I’m not sure exactly when it became popular, but words such as “thirsty” when used in slang makes me feel old. It’s the same with everyone saying “perf” these days, what’s with that? Anyway, Thirsty Suitors is a pretty accurate description of the story being told in the game.
You play as young twenty something Jala, who fled her home town of Timber Hills with her latest squeeze, leaving behind her home, family and a string of exes which have pretty much formed their own community through their experiences with her. However, Jala is back after yet another breakup, her sister is getting married and there are emotional showdowns aplenty on the horizon. Oh, and her Nani, who strikes fear into the heart of the entire family, is due to visit.
Thirsty Suitors is a game which tells a grounded, personal story of love, loss, self discovery and perhaps most importantly, being yourself. It’s steeped in South Asian culture with Jala and her family at the centre of the story. The supporting cast of exes bring their differing personalities to the party, and with it an often sarcastic, if not a little over the top sense of humour.
This is especially true of the narrator, a part of Jala’s inner self, who provides an internal discussion throughout most of the game which reflects Jala’s thought processes. It’s pretty clear before long who this facet of Jala’s personality is inspired by.
The approach in Thirsty Suitors is hardly surprising because it has been created by Outerloop Games, a minority led studio that releases games all about underrepresented culture and themes. It’s this approach which gives Thirsty Suitors a distinct difference, and makes it feel something of a unique experience. I really enjoyed partnering with Jala on her journey and tangling with the residents of Timber Hills.
From the start, it’s clear that there are a lot of unresolved feelings towards Jala from pretty much everyone, so she sets out to reconcile these one at a time. There are a couple of hub areas, and Jala’s home to explore (well strictly speaking it’s just downstairs). Downtown Timber Hills is also home to numerous amenities, such as the local skate shop, workshop and diner amongst others.
That’s right, Jala is a keen skater and this is how she gets around. She can use her board to grind, wall run and pull off flips and tricks to rack up combo points. Certain illuminated areas provide her the opportunity to finish her combo with a flourish. Gradually, skate challenges will become available across both hub areas too.
I was always a big fan of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater back in the day, so whizzing around town being a nuisance is good fun. The skate park is home to an oddball in a bear costume called Soundie, who will set you numerous challenges as well as trash talk his way through most conversations. You’ll also have to face his loyal skate punk followers in battle.
However, in Thirsty Suitors the handling feels a little off. Lining up your jump from one rail to another can be difficult, especially as Jala won’t connect unless you land precisely on it. There’s little margin for error. This, coupled with the fact that at times my button press just wouldn’t register means I’d end up in the drink all too often. As a result, the skate challenges are fun, but I didn’t feel the urge to complete every one.
Battling however, is ridiculous and over the top but enjoyable. These encounters represent a physical embodiment of your conversations with the (often) titular thirsty suitors, representing the crucible of emotions each character has bubbling inside them. It’s a turn based affair, where using skills will cost willpower, and the usual health bars come into play.
Carrying out attacks is achieved through carefully timed button presses and joystick movements mid cutscene, or quick time events as they are often called. A key part of winning is to taunt your enemy, and find their weaknesses. This will then unlock the potential for your skills to do extra damage to them. There are also a range of items you can use to help, as well as summoning friends and family to provide welcome support mid battle.
These encounters are fairly lengthy due to the conversation which runs parallel to the battling, especially when it comes to facing off against Jala’s exes. However, the skill and summon animations really are brilliant to watch, and bursting with character.
Another, more intimate element of Thirsty Suitors is cooking with your parents. As with battling, it plays second fiddle to the conversation, but it’s still good fun. Again, it all works through the quick time event mechanic, but going through each recipe step by step adds that feeling of authenticity to the game, and showcases the value and importance of really good home cooking.
Despite the skating, battling and cooking, you’ll actually spend most of your time talking in Thirsty Suitors. There’s a lot of well acted dialogue that often comes with choices to make which will steer the conversation one way or the other. This is the foundation of the game, and arguably if this isn’t your bag there may not be enough else to hold your interest.
This is because the conversations, and themes explored, reflect the true purpose of what the team at Outerloop Games are trying to achieve here. It’s about exploring culture, sexuality and finding yourself in a world awash with external pressures. If you don’t connect with these themes, you may struggle to buy into what plays out here. Oh, and if you’re skipping dialogue and wondering when the next battle is, Thirsty Suitors isn’t for you.
In terms of the hub areas, they are small environments that will take just minutes to explore. The first time I was taken to the town map to fast travel from one to the other, due to the empty space I assumed more areas would be unlocked as I played. Sadly, I was wrong. Instead, the story sees you yo-yoing between these areas and your home, which can often feel repetitive.
This is reflected in the variety of your tasks too. The vast majority result in you fetching something, battling someone or cooking something. There are a small amount of secondary objectives, including some brilliant little sequences such as a couple of dance offs, but they are too few and far between.
There are plenty of rewards on offer in Thirsty Suitors for completing your tasks, such as battle items, new gear, tapes to be played at the jukebox and everyone’s favourite, cold hard cash. Thirstonia points also shape Jala’s development, and indeed her personality as she gravitates to either “bohemian”, “star” or “heartbreaker”. Or a good mix of each if you prefer.
Thirsty Suitors is very much my type of game. It tells an epic story in terms of the challenges of adulthood and finding yourself, but grounded to one young person’s individual tale. We were all young once, but if you identify with some or all of the themes at play here, you’ll no doubt get so much from Thirsty Suitors. If not, it’s still a tale packed with charm, but the dialogue heavy and leisurely paced approach may not suit everyone.
Thirsty Suitors may not boast the best mechanics or the flashiest gimmicks, but it more than makes up for that by telling a wonderfully evocative, charming and often funny story. In my mind, it achieves exactly what the developers set out to do. And that is something that should be celebrated.