Graphics-Induced Super Deformed

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Same character: Official artwork vs. in-game sprite. Also, robot ears? Well, technically they're antennas...

In video games, there is a tendency for characters' proportions to change considerably between their official artwork and their in-game appearance. It's quite frequent to see box art with relatively realistically-proportioned characters, while the same characters appear with large heads and small bodies when they're in game.

The reason for that is usually graphical limitations. When you only have a 16 x 16 block of pixels to work with, trying to make a sprite with realistic proportions will result in a character with almost no visible head to speak of. This is especially true in older video games (especially licensed games) appearing on older game systems; only a few games (like Rolling Thunder) seemed to avert it.

In some older franchises, such as the Bomberman series, the in-game style has become so iconic that it displaced the original cover art as the characters' official, "real" appearance.

Mostly averted by early Western video game designers who tried to use proper proportions, and thus wound up with faceless 'walking stick' characters.

See Super-Deformed for other uses of big heads and small bodies. For the artwork changes that can't be chalked up to graphical limitations, see Covers Always Lie.

Examples of Graphics-Induced Super Deformed include:

  • Cave Story. Provides the page picture. Apparently, the chibi sprites have become iconic enough that the higher-resolution Wii Ware port used the same proportions—and the Nintendo 3DS port also uses those proportions for character models.
  • Disgaea, Super-Deformed as in-game characters, relatively normal in portraits in cutscenes.
    • Somewhat averted in Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, due to the new high definition sprites allowing for much more detail on the characters, though the body proportions are still a bit off in the case of the humanoid characters.
  • In Bomberman, this actually affected its future style a lot. The box art of the first game shows Bomberman as a realistic human in Power Armor, then subsequent releases made Bomberman look cartoonier and closer to his game sprite. The one attempt to bring back the old style, the Darker and Edgier Act Zero game for XBOX 360, was widely considered a bad idea and quickly abandoned.
    • Even the Interplay/Hudson title Atomic Bomberman used a chibi style, despite being slightly more detailed.
    • Said original box also bit too close to the Famicom boxart for Metroid, so the redesign was likely also done for legal reasons.
  • La-Mulana. In Updated Rerelease on Wii Ware, character's head indeed is smaller compared to Retraux-PC-MSX version due to having more pixels (480p/480i on Wii vs. 240p on pseudo-MSX).
  • The original Mega Man series. Apparent when it reached its 7th installment, especially by comparison with Mega Man X.
  • Apparent in the original Super Mario Bros. when grabbing a Magic Super mushroom. Mario's proportions change by head getting smaller relative to body. Even more pronounced in Super Mario Bros. 2.
    • According to the developers of Donkey Kong, most of Mario's facial features and his overalls were due to technical limitations at the time of its release.
  • Averted in the NES versions of the Contra. The 8-bit hardware couldn't replicate the distinct character designs that were given to Bill and Lance in the original arcade version, so instead the designers concentrated on making them both into musclebound shirtless commandos, with the colors of their pants being the only difference.
  • Seen in-game in Final Fantasy VII: Overworld/dungeon/towns use Super-Deformed models to keep the polygon count down. Battles and FMVs [1] use realistic models.
    • See also every Final Fantasy game that uses 2D sprites. VI, like the Chrono Trigger example below, is slightly more proportionate, but it's still very noticeable.
  • Chrono Trigger is a less egregious example than most; the game's sprites are fairly proportionate except for the heads (some enemies are closer to reality there, but they're bigger). Portraits are still done in a radically different style.
  • The NES version of Lode Runner uses the same sprites that Hudson Soft would later use in Bomberman. Most computer versions, however, averted this, having sprites more reminiscent of stick figures.
  • The first game in The Legend of Zelda series.
    • Also, the three Game Boy games: while the manuals and other artwork weren't deformed, in the color remake of the first game, it crept from the sprites to the photographer's pictures. All these games, including the first above, used 16x16 sprites.
    • The SNES game, while still a bit deformed, was more reasonable, not unlike Chrono Trigger.
  • Lunar: The Silver Star for Sega CD had both graphics and color limitations to work around, so Luna's sprite had green hair, Ramus' had blue, and... something happened to Jessica, who's almost unrecognizable; but they're depicted more “normally” in cutscenes and in their dialogue portraits. Despite the graphical leap presented by the PlayStation version, Ramus' sprites still kept the blue hair for some reason.
