Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 2, 2023
Glancing at a screenshot of Thirsty Suitors, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s some kind of Jet Set Radio spiritual successor: colourful characters, grinding on skateboards, teen punks. Stylistically, this narrative-focused title borrows some of the visual language of other titles in the “rebellious skaters” genre.
However, this sick kick-flipper is in fact a glorious blend of story-driven adventure, skate-park sim, and turn-based RPG battler. Thirsty Suitors feels like the lovechild of a polycule featuring the Persona series, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Netflix’s Heartstopper and Sex Education, and a Bollywood fever dream. It’s a chaotic, heartfelt, lightning-paced trip through relationships and redemption, with a healthy dose of family drama.
Thirsty Suitors sees you playing as Jala, described in-game as “a bisexual disaster. A hot mess. A romantic dumpster fire in human form.” A few years ago, Jala dropped out of college and skipped town with an older woman, leaving her family, friends, and bestie-slash-lover Tyler in the lurch. After a messy break-up, she’s heading back to her hometown Timber Hills to set things right with everyone she’s burned. Accompanied by her trusty skateboard and an imaginary “Narrator” that looks suspiciously like her estranged sister Aruni, Jala sets out to reconnect with her family and heal her broken relationships – and maybe swing an invite to Aruni’s wedding, despite the fact that she’s completely avoiding her.
Unsurprisingly, barely anybody is pleased to see Jala, for a variety of reasons. Aside from the cool passive aggression of Jala’s mother and the total freeze-out from her sister, a league of her ex-lovers have organised against her and plan to make her pay for her emotional sins. From her needy third-grade crush Sergio through to punk-mommy Diya, each of Jala’s exes (potentially turned Suitors) has specific beef with her and seeks to confront her while she searches across town for Aruni. To top this off, terrifying matriarch Paati is coming to town for Aruni’s wedding and is sending a horde of her own suitors to pursue Jala – oh, and there’s also a cult of skateboarding youths hiding out in the local abandoned theme park that she’ll need to infiltrate.
If the game sounds incredibly chaotic – it’s because it is. Thirsty Suitors embraces the over-the-top at every turn. Confrontations with exes are framed as spectacularly cinematic RPG boss encounters, with Paati’s Suitors and the skater kids acting as wonderfully camp grinding fodder. Combat follows a familiar turn-based rhythm. Jala can perform a basic attack, use a healing item, or spend Will Power points to use a powerful Skill or Taunt her enemies.
Taunts have a chance of inflicting Mood statuses, which modify a target’s stats and make them more vulnerable to specific Skills. As you progress, you’ll unlock the ability to Summon Jala’s friends and family members into battle, causing massive damage or inflicting specific status effects. The summon animations are absolutely delightful – there’s something magical about calling on the inspiring powers of lesbian gymrat Auntie Chandra to pump you up and boost your stats.
Each opponent reflects their unique personality through their weaknesses and attacks: particularly sleazy suitors will be vulnerable to taunts that inflict Thirsty, while angry little skate punks will be more likely to fly into a Rage. You can usually intuit at least one of an enemy’s weaknesses, but there are also certain Summon abilities that allow you to see them all. Success in combat grants you XP and items, but more importantly, it’s the arena where Jala resolves all of her unfinished business.
In between each move, Jala and her opponents exchange jibes and gradually get to the bottom of their emotional trauma. The dialogue options you choose can influence combat but also feed into your overall Thirstsona (sort of like a class build) with different levels of The Heartbreaker, The Star, and The Bohemian affecting story outcomes. It’s all delivered with a bombastic, colourful visual style that oozes a glorious sense of 90s nostalgia.
Each chapter in Thirsty Suitors begins and ends in Jala’s parents’ home. From here, you’ll head out into Timber Hills and either head Downtown or over to Bearfoot Park to complete story objectives and seek combat encounters. Jala explores each area on her skateboard and is able to perform tricks and grinds on the architecture. She can jump between park benches and fountains Downtown in between shopping for items, customising her board, or visiting the bar or diner, or she can style on the ramshackle skate jumps placed by cultist kids over at Bearfoot Park. Part of Jala’s reconciliation with former lover Tyler involves investigating the mystery of these kids’ bear-costume-clad leader Soundie, who tasks you with completing skate challenges and beating his cult’s leaders in combat a la Team Rocket.
