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A South Asian woman stands on a skateboard, while her parents — massive versions of them — look on disapprovingly. Image: Outerloop Games/Annapurna Interactive

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Yakuza-like Thirsty Suitors’ most radical act? Joy

‘It’s not just about Black and brown trauma, right? There’s joy in the experience and fantasy of it, too’

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Jala doesn’t go to bed without saying goodnight to her father. Each night after Jala backflips out of her jacket and kicks off her shoes, she joins him on the couch until she falls asleep to the sounds of dad shows: Cold War documentaries and her taped childhood basketball games, naturally. After years away from her family, Jala allows herself to soften for a moment in their support. And each night, once Jala falls asleep, her father slings her onto his back to carry his adult daughter upstairs.

Thirsty Suitors from Outerloop Games is a skateboarding, romance, cooking, and turn-based combat game — a baby Yakuza, as Outerloop Games co-founder and Thirsty Suitors director Chandana Ekanayake described it to Polygon. Beyond the labels assigned to any upcoming video game, Thirsty Suitors is a game about “the fantasy of breaking cycles of generational trauma,” narrative designer Meghna Jayanth said. But it’s also about community building and radical joy.

Jala’s mom larger-than-life, holding a sandal, standing next to an intimidated looking Sergio. Image: Outerloop Games/Annapurna Interactive

“It’s not just about Black and brown trauma, right? There’s joy in the experience and fantasy of it, too,” Ekanayake said. Jayanth added: “The most radical thing that we’re doing here is allowing the protagonist to inhabit this queer, brown woman joyfully. It’s a sad thing that it’s still deeply unusual in the industry.”

The game begins as the player character Jala returns home after years away; she left Timber Hills — some might say abandoned it — years back, leaving a stream of exes in her wake. Returning home means confronting the harm she’s created between herself and her community — family, friends, and everyone in between. Outerloop Games uses all of Thirsty Suitors’ different activities to tell these stories, each tapping into an essential narrative line, whether that’s hard conversations while cooking or reconciliation during turn-based combat.

Thirsty Suitors packages all of it up in day-night cycles: Cooking is first, in the mornings. Cooking is a flashy but simple reflex minigame, where Jala runs through recipes, gaining points as she gains her parents’ approval. (Cooking creates different food items, which then can be used in battles to boost stats, for instance.) Once that’s done, she’ll typically receive a text or a call and head out into Timber Hills, either the town center or the skate park. Skateboarding is Jala’s means of transportation, but it’s also its own minigame: The world is Jala’s skate park, and she has a number of tricks that can be strung together in impressive combos.

While skateboarding, she’ll run into her exes, whom she “fights” in turn-based skirmishes that are almost akin to Pokémon battles — but instead of defeating your foe, you reconcile with them, at least on some level. Jala is flawed — like us all — and these battles are a way to work through the harm she’s caused. These interactions veer into the romance genre, where you’re able to do side quest-y dates with your exes after you reconcile, should you so choose.

A skate park cult hums in the background of it all, along with a creepy bear mascot pulling the community’s youth into mysterious trouble. Somehow, Outerloop Games has pulled all of this “joyful abundance,” as Jayanth called it, into a 10-hour game.

“It starts with the theme and the story we wanted to tell,” Ekanayake said. “Everything else stemmed from there. We knew we wanted to do an immigrant story, because a lot of folks on the team are fully remote. It’s made of a lot of immigrants, so that’s where we started.”

A gif of Jala and Sergio eventually shaking hands and moving on, at the end of a dance battle Image: Outerloop Games/Annapurna Interactive

Outerloop Games’ developers knew they wanted Thirsty Suitors to center on relationships, and the battle system fell into place. Cooking, too, is significant in South Asian culture, and a key part of communication in the game, but it also ties into the battle system. “We were able to work on this for about three years,” Jayanth said. “We had an opportunity to figure out what the heart of the story was, what those themes were, and then play around with the narrative and mechanics and really iterate and have the time for that to develop.”

Thirsty Suitors is very clearly a maximalist game, both in its visuals and mechanics, but there’s no shortage of sincerity tied up in there, too. For all the kicklips and imaginative ass-kicking, there are quieter, more contemplative moments that hit hard.

“You learn — it’s that feeling of being challenged and having accountability, and being OK and learning and growing and healing,” Jayanth said. “All of which I think are wonderful things for us right now in the world.”

Thirsty Suitors will be released Nov. 2 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Annapurna Interactive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.