Thirsty Suitors takes the perils of dating and turns them into a playful and vibrant video game. Based on the lived experiences of the dev team at Outerloop Games, Thirsty Suitors is a story-driven experience about the consequences of a messy, bisexual dating history, the weight of the expectations of South Asian parents, and, of course, skateboarding.
Jala is a young woman returning to her hometown for the first time in three years after a messy breakup – which seems like something she’s thoroughly unfamiliar with, as it’s clear she’s a former heartbreaker herself. In my time with the game (which you try for yourself right now on Steam), Jala confronts imaginary, larger-than-life versions of her parents, her sister, and her exes while skateboarding in a candy-colored dream world. That world doubles as a personality quiz that will help you pick one of three types before she dance battles/ fights her grade-school ex-boyfriend. And that’s just in the Thirsty Suitors demo, so you can imagine how much promiscuity and promise this full game will offer when it launches next year.
The thirst is real
Thirsty Suitors begins with Jala on a bus back to her hometown after being kicked out of her apartment by her roommate-turned-lover-turned-ex. Frequently visited by an anthropomorphized version of her subconscious (who strangely takes her sister’s form), it’s clear that Jala has some issues she needs to work on. Don’t we all, bestie? En route to her parents’ house and the myriad of issues that place will bring, Jala drifts to sleep and into a dreamland that has taken the form of a ‘What’s your Thirstsona’ quiz advertised in the magazine she was reading.
In a vibrant world peppered with geometric shapes that look straight out of a ’90s interior decorating catalog, Jala kickflips, grinds, and ollies through some light platforming while you answer her Thirstsona quiz questions. As you navigate through the world, versions of her sister, her parents, and an ex from her hometown pop up, chastising her for past behavior. Just before Jala wakes up, all of her exes loom overhead, looking judgmental and monstrous, their cruel words echoing in your ears: cheater, liar, fake, insecure.
After the intro, you earn your first Thirstona point, which is applied towards one of three personality types that are stats you’ll use in upcoming battles.. You’ll get these points based on how you choose responses during conversations and, in this case, how you answered the quiz. After my run through the quiz/platforming opening, I’ve got a point towards the Star personality which “craves status and approval.” Do I feel personally called out? Yes. Is it unclear how this will help me in battle? Yes, but I have a feeling it will translate well.
The rest of the Thirsty Suitors demo takes place in a diner, where Jala goes to try and figure out who to call for a ride to her childhood home. After interacting with a dog you can not only pet but can offer your skateboard to and watch it kickflip, a wild ex suddenly appears. It’s Sergio, Jala’s grade-school ex-boyfriend who is thirstier than that houseplant withering on your windowsill. The two engage in a cheeky dance battle/actual battle that tasks you with performing a variety of different attacks to lower their health and build up your Will Power bar.
These attacks include baiting Sergio’s thirst with suggestive poses, Jalu Jab him with a swift punch and kick combo, and “suitor slamming” him into the ground. Quick-time events let you block incoming kisses and other unwanted advances from Sergio. Your goal? Drain his health while maintaining yours, like every other problematic relationship. It’s a fun and easy battle system, one that seems like it’ll have hilarious varieties depending upon which ex you’re fighting.
The evil exes
Thirsty Suitors feels like the gender-swapped, and more diverse version of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, one that understands that closure can lead to emotional catharsis. After all, Jala isn’t fighting the evil exes of a potential flame, but is fighting her own exes in an attempt to better understand herself and the decisions she’s made that have led her to such a low point in life. Thirsty Suitors isn’t about proving yourself to someone else, but finding self-worth by examining the more uncomfortable parts of your past.
During the battle, Jala conjures up her own mother to take advantage of Sergio’s biggest weakness. As Jala’s subconscious says, “like most South Asian men, all it takes to destroy Sergio’s ego is a single word from his mom,” and she isn’t wrong – you quickly defeat Sergio after Jala’s mother puts her chappal (slipper) to work. It’s moments like these that point to Thirsty Suitor’s modern take on relationships, which sees Outerloop mixing contemporary sexualities and identities with the traditions of a community rarely represented in games.
But Thirsty Suitors takes its core concept a step further. Instead of besting Sergio and leaving him to lie in a pool of his own aftershave, Jala and her ex find closure post-battle. As Sergio’s health hovers just above zero, the words “make up” appear on-screen, and the two shake hands in an explosion of color. “I’m sorry I came on so strong, Jala,” Sergio says. “I’ve had this fantasy of you in my head for so long, it’s time I got to know the real you.” He then leaves the door open for you to pursue a relationship – with him, should you want to, but it’s clear that you’ll need to go back through all your exes and try to achieve similar closure before choosing who to end up with.
The demo ends there, but I wish it didn’t. I want to meet the other exes and engage in more psychological warfare before coming to terms with mine – erm – Jala’s insecurities and issues. Thirsty Suitors is bizarrely therapeutic, and with fantastic music and breezily fun gameplay, it’s a game you’d definitely wanna date – or play. Thirsty Suitors is due out in 2023 for PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and via Xbox Game Pass for Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One. I can’t wait.
Thirsty Suitors was one of the 2022 Tribeca Games selections we got a chance to go hands-on with. Check out our A Plague Tale: Requiem hands-on, peek at the As Dusk Falls hands-on, or head on over to the highly anticipated Oxenfree 2 hands-on.