryu and Ken Hayabusa went through before the events of the NES series).
- Daytona USA gives each player their own car color, even in a round consisting of as many as 8 players.
- Urban Champion involves two identical boys beating each other up.
- Every Street Fighter installment since Champion Edition allowed both players to use the same character by distinguishing one player with an alternate color scheme. Super Street Fighter II, the fourth Street Fighter II game, actually has eight palettes for each character, allowing all eight players in the Tournament Battle mode to use the same character. The Street Fighter IV series kept the tradition, even though each character has an alternate outfit or two.
- Dissidia Final Fantasy, the interesting part is that the alt colors make sense if you've played the other FF games or are otherwise a Final Fantasy nerd—some of the alts are based on original concept art of the character that didn't make the final cut for the original game (Cecil, Firion, The Emperor), some are versions of the character as they appeared in their actual game, their default Dissidia design having changed that (Golbez, Tidus, Terra), and others make references more complicated than that (Final Fantasy III was originally a game of four Featureless Protagonist Heroic Mimes, while the remake did away with that and gave the characters all personalities, back stories, unique appearances, and names; Dissidia references this by basing the FFIII representative on the Onion Knight of the original game, while having his alt look like Luneth, the "hero" of the remake). And yet others are outfits the characters actually wore (Cloud's AC outfit or Squall's Seed Uniform). And others are a referance to OTHER characters (Ultimecia and Jecht).
- Mortal Kombat used mainly shading variations (likely since Sub Zero, Scorpion, Reptile, Ermac, Human Smoke, Rain, Noob Saibot, and Chameleon were already palette swaps at various points).
- Also, the women, Mileena, Kitana, Jade, and the often forgotten Khameleon.
- As well as Cyrax, Robot Smoke, and Sektor.
- Super Smash Bros uses alternate costumes of characters marked red, green, or blue when playing team multiplayer. When the same character is on the same team, they're differentiated by being a slightly different shade from the other players.
- Also, in Free For Alls and even Single Player mode, you can tell which controller port you're using based on the color of your shield/stock explosion; P1 (Red), P2 (Blue), P3 (Yellow), P4 (Green).
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash Up uses colored 'auras' to separate players, much like Super Smash Bros. in that they are required for team matches. In free for all matches, the aura colors can be decided by the player out of a standard 256 color pallet. While alternate models exist, this is the main way to separate fighters.
- MAG has different uniforms for different factions, but allied players always show up as blue on the minimap and enemy players show up as red. This has led to expressions like "hey blue dot, heal me" and "fighting some red dot when..."
- The multiplayer for Metroid Prime 2 involves multicolored Samuses (Samii?) fighting each other. Nintendo uses this a lot.
- Team Fortress 2. Lampshaded in that their companies are abbreviated to RED and BLU.
- It's lampshaded even further since the founders of said companies are named Redmond and Blutarch, respectively.
- A rare modern example is Halo. Palette Swap was the only way of distinguishing players in the first game, with the second offering a (rarely used) Elite playermodel, and the third finally adding a number of unlockable armor customizations (all of which are still rather generic).
- Halo Zero, of course, used this too.
- Its predecessor, Marathon, also had human players all look the same, but player sprites were split in two (primarily in order to avert Fight in The Nude) so that the color of one's shirt and pants could be set separately, to denote both the individual player and the player's team.
- Quake (or at least QuakeWorld) also let players recolor the top and bottom halves of their models based on personal preference or team affiliation, and sometimes mods used this as well. The original QuakeWorld Team Fortress used pants color to assign people to the RED and BLU teams.
- The first Doom game's multiplayer had each player a different color. One of the colors was brown, and this mixed with the oldschool graphics and brown colored enemies caused problems.
- Heretic made the players red, yellow, green, and blue, averting the problem with Doom.
- Similarly, Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, and other first person games at the time followed suit.
- Project Blackout has a red team and a blue team (although the "red" team is sort of a misnomer—they actually wear camo).
