I never thought I’d experience the dramatic Indian serials, but I found a similar vibe in a small American town through “Thirsty Suitors.”
I never thought I’d experience the comedically over-the-top drama of Indian serials through characters in a rural American town. Burned bridges abound and tensions run high as mountains in Timber Hills, but Thirsty Suitors cleverly uses familiar turn-based battle mechanics to let its lovable characters creatively reconcile through self-reflection. Rather than making matters worse, fighting gives them space to share their deepest feelings, smartly showing how we often need to look back in order to move forward in life. While Thirsty Suitors does try to say and do too much through its battles, leaving me wanting more out of other parts of the story, who knew therapeutically throwing hands could be this fun.
Characters and Gameplay
You play as Jala, a local skating legend who left Timber Hills on bad terms with both her family and more than a few exes, which puts her in a tough spot when she suddenly moves back home after a bad breakup. From there you’ll skate around town, unraveling the mystery behind a hilarious skate punk cult in an abandoned theme park while reconnecting with the important people from your past. Jala’s talks with these characters carry most of the weight in Thirsty Suitors, with cathartic conversations clearing up misunderstandings and acknowledging past mistakes in the form of fights. The turn-based RPG combat always kept me engaged thanks to how it weaves precise timing into each encounter, whether that’s spamming a button to dodge or rotating the stick in just the right way for an attack.
Diving into Real Issues
Thirsty Suitors dives into real and serious issues, but it’s lively and over-the-top too. That could be Jala’s dad wobbling in joy after he takes a bite of food prepared by his daughter, or thirst-trapping suitors who thrust roses toward you with their thick thighs as an attack. The dialogue between Jala and her opponents can be used as a clever way of analyzing them to learn their weaknesses as well, whether you’re talking to an ex, a vexing new suitor, or just some skateboarder kid. Your dialogue choices can inflict emotional damage and even influence how the opponent will respond – for example, a brief heart-to-heart could be enough to learn that a furious ex might fall for the Raging Taunt ability to apply a debuff. However, you don’t really get to know most opponents before you meet them in battle. That means the dialogue can feel a bit overwhelming, with exposition often rehashing Jala’s hurtful actions and trying to make amends in the same breath.
Everyone seems to have beef with Jala, from the local skater kids who follow Soundie – a radical, misunderstood guy in a bear costume – to suitors sent by her grandmother. While the combat is fun overall, I found myself rushing through those more predictable battles to get to the really good ones: the fights with your exes. Battles against Jala’s exes are set in their “inner worlds,” a theatrical representation of their insecurities, culture, and personality. Confrontations are extravagant with expressive visual design and music, contrasting the quaintness of everyday life in a small town. Dodging giant, unexpected slices of cake thrown by an ex with a sweet tooth or a crystal beam shot from one who considers herself a maharani (queen) kept me delightfully on my toes.
The Significance of Cooking
As the levels got tougher, I realized that cooking was necessary to survive battles. Food items can be used to recover health and increase a resource called Willpower that’s used to cast powerful attacks, but spend some time cooking up South Asian recipes and they’ll give you an even bigger benefit in the next fight. Cooking uses the same timed button-pressing mechanics as the battles, but critical comments from Jala’s unsatisfied mother and the pressure of getting a perfect score make it all the more intense. Snappy banter from both sides of the kitchen island heats the room, and the fast-paced tabla (drum) beat only adds to the drama as arguments unfold.
Breaking Boundaries and Representation
Thirsty Suitors also admirably takes on the responsibility of talking about subjects that most games (and even many people) shy away from, like families rejecting queerness, accepting oneself for not meeting the expectations of others, feeling like your efforts aren’t enough, and larger societal pressures. Fighting and cooking critically examine both culture and identity in insightful ways while remaining tailored to the respective characters involved, whether it’s your ex Diya getting kicked out of her Brahmin caste family or how laws prevent Aruni’s fiance from visiting his grandmother in Palestine. There’s a lot happening in Thirsty Suitors, but the story, activities, and characters always feel intentional in how they are presented. Thirsty Suitors breaks boundaries in a way I hope we see more of.
A South Asian Perspective
There’s a lot to appreciate from a South Asian perspective, too. I loved coming across small but impactful little references I could relate to: seeing a carom board in the living room, Jala’s mom bringing out the chappal when summoned into battle, talking about Kanchipuram saris, a pervasive love of mangoes, and even a talking cat named Shah Rukh – likely named after the famous Indian actor. On top of that, voice performances for its non-white characters include accents that aren’t disparaging, with art that confidently places dark-skinned Black and Brown characters center-stage. Thirsty Suitors breaks boundaries in its eccentric storytelling and character design, but it’s a risk that pays off so well I hope we see more follow in its footsteps.