  • The Super Robot Taisen series probably followed this trope from its early days on the Game Boy but have since taken the concept to heart, with only a few exceptions (Shin Super Robot Wars and both versions of Super Robot Wars Gaiden). Though it should be noted that when attack animations go into a close-up of the robot, they're in their proper proportions.
    • The series usually uses proper proportions when it duplicates iconic footage from a robot's original series.
  • The main characters of EarthBound are supposed to be around 12-15. Their in-game sprites make them look younger than the average Pokemon player character (which isn't difficult with some of the latter).
    • It's actually a subversion. Even in official art the characters still looked the same way they do in the sprites.
  • Somewhat inverted with the Touhou series. The official character art is done somewhat poorly and loli-like, but the boss sprites have more realistic proportions. This is more obvious with Final Bosses, who tend to have larger sprites.
  • Half Minute Hero plays this straight.
  • The Utawarerumono Visual Novel does this during the battle segments.
  • Oddly enough for a webcomic, Homestuck has this. Being an adventure game / RPG pastiche, the art for the main characters consists of copy/pasted "sprites" about knee high to most adult characters. However, when depicted in hand-drawn action shots, they suddenly gain much more realistic proportions, sometimes even lapsing into Noodle People. An excellent demonstration of the style is this animation from the fourth act. (Warning: sound.)
  • Tales of Symphonia has a bit of this, much like the FFVII example. It's not nearly as extreme as it would be with 2D sprites, but in portraits, anime cutscenes, and the OVA, the art is definitely more realistically proportioned than the cel-shaded gameplay models.
  • Some Pokémon games have this; the portable games started out this way but grew less top-heavy as hardware power increased (Pokémon Black and White is the most proportionate so far, although this trope is still in effect). The console games don't use this at all, though.
    • In fact, all of the games introduce you to your character's in-game battle sprite, and signal the start of gameplay by the sprite morphing into the smaller in-game sprite.
  • Blaster Master games where in-game, main character's head is about as big as the rest of the body.
  • Battle for Wesnoth, where Character Portraits are done in a realistically proportioned style, while sprites are much more cartoony.
  • Golden Sun has all the characters appear to be as big as Final Fantasy characters are on the SNES, but once a battle starts, everyone appears in proper proportions and looks. This is more evident in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn where the characters look a LOT younger than how they appear in their artwork due to using low polygons in the overworld maps and the new graphics style. However, they resemble their artwork appearance more closely once they enter a battle.
  • Scott Pilgrim: The Video Game renders the characters as somewhat chibified compared to the comic versions.
    • The comics themselves are slightly chibi as a reference to this trope.
  • Most character sets created for non-3D RPG Maker video games are this, especially when they're made to resemble anime or film characters.
  • The first four Dragon Slayer games, through Legacy of the Wizard, had all character sprites fit the size of a single tile. Sorcerian moved away from Super-Deformed sprites, but The Legend of Heroes brought the look back.
  • In official illustrations, Pac-Man has never looked like the partially eaten pizza we all know. He's always had legs and looked like the form you see in cartoons and later installments.
  • The Ghostbusters game for the Sega Genesis uses super-deformed sprites, but characters are normally proportioned in portraits and cutscenes.
  • The character sprites in the NES version of Double Dragon, while not super-deformed per se, are greatly simplified and rather cartoonish compared to the illustrations in the game's manual, which made the characters look like they came out straight from the pages of Fist of the North Star. Some of the character sprites only vaguely resemble their illustrated depictions in the manual (Abobo doesn't sport his trademarked mustache in the manual for example). However, the in-game sprites are actually more accurate to the character designs in the original arcade version than the illustrations were.
  • In Golden Axe Warrior, a Legend of Zelda clone for the Master System, the hero is depicted as a shirtless gladiator on the game's cover illustration and title screen, but looks more like a cute knight in the actual game.
  1. (well, most of them: Some FMVs superimposed the low-polygon models, while some rare FMVs made by a different team used prerendered versions thereof, such as Cloud's Train Escape early in the game)