Love may be the most beautiful thing in the world, but when things go sour, it can get pretty messy, to say the least. Whether you are someone who tries to find comfort in a gallon tub of ice cream after a breakup, someone who parties to distract from the heartache, or someone who laments the loss by stalking their ex on socials, we all know how painful break-ups can be, and the crazy things they can make us do.
Well, Thirsty Suitors is a game that places you in the shoes of Jala, a recent dumpee who must return to her hometown of Timber Hills with her tail between her legs to confront the emotional destruction she left in her wake.
She’ll have to make peace with old flames, repair her relationship with her family, and she’ll also have to help her town from being brought down by a cult leader in a bear costume. It wouldn’t be the environment I would choose to deal with a breakup, but hey, it makes for some interesting gaming, at least.
Thirsty Suitors is an unapologetically Gen-Z story, accommodating all creeds, genders, and sexualities by giving them their time in the spotlight in this witty and whimsical story. It’s a weirdly satisfying blend of various genres, coming together to provide something for everyone. But is this zany title worth your time? This is Indie Game Culture’s Thirsty Suitors Review, conducted on PS5.
Do It with Flair, or Don’t Do It At All
When I saw that this game was published by Annapurna Interactive, I immediately knew that this game would look the part. When it comes to style, I don’t think they have ever dropped the ball, and once again, they didn’t disappoint.
Thirsty Suitors is a game that takes a lot of notes from the Persona series, not only offering turn-based combat with a twist, but by ensuring that literally every single action the player does within the game has a slick, over-the-top animation, which makes the player feel like an absolute badass, when in reality, they might have just pressed the jump button or entered a room.
That’s the motif of this game. Flair. Everything you do will look and feel amazing, and that’s a conscious decision by the developer. The game is always trying to present the authentic and grounded storybeats within the game in a larger-than-life way, and pretty much every time, the whimsical and wacky presentation pays off.
With so many themes to balance, such as the need to present Jala’s South Asian heritage, the need to place this game smack bang in the middle of the 1990’s, and the need to offer an ebb and flow between the humdrum life of a backwater American town, and the surreal nature of the game’s events. It could have all easily turned into a tangle of ideas that never quite meshed. But credit to Outerloop Studios here; they have created a game that is about as eye-catching and zany as it gets.
Some People Never Leave High School
We all know those people from back in high school trapped in a state of arrested development. The ones that were so wrapped up in the emotional drama and the social hierarchy that they mentally never managed to leave. They would still be hanging out by the lockers in their boyfriend’s varsity jacket if they could.
Thirsty Suitors is a game that really leans into the high school drama theme but does so in a way that creates an authentic and emotionally literate narrative that confronts these immature feelings and makes sense of them. Whether it be your crush breaking your heart, a messy love triangle, or a secret romance behind the bleachers, this game presents them all in a way that feels real, not to mention entertaining.
The relationships with Jala’s exes make up the highlights of the story, but the game also presents a number of relatable family feuds too, with a focus on South Asian traditions, and the struggles that one’s true identity can have as part of an Indian family. In a lot of ways, Thirsty Suitors tells a story that isn’t too far removed from the wonderful Venba. In fact, it even offers cooking minigames where you get to make traditional Indian and Sri Lankan dishes. God, what I wouldn’t do for an Egg Hopper right now.
The story is one that will keep players engaged throughout, but there are some flat moments you simply have to push through. For example, the whole Skate Park cult drama feels like a bit of an afterthought that probably only exists to justify the skating mechanics within the game. Sure, it fits fine into the wacky vibe of the story, but when compared to the two dominant plotlines, it doesn’t even touch the sides in terms of quality.
These dips in quality aside, though, Thirsty Suitor’s writing is superb, unapologetically modern despite the 90’s setting, and maintains a sense of wonder throughout. However, I do have a bone to pick.
You and Me Could Write a Bad Romance
Cards on the table right away. I was attracted to this game due to the skating mechanics, no point in trying to hide that. However, I was also intrigued to find out how the game would handle this dating sim in reverse. Right from the off, the game gives you a quick personality quiz, and promises that if you build your character as you choose, you’ll see different results in dialogue. Which was pretty exciting at first glance. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is a complete facade.
The game offers three different personality archetypes, which you gain by selecting different options in conversations, but these can be altered at any time, and only equate to minor stat buffs. So that was strike one.
I then hoped that, as I encountered my various ex-partners that, I would be able to choose whether I wanted to romance them, befriend them, or irreparably break the relationship completely. The latter would have been so great for Bruno; he was an ass. However, despite some small branches in dialogue, it all leads to the same place. Platonic reconciliation. There’s strike two.
The only hope I had left regarding this game being a dating sim of sorts was a set of alternate endings where you could choose your ideal partner in the closing scenes. But once again, the game forces the player to embrace single life, with the end result always ending up the same for all players. Strike three, you’re outta there.
In short, the game teases the notion of emergent gameplay and player choice, but in the end, you’ve always been on rails from the beginning. All I wanted was to make a life with Irfan and his cat, but alas.
If Trauma Was Turn-Based
We now move onto the gameplay present in Thirty Suitors, which essentially takes a number of different genres and mashes them together, meaning there is a lot here. However, I believe there are three core pillars of gameplay present. The first is the turn-based combat that allows Jala to battle with Suitors, take down Cultists, and reconcile with past flames. Essentially it offers a Scott Pilgrim vs. the World vibe where you need to take down your evil exes hellbent on making your demise a reality.
I mention that this game offers Persona-adjacent combat, but really, it’s more in line with South Park and The Stick of Truth. The game will have you use taunts to reveal weaknesses, and then when you have caused a status effect, you will then be able to inflict devastating heavy attacks to beat enemies to a pulp. What I will say right away is that it flatters to deceive in a lot of ways.