Hack and Slash
- Gauntlet (1985 video game) Legends at first appears to have standard Color Coded Multiplayer, but upon closer inspection, all of the art and in-game models for each color of each character class are radically different, with each color even having something of a theme (e.g. all of the blue characters have black frizzy hair, all of the red characters have straight blond hair?).
- Each color variation also sports differing costume styles. The reds mostly had fur and were more barbarian-looking; the blues were often more regal and medieval-like; the greens were forest-themed with leather sashes and vests, and the yellows had an Egyptian/desert-themed flair to them.
- RuneScape differentiates teams in Castle Wars and similar activities with different colors of capes or hats.
- In Guild Wars, the two teams in PvP are red and blue. The factions in Factions have red and blue flags to support this. It also tends to refer to objectives in PvP maps by color.
- The original Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros. did this with Mario and Luigi. The exception was Super Mario Bros 2, and then Super Mario All Stars gave both of them different sprites in all of the remakes.
- In the version of Super Mario All-Stars that included Super Mario World, Luigi was retroactively given a new sprite in that game as well. Some of his actions had to be animated differently in order to keep his hit box intact (for example, he slides on his knees).
- In New Super Mario Bros Wii, two Toads are color coded yellow and blue, but players can select between them or Luigi (Player 1 is always stuck with Mario, however).
- The "Classic" Mario Bros. minigame included in the GBA version of Super Mario Bros 2 plays this straight by making all the other player characters (including Luigi) into palette swaps of Mario. Strangely, the Player 3 and Player 4 characters wore Wario's and Waluigi's color scheme respectively (yellow and purple).
- Jazz Jackrabbit 2 had eight customizable colors for six body parts, allowing an almost infinite variety of color-schemes.
- The NES version of Rush N Attack has a 2-Players mode in which Player 1 is in blue and Player 2 is in red, even though both characters are supposed to be Green Berets. The power-up carrying enemy soldiers also happen to be a yellow palette swap of the player as well.
- In M.I.A., the arcade-only Spiritual Successor to Rush'n Attack, Player 1 is green and Player 2 is blue.
- Kirby's Return to Dream Land lets players be Kirbies of different colors, but they can also choose between King Dedede, Meta Knight, or Waddle Dee, who don't have Kirby's trademark Mega Manning, but they do have their own weapons.
- Kirby's Amazing Mirror used this trope before it, though it first showed up in Kirby's Dream Course. Also done in the multiplayer portion of Nightmare in Dream Land.
- Kirby Air Ride, with additional colors as some of the unlockable rewards.
- Micro Machines, the first two, would have this as their way of telling players apart, Player 1 being red, Player 2 being blue, Player 3 being green, and Player 4 being yellow.
- Age of Empires gives you two options for this: Either each team can have a different color or all your enemies can use a single color different from yours.
- Starcraft has this too. There are eight colors available, and you can be any of those colors (race does not matter). Of course, color coding also happens for single player.
- Ditto for the numerous Command and Conquer games, where usually 8 colours are selectable.
- Dragon Quest Wars.
- In Dokapon Kingdom, players who share the same class look identical, other than color and gender. You can go to the barbershop and get a new hairstyle, but it is sometimes lost upon death.
- Dance on Broadway has an odd form. Usually, the dancers do the same move, but sometimes, one has to do moves specific to him/her and the indicator matches the color of the dancer's costume.
- Multiplayer in Um Jammer Lammy has Player 1 as Lammy and Player 2 as Rammy, a gray-scale Palette Swap of Lammy (though she is her own character).
Shoot Em Ups
- The NES versions of Contra and Super C as shown above. Since the NES was unable to produce the same level of detail as the arcade versions, the developers made both characters into palette swaps of the same shirtless commando, with Player 1 (Bill) in the blue pants and Player 2 (Lance) in the red pants.
- The arcade versions of both games used different sprites for each player (Bill had blond hair and wore a tank top, while Lance had black hair and fought shirtless), but they still wore differently colored headbands in the original Contra (blue for Bill and red for Lance). In Super Contra, Bill wore green and Lance wore purple.
