You've read them before: stoic heros, beautiful heroines, adorable creatures, loyal companions, shady assassins. You know their cadences, their styles, their character arcs, their idioms. You have, in a sense, 'played this game before'.
Does that mean those characters are forever closed off to you as a writer? Have they crossed into the realm of - GASP - cliche?
Or should you Brawl that Biotch?
(I feel moderately ashamed of myself. I apologize.)
If anyone has a talent (or a habit, take it either way) for recycling characters, it's Nintendo. Check out that linked list - just look at it for a long minute. Not enough? Here's Link, here's Sonic (who Sega buried as a dead horse, then Nintendo dug up and propped up, refusing to admit defeat).
One of their most successful recycling programs? Super Smash Brothers! Then Super Smash Brothers Melee. Then Super Smash Brothers Brawl.*
How do they get away with this? And how do they make the games engaging?
1. They Choose the Right Characters. Smash Bros features the big names, the familiar characters - The Mario gang, the Legend of Zelda game, and Pokemon, both villains and heroes. These are characters that are liked.
If you recycle the whiny princess as love interest, there may be some problems.
If you recycle reckless charmer as a companion to the hero, you've made yourself another Han Solo.
And couldn't we all use more of Han Solo?
2. They Choose the Wrong Characters. Not all the cast is recognizable. Sometimes they choose characters heavy in nostalgia (Starfox), sometimes characters that are only recognizable in Japan (Marth), sometimes characters from obscure games that just make you question Nintedno's sanity (Pit). Nintendo is aware that they're recycling popular characters, so they bring in some novelty - who is this character? What are his strengths? Is he fun to fight with?
3. They Destroy the Backstory. Any games where you can have Mario and Bowser playing on the same team is either the most amazing game of all time (Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars) or a game that clearly doesn't understand these two are enemies. Or... a game that knows stoic-hero-with-heart-of-gold doesn't work together with selfish-hates-all-things-fuzzy-villain.
Hm. That's an interesting idea....
Seriously - Best. Game. Ever.
So next time you hesitate to create an awesome character because somewhere out there another character exists with the same overall arc, don't fret!
Brawl that biotch!
*Admittedly, the biggest draw of SSB is the punching and button-smashing. For other examples in a more story-telling realm, look at The Avengers. Which also features a lot of punching - and some kickass characterization!