The combat is stylish and fun to engage with, but it’s about ankle-deep in terms of nuance. You can turn the difficulty settings up in the menu to make proceedings a little more tense and challenging, but in truth, this just artificially adds difficulty with bigger health pools.
That being said, for someone who wants all the trappings of a turn-based RPG without the stress, party management, and strategy, then this is a game that will suit you down to a tee. The combat essentially serves as a vehicle to deliver dialogue between characters, and in truth, it works wonderfully well.
Much like a lot of gameplay in this game, the novelty wears off quickly, and the story will carry the gameplay on its shoulders across the finish line, but as much as I would have liked more depth and tactics-based gameplay, I still loved how it all played out.
Until the Wheels Fall Off
We then move on to the second core pillar, which is skating. I’m a connoisseur of skating games, making me the ideal candidate to judge these mechanics and the verdict is in. They are great, but also terrible. Let me explain. The game has you bounce around different areas of the town on your board as you meet new characters, do new quests, and engage in battles. Then in the interim between these events, you use your board to get from A to B.
In these instances, the skating works brilliantly, as it feels cathartic, fluid, and the stripped-down mechanics offer entry-level skating suited for everyone. But most importantly, there are no stakes. However, when the game asks the player to use these skating skills to complete challenges in a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater format, you immediately see how not fit for purpose these mechanics are.
I would compare the mechanics to the recent skater title, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk, albeit without the polish and refinement. It’s not about combos here, but instead about flow, platforming, and keeping a line going. That being said though, the platforming/skating here is not refined enough to offer a fair challenge.
I consider myself very good at skating games. Like platinum trophy in Session: Skate Sim levels of good. Plus, I skate myself, so I know my Nollie Crooks from my Fakie Noseblunts, and it is with this expert point of view I tell you, these challenges are too damn hard.
The game expects godlike input speeds in some challenges and pinpoint timing and platforming in others. Yet, when in this environment, you feel firsthand how rigid the platforming is, how inconsistent the inputs are, and how unforgiving the stages are.
To give some context, I am sitting at #1 on the global leaderboard for one challenge, and I have only managed to get a B-rank. Which in a microcosm represents the entire problem. In short, it feels really fun to skate around as a means of traversal, but unless you want the achievement associated with the skate challenges, I would swerve them.
I’m Here for a Good Time, Not a Quicktime
Then lastly, we have somewhat touched on them already, but the third pillar of gameplay here is the abundance of QuickTime events. Now, I know many will be expecting me to rag on Quicktime events as a mechanic, but I actually have a lot of time for them if used correctly. Kingdom Hearts II was made infinitely better than its predecessor, and a big part of that was the action commands. Or take the recent Marvel’s Spiderman outing, which is littered with them yet excites and amazes because of it.
What I’m getting at here is that, if the QuickTime events take control away from the player to present something cool that just couldn’t be replicated through actual gameplay, then they can be very useful. However, the important caveat is they are there to supplement the true gameplay. They can’t be the gameplay. The Order 1886 is proof of this.
Well, sadly, Thirsty Suitors leans on them a little too much. It may take a little while for players to notice this shameless use of QuickTime events, as they are so artistically stylish and fun to engage with. Plus, in the turn-based combat, they do somewhat supplement the gameplay. However, in sections like the cooking minigames, or the dancing sections, for example, they show their underwhelming true selves.
Quicktime events represent game design’s low-hanging fruit, so if you’re going to pick from that part of the tree, you better hope that fruit is damn tasty. In the end, I think that Thirsty Suitors just just enough to avoid gameplay being labeled as ‘lazy and patronizing’ as a lot of other QuickTime-heavy games have been in the past. However, a couple of different mini-game formats would have avoided this discussion altogether.
Then before we get on our board and ride off into the sunset, here are a few games that offer similar gameplay and vibes to this one:
- Persona 5
- South Park: The Stick of Truth
- Bomb Rush Cyberfunk
- Bratz: Flaunt Your Fashion
- The Artful Escape
- Life Is Strange
- Monster Prom
The Verdict – 7/10
Overall, I feel that Thirsty Suitors is the first time in quite a long time that Annapurna has backed a horse based on narrative, and it’s come off for them. Thirsty Suitors offers a very grounded and real set of storylines thanks to relatable situations, high school drama, and family feuds. Yet, thanks to the incredibly over-the-top artistic style and presentation of the world around you, the player always feels like they are in an exaggerated version of reality, where fun and flow are championed over all else.
The turn-based combat lacks the difficulty needed to offer deep and meaningful encounters, but the story makes up for these shortcomings, allowing the combat to serve as a rather cathartic vehicle to push the plot forward. Then the same can also be said about the QuickTime events that make you feel like a stylish queen, but when this novelty wears off, you become painfully aware of the repetitive and mundane nature of the format.
Traversal is also satisfying, thanks to the simplified and stripped-down skating mechanics, but when the game tries to offer Tony Hawks-esque skating challenges, the cracks immediately begin to show.
All in all, Thirsty Suitors is a truly stylish blend of so many ideas that, against all odds, come together seamlessly to provide players with a smorgasbord of gaming variety. Some aspects could have used more time in the oven, but the end result is about as creative and cool as one could ever hope for.
- The game oozes style
- The stripped-down blend of different genres is wonderfully implemented
- Teen bop drama done right
- A diverse and memorable cast
- Every system lacks depth
- Quicktime events make up a lot of the gameplay
- A lack of genuine player choice
- The skating challenges are ridiculously hard
Callum played this game for a total of eleven hours, finishing the game in its entirety, including all the recipes, skate challenges, and Suitor Favors, to earn another Platinum Trophy for his collection.
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