The skating mechanics themselves are incredibly deep, with the list of tricks you can pull off having its own dedicated page in Uncle Hinti’s ThirstPaedia (the game’s help manual). For anyone with a passion for the sport, mastering a “Nollie monster flip late shuv” sounds like it’d be a satisfying task – however, actual traversal on the board feels a bit sluggish and cumbersome. With no free camera control, you’re roaming around a 3D space with a single joystick, making navigation and landing jumps a little frustrating. However, the range of interesting challenges set by Soundie are totally optional, serving as high-score bragging rights and incentivising you with new outfits, music tracks to play in any jukeboxes you find, or new colours for Jala’s board. You’ll also gradually unlock different characters to skate as which is a total joy – I won’t spoil the unlockables, but I was very pleased to find that there is more than one playable non-human.
Aside from skating and combat, the other core mechanic in Thirsty Suitors is cooking with your parents. This could have easily been a throwaway activity, a series of button presses to generate healing items in between battles: instead, Outerloop Games have crafted a beautifully simple system that captures the heart of what it is to cook together. Depending on the dish selected, Jala cooks with either her mother or father. The aim of each session is to gain your parents’ Approval, which increases the dish’s overall rating. At each step in the recipe, you’ll be given the option to complete the step normally, or spend Heat points to either impress your parent with a fancy cooking manoeuvre or spin a wheel which can lead to either impressing or disappointing your parent. Mechanically, it’s fairly simple, with quick-time event performance influencing how much Approval and Heat you gain at each step.
It’s the stories you exchange with each recipe that make this gameplay section utterly irresistible. The dialogue and voice acting in Thirsty Suitors are at their best in these segments, as you watch Jala struggle with the terrifying weight of her mother’s judgement or revel in her father’s tales of wayward youth. Each story links to the current dish in some way, giving you both an insight into Jala’s parents’ lives and a delicious step-by-step Indian recipe.
Other relationships are touched on here too, with Jala given space to reflect on her history with Tyler or what Paati’s impending visit means for her mother. Just as in many real families, coming together over food is an excuse to spend quality time with the ones you love. They may be technically optional content, but Thirsty Suitor’s cooking challenges are the heart and soul of this story.
These conversations also reveal other parts of Thirsty Suitors’ many stories of queerness. Jala’s bisexuality is core to her identity, and on the surface, it seems like a non-issue to her family (who, after all, love and accept her Auntie Chandra). However, spending time with Jala’s father allows him to open up about how he hid his struggle to accept Jala, and his guilt around how he acted when Chandra came out to him years ago. It’s a surprisingly nuanced and honest reflection from this character who otherwise presents as “good cop” in the parental dynamic, and one of a few key times where Thirsty Suitors contrasts its whacky, over-the-top style with something raw and real.
With relationships as the driving force in its combat narrative, moments of reflection are usually framed in passionate argument. The titular Thirsty Suitors come with different baggage, as does Jala. Since you’re encouraged to exploit their emotional weaknesses to defeat them, it can feel justified when they paint Jala as manipulative and cruel. You need to break down their issues as you lower their HP, trading blows as you trade barbs. Each suitor was burned by Jala in specific ways and has specific issues to deal with, covering queerness, cultural expectations, family, trust, and a whole heap of different relationship traumas. The level of catharsis once you’ve reconciled with a suitor is satisfying, and once you’ve completed their chapter you’ll be able to perform side quests for them to further your relationship.
I rolled credits on Thirsty Suitors after around ten totally wonderful hours. On the default difficulty, there’s no need to grind for XP – but you’ll be entering combat voluntarily just to see what insufferable suitor Paati has sent for you this time. It’s a beautiful exploration of relationships, queerness, cultural baggage, and redemption, all delivered with chaotic, melodramatic panache.
- Utterly superb character writing and voice acting
- Clever use of game mechanics to facilitate multi-layered storytelling
- Vibrant, funky design with lots of style
- Skateboarding controls are a little janky
Thirsty Suitors is a wicked combination of a warm hug and a shot of tequila. It absolutely nails its colourful, over-the-top style in every aspect, keeping you thirsting to jump into your next dramatic turn-based confrontation or unlock a new ridiculous Summon. At the same time, it explores complex family dynamics through a beautifully simple cooking mechanic, and provides thoughtful reflections on cultural expectations, relationships, and the diversity of the queer experience. Despite some mechanical unsteadiness in its skateboarding segments, Thirsty Suitors is an explosive, chaotic, and utterly delightful experience from beginning to end.