Thirsty Suitors Review

November 16, 2023


Also on:
Xbox One
Xbox Series

I should really call up some of my exes. Before anyone tells me that’s an incredibly stupid scheme, and that I will almost certainly regret it, hear me out: in the couple of years since I’ve been part of the dating pool, I’ve changed a lot, and arguably for the better. The last time I installed Tinder, I wasn’t exactly in a great spot mentally and had absolutely no idea what I wanted out of life. Now, though, I’m about as stable as someone living through the early stages of the end of humanity can be, and…well, I still don’t know what I want out of life, but still. I’m not too proud to admit that I absolutely wasn’t the best boyfriend around when I was in my late teens and early 20s, and my previous girlfriends weren’t exactly perfect either. But now that everyone who I’ve slept with has aged a few years, I feel like it’s as good of an idea as any to hit them up and see where a few shared text messages will take us. Maybe we’ll make nice with one another and become stronger people overall, or maybe we’ll just take turns insulting each other. Or, as is often the case in Thirsty Suitors, maybe both of those things will happen, and given how weirdly realistic everything is about the title’s narrative is, I’m inclined to think that may very well occur whenever it is that I drunk call a few of my former friends with benefits.

To be clear, Thirsty Suitors isn’t realistic in the traditional sense of the word. In the game, you play as Jala, a 20-something-year-old woman who, after making a lot of relationship-related mistakes in primary school and subsequently leaving her hometown, returns back to that Colorado-esque town to make amends with her family and previous significant others. Doing that is, unsurprisingly, not exactly easy, and involves turn-based combat, cooking, quick time events, skateboarding, and just about everything else that’s generally associated with quirky indie games, none of which is in any way grounded in reality. The way Jala reconciles with her exes, and most of the other characters in the title’s narrative, is by first battling them in theatrical over-the-top representations of their respective inner worlds with combat that’s somewhat similar to the likes of Persona, after which she needs to maintain the newly repaired kinships by completing random quests in the real world, which is navigated with something more or less akin to Tony Hawk Pro Skater-lite mechanics.

Something something thick thighs and saving lives

Again, none of this is at all realistic, but it is certainly enjoyable. Thirsty Suitors’ take on the tried-and-true turn-based combat system, as well as its QTE-heavy cooking mechanics and its navigation regimen are all well-tuned and superbly satisfying. There are plenty of optional RPG-esque tasks to do, too, if that’s your thing, and you can move around its open world freely, purchase new gear or simply spend some time at the skatepark. While not everything relating to the game’s gameplay is perfect, and combat can occasionally prove to be a chore when you aren’t engaged in its main story, there’s enough things to do in the title to keep you occupied for ten-odd hours as long as you’re interested in its narrative.

Which, assuming you like quirky and heartfelt stories, you absolutely will, because that’s where the game becomes realistic, or at least relatable. Jala, like all good video game protagonists, is deeply flawed and has made a lot of mistakes in her life that have seriously affected the people around her. However, those people aren’t exactly saints either, and the way in which everyone interacts with one another in Thirsty Suitors is almost identical to how they do in the real world. If you set aside the title’s over-the-top visuals and style, which are about as stereotypically offbeat as can be, and realise that the bulk of its heavily stylised gameplay mechanics are purely meant to represent what would probably be boring conversations in reality, Thirsty Suitors’ narrative is second-to-none when it comes to depicting things that, in all likelihood, have happened to you at some point. Because its writing is effectively perfect, and has just the right amount of humour to make its discussion of serious concepts relating to family, gender, relationships, sexuality, and culture, it’s almost impossible not to enjoy the plot while also seriously contemplating your own choices in life.

That’s something that very few other games do, and so with that in mind, the only real problem with Thirsty Suitors is that you probably won’t enjoy it all that much if you can’t relate to its narrative. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, have done your fair share of stupid stuff, and lean left on the political spectrum, you’ll no doubt love its story and the way in which that story impacts gameplay. If you haven’t been an idiot when it comes to dealing with the opposite, or same, sex, are too young to have been in a relationship or too old to remember your first few flings, and aren’t comfortable with gender and sexuality-related topics, though, you’ll almost certainly find Thirsty Suitors to be an annoying experience because of simply how over-the-top it is.

How about a television show about The Cold War instead? The Americans is my favourite.

But, seeing as you’ve read this far into the review, I assume you’re more or less part of the same demographic that I and most other games journalists are, in which case you owe it to yourself to at least try Thirsty Suitors. While its atmosphere is almost oppressively indie, and its gameplay can occasionally be somewhat lacklustre, its narrative is deeply relatable, exceptionally well-written and persistently witty. The issues it discusses, and the way in which it does so, all but force you to reexamine some of the things that you’ve done in your life, and its turn-based combat encounters and cooking mechanics are fun to engage with, too. Maybe playing Thirsty Suitors won’t make you want to call up your exes, even though it did inspire me to and I only somewhat regretted it, but it will make you think a lot about life, which is the hallmark of any great video game. And Thirsty Suitors is nothing if not great, and, well, as indie as it gets. 

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Thirsty Suitors, while not for everyone, is full of wit, charm and everything good about indie games. 
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.