Thirsty Suitors is a game about how games can serve as props during difficult conversations – playful tasks that occupy your hands and impose a sense of equilibrium, while you and the other party do the tough work of airing and settling your differences. Created by Falcon Age developer Outerloop, it’s a fantastical yet serious account of a queer South Asian immigrant woman reckoning with her cultural heritage, complex family life and torrid relationship history. It does this by means of a blend of gametypes that loosely resembles a traditional RPG, but unlike in most RPGs, each system exists primarily for the sake of the story.
As the tale begins, main character Jala has returned to her old Washington, USA hometown, Timber Hills, to attend her sister’s wedding. She’s on a journey of self-discovery following a rough break-up, beginning with the personality quiz she daydreams through on the bus – an introduction to both the game’s laidback skateboarding, with Jala grinding rails between Qs and As, and her judgy inner narrator, who resembles her sister. But finding herself also means reconciling with her six ex-lovers, all still local and very much Not Over It, to say nothing of her parents, whom she hasn’t seen in years. There’s also the looming figure of Jala’s overseas grandma Nani. She’s the unseen hand behind the pop-up paramours you’ll have to duel while roaming town, and from the sounds of things, she’s the key individual you’ll need to wrangle at your sister’s wedding.
The game’s three main systems offer different ways of rebuilding all those burned bridges. Jala fights turn-based battles with her jilted exes to clear the air, trading wisecracks and barbs about their time together while selecting attacks and abilities. “Defeat” an ex, and you’ll gain an acquaintance you can do favours for and perhaps, kindle a fresh romance with. Cooking, meanwhile, is all about bonding with your parents – you follow their instructions to fill up approval metres while trying to find a rapport in dialogue. Skating is tethered to your relationship with your “main” ex, Tyler, but it’s also how you’ll reconnect with the town of Timber Hills itself, which has sought to reboot itself as a Bavarian tourist dive, after the example of real-life Leavenworth. The old lumberyard has become a themepark, but this has been overrun by rowdy teenagers led by a sinister bear mascot. At Tyler’s urging, you enter into boarding duels with the upstart youth to get to the bottom of things.