What’s more awkward than returning to your hometown? Returning to your hometown and getting hit on by everyone you grew up with.
Thirsty Suitors takes that mortifying experience and turns it into a comedic adventure where every embarrassing run-in with a flirtatious townie becomes a stylish video game battle. It’s a bit like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though without the morally murky power dynamics.
I went hands-on with Thirsty Suitors as part of Tribeca Fest and was quickly charmed by its premise. Though it uses over-the-top video game imagery to visualize romance in all of its uncomfortable forms, it’s a sincere and emotionally grounded game that’s full of relatable (and mortifying) social experiences.
In Thirsty Suitors, players take on the role of Jala, a woman heading back to her hometown for her sister’s wedding. The full game promises to put Jala through the ringer as she deals with both overbearing parents and a league of exes — not unlike Scott Pilgrim.
The 2- minute slice I played gave a sense of what those interactions look like when transformed into eclectic gameplay. The demo begins with Jala on the bus home taking a magazine personality quiz. She’s quickly dumped into a colorful sequence where she skateboards from question to question in a Tony Hawk-like minigame. As she skates her way through the personality profile, her anxieties about returning home manifest in the form of her family and friends towering over her.
That’s a small example of the creative lengths Thirsty Suitors goes to in order to visualize abstract emotional concepts. It reminds me a bit of Psychonauts 2 and the way it weaves characters’ worries into ingenious levels and set pieces. Few games have really nailed that idea outside of the Psychonauts series, but Thirsty Suitors seems to get what makes those games work.
That was especially apparent when it came to the game’s first “battle.” Jala enters a diner only to come face-to-face with her third-grade boyfriend, Sergio, who shamelessly takes the opportunity to resolve decades of dormant sexual tension. The awkward encounter quickly turns into a turn-based RPG battle that’s downright hysterical.
Jala, now equipped with an HP and magic bar, has to fight off Sergio’s flirtatious advances with a series of attacks that require precise button timing. The fight I saw in the demo seemed like a basic introduction, but it contained plenty of clever ideas. For example, I could emasculate Sergio to send him into a rage — a status effect that would either increase his critical hit rate or cause him to miss attacks. I could also make a flirty pose to inflict a “thirst” status effect on him, making him susceptible to special attacks.
The RPG hooks are a clever touch, but they don’t take away from what still feels like a very human encounter. I’ve been in awkward hometown conversations like that before and finding a way out of them can really feel like a strategic battle. Thirsty Suitors understands that social interactions can often feel like a video game and takes that idea to its most logical next step.
I’m curious to see what other ideas the final game has in store. I get the sense that the RPG battles are only one way it visualizes uncomfortable moments. If the full game can keep building on that foundation with equally creative ideas, I’ll happily fight off as many flirty weirdos as the game throws at me.
Thirsty Suitors does not have a release date yet, but it’ll land on PC when it launches.
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