At the risk of sounding like the start of a bad joke, what do you get when you cross cooking, skating, and turn-based combat with a bunch of regrettable exes and disappointed parents? Thirsty Suitors is what you get, the newest game from minority-led indie studio Outerloop Games.
But is Thirsty Suitors’ mix of gameplay genres as beautiful as a plate of panipuri, the story as spicy as nihari, or is it just a mixed affair of karela and bland daal? Well, I went down the rabbit hole of Timber Hills to find out. I met past exes, gave some suitors a hello in the form of my fists, and skated around for a weird guy dressed as a bear. Here’s what I thought!
On its surface, Thirsty Suitors looks like a simple turn-based game with cooking, skating, and battles. But once I got immersed into the story at around the two-hour mark, I realized it was so much more than that. The narrative is an intense conversation surrounded by intergenerational trauma, personal responsibility, and family pressures. It’s a love letter to those of us who grew up in an immigrant family having to carry those burdens, while also carving our own path through the twisted web that is life. I’ll tell you right now, one thing Thirsty Suitors has going for it is the story. There is a real portrayal of various South Asian characters that isn’t almost as stereotypical as you’d find elsewhere.
Jala is a South Asian immigrant (described in the game’s Thirstpaedia as a bisexual disaster) whose life is plagued by complex family issues and dumpster-fire relationships. At the start of the story, Jala returns to her hometown of Timber Hills following a disastrous breakup, setting out to turn over a new leaf and reconnect with her parents and friends/enemies whom she hasn’t seen in years. But mending past relationships means reconciling with her six Scott Pilgrim-cosplayer exes, with whom Jala left things quite unsavory before getting out of Dodge. Throughout the game, Jala has to face accountability for her past actions and mend these relationships, all in preparation for her estranged sister Aruni’s wedding and the arrival of the family matriarch Paati, Jala’s grandmother whom everyone seems to be very scared of.
The battles against exes and random suitors that Paati sends your way are cinematic, colorful, and a joy to watch. I feel the body animations deserve special mention because they are exemplary. They’re just so incredibly buttery smooth. I wish I could slip out of my work clothes and into something more comfortable after a tough day like Jala does with a cartwheel.
The actual gameplay, however, was a bit of a letdown. Like cooking, battles rely on quick time events to carry out moves. That’s right, gameplay-wise, Thirsty Suitors is chock-full of quick time events, the game mechanic that is only second to NPCs not walking at the same speed as your character. They’re fun in bursts, but they get old quickly. Thankfully, you can toggle quick time events off in the game’s accessibility settings, but the on-screen prompts for which button to press still remain. You would think now you can instead focus on strategy and pulling off cool combat moves, but the battles themselves don’t require much effort.
Battles in Thirsty Suitors are pretty chill. It’s clear they’re made to be doable even with a beginner skillset in turn-based games. The battles themselves are repetitive and the gameplay loop gets pretty stale quickly. It’s just a matter of taunting the opponent and then using the corresponding skills for that taunt, again and again until their health runs out. In the middle, you downgrade to a normal attack to get some of your stamina or “Willpower” back. This is the de facto way to defeat most of the enemies. When there is such a tedious yet efficient strategy to take in combat, it disincentivizes me from searching for different creative and enjoyable approaches because they just don’t deal that amount of damage. Sadly, out of the multiple creative attacks and taunts, there are limited creative approaches for you to take with them.
The battles are better seen as a way to visualize the conversation that’s going on between Jala and her ex. It’s more enjoyed by watching it for what it’s meant to be, two faulty people getting their heartfelt feelings out of their system, hyper-realized with over-the-top action moves.
Facing the exes
Each ex has their own story and depth, and ex battles expand the lore further with dialogue in between turns where Jala and the ex talk it out. These battles have more of an end result than just “Jala was defeated” or “The ex was defeated” because, in the midst of wacky combat moves, the dialogue I was talking about earlier creates a conversation space where the nuances and intricacies of a real-life relationship are explored, and we see that things are not just what they seem. No doubt if this was an anime or cartoon, I’d definitely watch it.
Meet the parents
Then there’s Jala’s overbearing mother and cool-as-beans dad who perfectly complement each other. You interact with them mainly through cooking, which we all know is the love language of Asian parents. Jala engages in cooking a variety of South Asian dishes, to either her mom’s amusement or dismay, shown by an approval bar filling up as you fry those jalebis. Cooking is used as a catalyst to spark conversation between Jala and her parents about complex issues, her personal life, and sometimes as exposition. It’s a way for you to connect with the parents while annoying them with little jokes.
All of the action here is done through quick time button pressing as well, and I can see a lot has been carried over from the battles. The different choices for cooking the food, normal or Super cook, and an approval rating based on accuracy make it so you’re in a sort of battle, but against an inanimate pot of sustenance instead of a begrudging ex.
Tony Hawk simulator
Coming to my favorite thing to do in Thirsty Suitors, skating. Armed with her trusty skateboard every step of the way, Jala can grind, wall-run, and do tricks on whatever objects in the world there are to grind, wall-run, and do tricks on. And believe me, there are loads. See any world object like a bench, light pole, electricity line, fire hydrant, and more, you bet you can swing some sick moves on them. The colorful looks remind me of Sunset Overdrive a bit. These “skate objects” are placed to look natural in the world, but they also collectively make up several pathways you can use to continue your combo. A skating playground sandbox is masked as a livable urban environment — or is it the other way around?
Whatever it may be, almost every square meter of Thirsty Suitors has been designed to be skateable. You can do a multitude of tricks easily as there’s a singular “Shift” button for that. Racking up your score is a fun and relaxing activity instead of a competition to beat your high score. Likewise, the game doesn’t punish you much for making mistakes. One gripe I do have with skating is that you can’t increase or decrease your speed. There’s just one default speed at which Jala skates, which is too slow for me and feels quite limiting.
Voice actors had their fun
With wacky combat and wackier characters, it was only appropriate that the dialogue had to match. Throughout playing the game, multiple interactions had me erupting into laughter, and the main culprit of this was Jala’s inner dialogue, a personification of her sister aptly named The Narrator, though other characters like Jala’s ex Sergio were no less. She is a no-nonsense sassy talker who can enter the scene at any moment and tolerates none of Jala’s nonsense. Much of the credit goes to the talented voice actors, who were able to make any scene in the story sound impactful and emotional when it needed to be. Minor details in sound design like clicking buttons in the menus eliciting a “tabla” drum sound were also appreciated.
Thirsty Suitors is, at its heart, an impactful celebration of South Asian culture. From the intricate storytelling to the mouthwatering South Asian dishes, this game pays homage to the rich heritage and diverse experiences of the community. The narrative resonates with those who have walked the path of navigating their identity within the immigrant family context.
I commend the game on its portrayal of South Asian characters. Unlike many stereotypes found in mainstream media, Thirsty Suitors provides a refreshing and authentic representation of the culture. Jala, the protagonist, grapples with complex family issues and broken relationships, just like any other person her age.