When talking about Thirsty Suitors, comparisons will inevitably be made to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
After all, the new adventure title from Falcon Age developer Outerloop Games and publisher Annapurna Interactive shares a similar premise and style with Canadian Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series. In Thirsty Suitors, you play as a young queer woman named Jala who has to face off against her exes in gloriously over-the-top battles. Sound familiar? That’s certainly part of the appeal, but what really surprised me about Thirsty Suitor was what was going on underneath that familiar setup — namely, some of the most wonderful representation and celebration of culture that I’ve ever seen in gaming.
Because while we’ve (slowly) seen more South Asian characters pop up in the likes of Never Have I Ever, Bridgerton and Ms. Marvel, there are fewer still in games. As someone who’s half-Indo-Guyanese but primarily grew up with his white family, I haven’t often gotten to immerse myself in Brown culture and share it with those around me. By playing Thirsty Suitors, though, I got to experience a real taste of that, and it was a truly wondrous thing.
That all starts with Jala, the 20-something youngest daughter of an Indian Tamil mother and Sri Lankan Sinhalese father. She’s a wonderfully well-realized and likable protagonist. Her entire arc in the game revolves around returning to her small Seattle hometown after a bad breakup to make peace with both her exes and her family. In this way, Thirsty Suitors roots her story in commendable motivations while also exploring all of the ways in which she’s a believably flawed human being.
We see this through conversations with her parents, who genuinely care for her but struggle to understand her questionable life choices. We see this through her sister, who feels betrayed by Jala running off with her partner and is keeping her distance. We see this through her impressively diverse lineup of exes, who range from a muscly Filipino and plus-sized Indian to a non-binary African and Indian trans woman. Race and sexuality play an important role in each of these characters’ stories — such as how one of the exes struggles with her Indian family accepting her as a lesbian — but these aren’t the sole things that define them.
In fact, there’s an unmistakable joy to Thirsty Suitors. This isn’t a game solely about the challenges of being a minority — it celebrates the happiness and freedom that come from embracing one’s identity. Whether it’s Jala hearing her humorous dad reminisce about his rebellious childhood while making aasmi (a deep-fried Sri Lankan snack), dancing with the local bartender or just skating around town wearing colourful outfits, Thirsty Suitors consistently brought a smile to my face.
It also helps that Thirsty Suitors is just plain funny. The game captures the zany tone of something like Scott Pilgrim while adding a wonderful assortment of playful South Asian jokes. The Narrator, an imaginary version of Jala’s sister who doubles as her self-critical subconscious, provides all kinds of absolutely delightful commentary throughout the roughly eight-hour story. In one instance, when Jala surprisingly manages to get a chuckle out of her steely mother, the Narrator remarks, “It was 30 percent sweet and 70 percent terrifying. Which is kinda the entire Brown auntie vibe.” Elsewhere, during an encounter with one of Jala’s exes, the Narrator notes that “Like most South Asian men, all it takes to destroy Sergio’s ego is a single word from his mom.”
This layered yet humourous method of storytelling extends to Thirsty Suitors‘ core combat. When Jala meets one of her exes or other “Suitors” (including, funnily enough, random people sent by her matchmaking grandmother), you’ll enter a sort of psychodrama that plays out like classic turn-based RPG battles. From here, you can perform basic attacks to chip away HP or expend “Willpower” (WP) to use special moves like Taunts or Skills. Taunts serve as Thirsty Suitors‘ version of elemental weaknesses and let Jala flirt, diss or showboat to weaken the enemy with various debuffs. Skills, meanwhile, include flashy over-the-top attacks involving flips, yo-yo twirls, basketball dunks and even summons. Hilariously, the first of these includes none other than Jala’s mother, who enters the stage in a towering form to disapprovingly crush the opponent with her chapaal (slipper).
Admittedly, combat is pretty basic, and it’s tied to an equally rudimentary levelling system, leading to fairly easy fights on the whole. In fact, I reached the final boss with an abundance of curative and enemy debuff items that I never needed. Given the unique subject matter, though, it was a wise choice to streamline the “RPG” mechanics to open up Thirsty Suitors to those who are less familiar with games and are just looking for a surprisingly thoughtful South Asian story. Plus, Outerloop makes up for the mechanical simplicity by injecting each battle with a healthy dose of dialogue choices, letting you shape Jala’s character a little bit while also further unpacking her relationship drama. Ultimately, I can’t help but adore how the framework of a turn-based RPG actually doubles as a visual representation of people talking through their feelings in a brilliant marriage between gameplay and narrative.
That’s also not to say that Thirsty Suitors is devoid of any challenge. In both the small main town hub and a dedicated skate park, you’ll find a slew of optional minigames that truly flesh out the deceptively deep skating system. Trying (and failing) a few of them made me really appreciate the “easy to learn, difficult to master” nature of the skateboarding. Some of the cooking minigames, which have you cooking all kinds of sumptuous Tamil dishes, can also get a bit tricky with their fast-paced quick-time events. I’d absolutely recommend doing all of them, though, as they flesh out Jala’s relationship with her parents in particularly compelling ways.
The only area in which Thirsty Suitors falls short is a subplot involving a cult of hooligans at the skate park. Jala helps investigate what the group is planning in an attempt to reconcile with Tyler, a journalist and The One Ex To Rule Them All. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty dull story, particularly since Jala lacks any personal connection to the mystery itself, and it had me wanting to quickly get to the next ex or family scene.
If anything, though, that’s a testament to how well everything else in Thirsty Suitors works. By focusing on South Asian people and culture, Outerloop has created an utterly engrossing — and eminently relatable — game that’s unlike anything I’ve ever played. It’s a thoroughly joyous, inclusive and just plain entertaining experience that’s quickly become one of my favourite games of the year.
Thirsty Suitors will launch on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox consoles (plus Game Pass), Nintendo Switch and PC on November 2nd.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive