Growing up as the child of Indian immigrants to the United States, I’m very used to feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. As a kid, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere; my skin color set me apart from my mostly white peers growing up in Oklahoma, and I didn’t quite fit in at the temple either. My Indian friends and I felt like in-betweens, not quite belonging anywhere, and it’s something I’ve gotten used to as an adult.
That’s why it came as such a shock to feel like I belonged, to feel seen, among the misfit characters in the video game Thirsty Suitors.
The premise of Thirsty Suitors, from Outerloop Games, is that you play as Jala Jayaratne, a South Asian (by way of Sri Lanka and Bangalore, India) American woman returning to her small hometown for the first time in three years. Jala left Timber Hills without so much as a word, leaving brokenhearted exes in her wake, along with a loving family. She has some apologies to make, starting with her older sister Aruni, who’s getting married—but Jala doesn’t even know her soon-to-be brother-in-law’s name.
The story seems simple, and it could be a little boring in someone else’s hands—but thanks to the unique gameplay, excellent art style, and wonderful scripting, it’s anything but. Jala must confront each person in her life, everyone she’s wronged in the past, and fight them in order to forge ahead with a new friendship.
The battle mechanics are a lot of fun: Jala can attack normally, or she can taunt her suitors, making them thirsty, angry, or even impressed, and then take advantage of their status effects to inflict extra damage with special attacks. These rely on specific button presses and timing, but if you struggle with that, accessibility tweaks can help. The battles with suitors are long, but they reveal a lot about both Jala and her opponent.
It’s not just the people from your past that you can fight. There are other random encounters along the way. Jala’s grandmother, Paati, tries to play matchmaker and sends along suitors from matrimonial ads, while the local skate park is being taken over by a creepy guy wearing a brown bear suit (seriously). The skate park is an interesting mystery with an ambiguous ending, but the Shaadi.com-style suitors had me laughing out loud every time I ran into them. It was genuinely a delight to fight these guys off.
Besides her personal journey and the skate park, Jala chats with her parents, tries to make amends with her sister Aruni, and skates around town visiting her aunt, shops, the diner, and the bar. She even cooks with her parents, making traditional Indian and Sri Lankan recipes, a personal highlight for me.
My only complaint with Thirsty Suitors is the game’s length—at around 10 hours to complete the main story along with suitor side quests, it feels short. However, the narrative is tight and well plotted, and if it had been any longer, that might not have been the case. Compared to the epic, exhausting, never-ending games that are increasingly popular, though, the length of Thirsty Suitors feels like a breath of fresh air.
The gameplay of Thirsty Suitors is great, but it’s the story and characters that really stuck with me. It’s easy to get dazzled by the flash of the game—the bright colors and art style are fantastic, and they really draw you in and make you want to keep playing. But it’s the characters that have stuck with me.