[Preview] Thirsty Suitors: skating, berating and ruminating have never felt so stylish
Posted on June 17, 2023 by Nicholas Serpa in Previews, Switch eShop
My demo with Thirsty Suitors had me battling an ex-boyfriend by slinging insults, racking up combos at an abandoned skatepark, and cooking food to win my parents’ approval. Credit where credit is due: I don’t think any other game has tried to do those three specific things at once! It feels like exactly the type of game you’d expect to see Annapurna publishing these days – a little surreal, very experimental, and handcrafted to surprise you at almost every turn. While I’m a little unsure about how Thirsty Suitors will manage to tie all its ideas together into a cohesive package, I’ve enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that I’ve experienced so far.
Thirsty Suitors is trying to tackle some relatively heavy themes – reconciling with your past, connecting with your family, and accepting your own culture and identity – through an absurdist, borderline slapstick approach on gameplay and storytelling. Jala, a woman who at the start of the game is returning home after experiencing a bad breakup, finds herself needing to confront her former exes, and generally speaking, repair some connections that have been severed in her past for one reason or another. The game is narrated partially by her subconscious, which manifests as a version of her sister who she hasn’t talked to in ages. More generally, the town isn’t quite the same place it was when she left – Jala is more of an outsider now, and my demo gave me the impression that many folks around town don’t seem to trust her very much.
My demo started in a skatepark, now abandoned, nestled in the woods near town. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me at this stage, Jala is visiting the area acting as a reporter, trying to get in with what could quite possibly be a cult of underground skaters who dress as animals. It’s here that I get my first session with the skateboarding. There are different skill-based challenges you can take on to try and gain the approval of the mysterious figure running the park, as well as some optional turn-based battles you can take on if you want. The skating is very arcade-style and over-the-top; you can wall-run, swing on objects, and pull off all sorts of crazy shenanigans. It was fun, although admittedly, not why I was interested in Thirsty Suitors initially. I was much more excited about the game’s turn-based combat, which is a whole new level of bonkers.
Mechanically, it’s pretty straightforward if you’ve ever played a turn-based RPG before – you exploit enemy weaknesses to stagger them, then come in with a special ability to deal extra damage. The difference is in the presentation. You’re not just debuffing your foes, you’re launching targeted insults at them to make them uncomfortable and vulnerable to further attacks. You’re doing things like trying to make your exes “thirsty” for you by flirting with them before coming in for the metaphorical kill. You’re not just picking options from a menu, but also hitting QTE button prompts to actually land the attacks, while incredibly stylish animations blast you with color and comic-book-inspired flair. You’re summoning your mom to come in and smash your foe with a flip-flop and a condescending statement.
It’s really clever stuff, even if it feels – at least in the early stages – like it’s not likely to be the deepest thing in the world. I get the sense that most of the fun in Thirsty Suitors will ultimately come from watching Jala interact with the other residents of Timber Falls as we all feel some secondhand embarrassment watching her try and reason with her former partners. We’ve all been there… right?
I didn’t get to explore much of the game beyond those components, but one of the developers did come show me the cooking, which seems to play out as a minigame of sorts, where your performance in nailing the recipes directly affects your relationship with your parents. I don’t really know how that will tie into the rest of the gameplay over time, but it’s fun to watch at least. Of course, there’s more to do in Thirsty Suitors that wasn’t shown here, like other locations around town where Jala can shop and mingle with other characters. I also learned that the game tracks certain choices the player makes over the course of the game, although the narrative is still mostly linear in nature, so it will be interesting to see if that will come into play in some way over the course of the game.
Overall, I enjoyed what I played of Thirsty Suitors. While I didn’t personally relate to its protagonist as much as I’d hoped, I think the game has a lot of potential to try and tackle some very tangible human emotions through a lens that’s atypical compared to other “growing up” stories. I’ll be interested to see how all the game’s creative ideas will hopefully coalesce into a unified vision when the final game launches on Switch sometime in the future.