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24th January 2024

Thirsty Suitors review: Jala Jayaratne’s precious little life

Outrageously funny, desperately horny, and somehow also emotionally mature, Outerloop Games’ debut title will leave your heart pining for more
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Thirsty Suitors review: Jala Jayaratne’s precious little life
Credit: Annapurna Interactive

After a nasty break-up with an older woman she ran off with, Jala Jayaratne comes to the realisation that she didn’t exactly treat her other relationships with the respect they deserved. Outerloop Games’ debut title, Thirsty Suitors, plays out Jala’s return to her hometown in hopes of making amends with her exes, played out Scott Pilgrim style (except, if Ramona was the one fighting her exes) – that is, to say, in single combat. It’s a wonderful combination of ridiculousness and horniness that also seems eager to ask some genuinely touching questions about the difficulties of romantic relationships.

Thirsty Suitors concerns itself primarily with the suitors themselves, all of whom had wildly different relationships with Jala and are still hung up on what these relationships meant to them. As each of them confronts Jala, the game uses each ex-fight as an opportunity for Jala to seriously speak with the people she wronged.

The game’s first ex is Sergio: Jala’s first relationship, and one that has, in her absence, developed a weird fixation on her. Much of his fight sees Jala try to make him see that his thirst for her is just a weird way of expressing how insecure he is. Yes, it’s ridiculous – Sergio spends his fight tearing his clothes off and lifting comically large weights – but Outerloop manages to combine both humour and seriousness with an expert touch.

Credit: Annapurna Interactive

Much of the gameplay is concerned with turn-based battles. Attacking or defending from attacks use quick time events (QTEs), but the meat of the gameplay comes from your ability to taunt the enemy and place them into differing emotional states. Jala can, for example, perform a sick flip and inflict the ‘impressed’ state upon her enemies; all that’s left to do afterwards is use a skill that does heavy damage to impressed enemies. Be wary though – enemies will be immune to certain states, so it’s up to the player to interpret their dialogue correctly. Other skills include summons, allowing you to call upon your own mother to dole out some serious punishment with the dreaded slipper.

Generally speaking, the emotional core and humour of the fights were enough to carry them, however, I do have a few gripes. Enemies can take a bit of a beating, dragging their fights out longer than necessary to the point that dialogue would sometimes loop. I also got a little frustrated with the repetitiveness of the combat system: once you’ve sussed the game’s core mechanics out, fights can feel less exciting as the best move always seems obvious, and Thirsty Suitors adds few new mechanics as the game progresses to spice up combat. Even so, these are still minor issues with what is still a very solid gameplay system.

Credit: Annapurna Interactive

There is further gameplay external to combat as well; Jala, a well-seasoned skater, is able to coast around town, doing tricks and fending off marriage proposals from various suitors sent by her grandmother. Much of the game’s skating is also involved in a bizarre subplot involving the local skatepunk teenagers getting involved in a cult ruled by a man in a bear costume. I, admittedly, did tend to avoid skating – I’m just not that much of a platforming fan – but, as the game’s main means of traversal, it still felt like an interesting way of navigating the town of Timber Hills.

There is also, drumroll please, a cooking minigame! Jala’s parents are eager to teach their cultural recipes, all of which can provide a tangible benefit in combat, allowing Thirsty Suitors to pack even more emotionally resonant conversations into its relatively short runtime. One of my favourite moments across the game was being taught to cook egg hoppers with Jala’s father while she confessed her concerns over whether he ever secretly resented her coming out as pansexual. It’s a quietly fantastic moment that mirrors those in real life where you feel better about opening up while doing something mundane – driving, getting groceries, or, yes, cooking.

Credit: Annapurna Interactive

Indeed, Thirsty Suitors is intent on discussing the difficulty of personal identity, providing explanations for why Jala and her exes are the way they are, and why their relationships ended up the way they did. Jala and many of her exes come from immigrant families, and so struggle with their cultural identities and the generational traumas passed down to them. Likewise, many of these characters have differing relationships with their own queerness and how it impacts both their familial and romantic relationships. This is handled very delicately and realistically, and conversations of this nature are brought in naturally as a supplement to the main conflict.

In 2023, a year dominated by excellent games, Thirsty Suitors still stands out as one of its better releases. I mean, I’ve already said so much about it and somehow have still managed to miss the excellent audio design: the soundtrack goes harder than it ever needed to, and the audio cues on QTEs work well to give combat a rhythmic flow. Actually, if you’re not a fan of QTEs, I would suggest maybe skipping this one, given that the majority of gameplay involves them in some capacity. Nevertheless, I’d strongly recommend this game; Outerloop have performed an absolute feat in this being their debut release, and I very much look forward to seeing what they have in store in the future.

4/5

Thirsty Suitors is available now on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and Steam.

Anna Pirie

Anna Pirie

she/her games editor for The Mancunion, literature student, and professional olive eater

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