Make Multiple Mesh Copies on One Object, Then Link and Unlink Them From the Original

This is the scenario. I have a cat object with a cat mesh; make a copy of the cat object, and mesh, and make numerous copies of it’s mesh data that are linked to the copied object. Then link all the meshes to the original cat mesh to modify them all at once and unlink them so they can have different materials. Is there a way to do this?

objects can share the mesh data but still have different materials if you link them to object…
see dropdown next to mat name

and if you need to unlink anything do it from U key menu

edit: also you can use alt+D to duplicate linked, not need to do it in two steps

Thanks. I needed different meshes so I could modify materials in the GE across all copies of the same object and have them look different. They would each be assigned a different mesh that had all of the data of the original mesh, except with different materials. I just did not want hundreds of objects within the blendfile. This would give me a meshy solution to a material problem. Thanks for the help I will try this when I can.