- Contra III for the SNES, despite being made on a superior hardware than the NES, kept both characters as palette swaps, presumably for tradition's sakes. However, the colors of their combat suits are light green (for Bill) and orange (for Lance) instead of the blue and red they wore in the NES games.
- In Contra 4 for the DS, the four default characters are all palette swaps of the same sprite. Bill and Lance wear blue and red respectively, while their "American counterparts", Mad Dog and Scorpion, wear green and purple (a reference to Bill's and Lance's respective colors in Super Contra). The four alternate characters: Lucia, Sheena, Probotector and Jimbo/Sully (the Contra III versions of Bill and Lance) all have four selectable palettes as well.
- Touhou fighting games Immaterial and Mising Power and Scarlet Weather Rhapsody have an alternate palette for each character. Hisoutensoku amps it up by having eight palettes per character.
- Gradius V's player 2 ship is a red-colored Vic Viper, much to the disappointment of those expecting player 2 to be the (red-colored) Lord British (like in Life Force/Salamander).
- The Raiden series features a red Raiden and a blue Raiden. Raiden Fighters, on the other hand, make the red Raiden (Raiden mk-II) and blue Raiden (Raiden mk-II Beta) play differently.
- The cooperative 2-player mode of Twin Cobra gives the first player a red helicopter and the second player a blue helicopter. These were Palette Swaps of each other, but they received Divergent Character Evolution in Twin Cobra II.
- In the Twinbee series, the players' ships are Twinbee (blue), Winbee (pink), and Gwinbee (green).
- In Gokujou Parodius, all the Player 2 characters are all differently-named palette swaps of the Player 1 characters using the same weapon sets. However, Sexy Parodius gave the Player 2 characters slightly different weapon sets.
- The multiplayer for the new Punch Out has Mac fighting a clone of himself in different clothes. Doc Louis even lampshades this.
- In Wii Sports, Player 1 is colored blue, Player 2 is red, Player 3 green, and 4 yellow.
- Destroy All Humans! 2.
- In Mind Jack, players on your team are blue 'wanderers', players on the enemy team are red. When in control of an NPC, the respective colour outlines the NPC.
- Fire Emblem games color friendly units blue, enemy units red, and neutral units green on the map. In combat, they are shown to be wearing whatever they wear in close ups...except in multiplayer, where their colors suddenly code to whatever team they play for, even in combat.
- Yggdra Union, Blaze Union, Gloria Union, and Yggdra Unison have the player's units in blue, enemy units red, computer-controlled allies green, and non-combat NPC characters in yellow.
- The Advance Wars series has its five armies: Orange Star (Red Star in the Japanese version), Blue Moon, Yellow Comet, Green Earth, and the CPU-controlled Black Hole division. Multiplayer modes decide the colors from which slot each person is using.
Non-video game examples
- In the Disney Princess edition of the board game Pretty Pretty Princess, all the player pieces are Aurora in her bejeweled dress, with one being pink, another blue, another purple, and the fourth gold.
- In El Goonish Shive, when Nanase creates one shadow copy of herself, the copy is colored with one of the primary additive colors (red, green, or blue), while Nanase is colored with the corresponding primary subtractive color (cyan, magenta, or yellow, respectively). This actually makes sense from a scientific standpoint: the real Nanase is absorbing the color the fake one is producing.
- Red vs Blue started out as merely a parody of this trope. Later, the Reds and Blues discovered that the two armies who were pitted against each other were just simulations for Freelancer Agents to train. Which finally, after most of eight seasons, actually hit the Reds' and Blues' Berserk Button.
- Older Than Steam: Ancient Roman chariot races had four teams, using almost exactly the same colors as today: Red, Blue, Green, and White. From the normal seats, color was the only way to tell who was who. Unlike modern sports teams, which have actual names instead of just team colors, the color was all that identified the factions.
- In Real Life sports, if two teams have primary jerseys with the same colors, one is forced to use the secondary kit. In most American sports, the issue is avoided entirely as the home team traditionally wears its colored uniform while the road team wears its white uniform (though the inverse is true for basketball).