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Thirsty Suitors review - skating and relationships get a queer, horny, exaggerated remix

Tony Hawk's Pro Dater.

Thirsty Suitors artwork showing two main characters back to back in front of a yellow and black loveheart, with a bright purple-pink background.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive.
Outerloop recreates the messy dating world with an also messy, and sometimes brilliant, genre mash-up.

Dating can be weird and fun and messy and really, really boring, and sometimes, if you want to look at things selfishly, it can be extremely insightful. Your personal borders budge up against someone else's - sometimes a stranger's - and as you uncomfortably try to co-exist in the same space, those borders squeeze and squash and are rejigged. Basically, you change, for better and for worse. And in a delightful effort to capture that process, Thirsty Suitors inherits both the thrilling highs and scary lows of the dating world, also for better and worse.

The main hereditary trait that pops to my mind is the messiness, though. Thirsty Suitors can be loosely described as a queer, South Asian-inspired, and significantly hornier version of Persona. Put simply: it's a turn-based RPG that involves lots of running around town to chat with people. Oh, and it's also a Tony Pro-style skateboarding game. That's admittedly not as simple as I promised. So let's go back to basics.

The setup is that our main gal, the hot-headed Jala, reluctantly returns to her hometown, a place where nothing ever happens in the year 199X, partly because she has no other choice and partly to make amends with the family, friends, and exes she's been ghosting for years. That conceit is how Thirsty Suitors provides what's possibly gaming's most elusive power fantasy: confronting an ex. Or having them confront you, which is slightly less satisfying.

Here's a Thirsty Suitors trailer to whet the appetite.Watch on YouTube

As you come back home in the beginning of the game, your various exes meet up in a shadowy alley like some sort of heartbroken Legion Of Doom, looking to either rekindle a failed romance or bitterly get back at their more-than-frenemy. Their daily confrontations begin in seemingly mundane locations - a bar, for example - but you're soon transported to their inner psychic realms to battle over your joint history with words. And fists. And also sometimes giant donuts.

Combat borrows the timing-sensitive prompts from Mario's RPG adventures, rewarding successful QTE presses with extra damage and stronger blocks. All battles also revolve around Taunts that can put your opponent in a Mood (thirsty, heartless, impressed, raging, shocked), leaving them extra vulnerable to special abilities. When you're fighting random suitors that Jala's grandma sent or skateboarding teens who are part of a bear-related cult (told you things get weird), combat is mostly an endurance test between your thumb's joints and the enemy's health bar.

But the big battles against your exes are where things get super interesting. Certain Taunts won't work against certain enemies, so talking to your ex and correctly deducing what they're (un)comfortable with is half the battle. The other half is unpacking the untidy emotional baggage that you left behind for years.

Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors, showing a crystallised figure wall-running.
Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors, showing an ethereal Kwame.
Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors of Jala showing off her perfectly cooked fish fry.
Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors, showing Jala performing skateboarding tricks in a flooded level.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive/Eurogamer.

These encounters are often so entertaining because all the characters are so damn funny, but also because that metamorphosis I mentioned earlier takes place during these psychodrama battles. One ex, for instance, has a gang of crystalized, walking insecurities behind her that hazily echoes a bigoted family. Another buff ex splits into three doppelgangers that represent his contradictory inner selves. Talking and punching your exes makes them come to terms with what's inside them, but Jala goes through the same changes. And so do you.

You see, Jala's romantic history is messy and tangled. She (allegedly) jumped back and forth between some of the exes, so making peace with the titular suitors isn't as easy as just apologising or saying something like "this is my first time living life." How do you repair a relationship that you've left shattered? How do you reckon with an ex who ghosted you, who mirrored your own hurtful behaviours? The answers are never tidy, always interesting, and by confronting you with so many varied situations, Thirsty Suitors indirectly asks you to bashfully look back at your own dating history. (Eg: I was planning Jala's (my) future with the aforementioned buff but clearly unserious ex, before he ghosted her and left town, so I clearly have some unresolved psychic mascots to beat.)

Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors, showing Jala’s Dad walks her through cooking.
Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors, showing Jala’s exes meeting up in the shadows.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive/Eurogamer.

I've also never seen a game deal with the intersection between queer and immigrant identities as well as Thirsty Suitors, particularly in those set piece ex battles. Psychic realms are probably the perfect stage to grapple with intersectionality, since a split in someone's inner world will probably just manifest as a cool visual effect rather than, say, a depressing, defeated look in someone's eyes.

But these emotional wrinkles also infest the way you approach battles, in kinda the same way that mental struggles disorder the worlds in Psychonauts. One ex, Kwame, wrestles between their non-binary and South African identities - two inner parts that they initially think are incompatible. So, as Kwame jumps between each personality, their moveset and Mood weaknesses change. Even if you can't explicitly relate to feeling split, the game interestingly tries to mimic those experiences through the flow of battles.

Screenshot fromThirsty Suitors, showing Jala’s outsized parents looking down on her.
Jala reconciles with an exe in a screenshot from Thirsty Suitors.
Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors of a graphic introducing Irfan.
Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors, showing off a special combat ability.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive/Eurogamer.

That certainly shouldn't act as any kind of trigger warning, though. Thirsty Suitors can be frequently heartfelt and insightful about real world struggles, but the overwhelming mood on display is plain frickin' cool. The characters are animated with a surreal exaggeration: Jala parkours down her stairs in the morning and her dad does a sideways-worm-dance when you cook a dish he approves of. But everything else - from the costumes, colour choices, character intros and UI transitions - drips with effortless style.

That extends to skateboarding, which is your primary mode of movement while exploring the two hub levels. Chaining nosegrinds, zipline slides, mid-air tricks, and wall-running is plain fun. Plus, there's a tonne of unlockable characters (cats and dogs included) and additional challenges. But skateboarding almost feels bolted on - like it exists in some other game.

Only a handful of early skating challenges are mandatory to progress, and after that, you're free to just skate from one waypoint to the next, ignoring any and all tricks, rails, and ziplines in the way. Partaking in the optional skating challenges rewards you with money and combat items that feel fruitless. You never really need more items than you naturally earn, even for the optional favours you can do for the exes, so Thirsty Suitors often feels like two separate (but good) games, squished into one package.

Jala powers up in a screenshot from Thirsty Suitors.
Screenshot from Thirsty Suitors, showing a fight between Jala and a random suitor.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive/Eurogamer.

Hanging out in a game as endearing as Thirsty Suitors by just casually skating and aiming for S-ranks in challenges is admittedly great. I like seeing how Paati or Jala's mum animates while chaining a nosegrind with a wall-run. I like chasing high scores with that banger soundtrack playing. But once you've completed all the favours for the exes, they essentially disappear from the game. So that post-game skating grind quickly becomes lifeless and weirdly lonely for a game about reconnecting.

Awkwardly placed skateboarding aside, Thirsty Suitors is a confident swing that takes commonplace romantic mishaps and turns them into epic, queer spectacles. It'll have you thinking about all the great people you hurt because you were young and dumb. It'll make you type out a heartfelt text to someone who's basically a stranger now, shortly before deleting it and coming to your senses. But most of all, it'll remind you of how easy it is to catch feelings... for these characters... in a totally chill, non-committal way.

A copy of Thirsty Suitors was provided for review by Annapurna Interactive.

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