More so than other fighting games at the time, Mortal Kombat was famous for re-coloring certain sprites to appear as different characters. This was most prominent with the series' various ninja based characters. Many of the series' most popular characters were spawned from these palette swaps.
However, unlike palette-swapped characters such as Ryu, Ken, Akuma et al. which featured different heads and thus looked more varied, Mortal Kombat's characters featured totally different special moves, making each more varied from a gameplay perspective.
Furthermore, the 2D Mortal Kombat games are notable when compared to their contemporaries in the terms of character differentiation. The Mortal Kombat characters played virtually identical to one another (with the exception of unplayable bosses and hidden characters). Whereas other fighting games had characters with differences in speed, range, height, normal moves, strength of normal moves, walking speeds, jumping heights and distances, and so on; characters in Mortal Kombat differed only in their special moves and finishing moves. Essentially this led to increased importance placed on special moves, as they were the only unique part of most characters. Compared to similar fighting games of its generation, Mortal Kombat had a wider variety of special moves. There were two schools of thought on this topic. Critics felt that the gameplay of Mortal Kombat was inferior due to having less complexity in the normal moves compared to Street Fighter and other series. Supporters however felt that normal move complexity mostly added to the game's learning curve without adding real strategic depth, and that greater strategic depth and fun factor was created by having more radically different special moves, and thus believe that Mortal Kombat had better gameplay.
In any case, the games after Mortal Kombat 4 changed this by finally differentiating characters normal moves and even giving them multiple fighting styles. Most characters would have two unarmed fighting styles, and one weapons style. There are a few exceptions to this, such as monster-like characters like Onaga, who would have only one fighting style. For Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, fighting styles were reduced to a maximum of two per character: one unarmed style and one weapons style (though some characters have 2 unarmed styles).
List of Palette-Swapped Characters
- The male ninja (Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Smoke, Noob Saibot, Ermac, Rain, Chameleon, and Tremor)
- The female ninja (Kitana, Mileena, Jade, and Khameleon)
- Cyborgs (Cyrax, Sektor, and the Cyborg Smoke)
- Hornbuckle and Blaze, the characters seen in the background of the Pit II stage in Mortal Kombat II (they were palette swaps of Liu Kang)
- Kano and Noob Saibot (Noob was a palette swap of Kano in MK3)
- Skarlet (although her appearance in Mortal Kombat (2011) was not particularly that of a palette swap, the original rumor which her inclusion was based on claimed she was a palette swap of Kitana in MKII)
- Triborg (sans the unique heads for Cyrax and Sektor, his variations are complete palette swaps of his original model)