in the Thirsty admirers, protagonist Jala eventually returns home to her small town of Timber Hills – only to be confronted with six of her ex-boyfriends to fight. This plot may sound suspiciously similar Scott pilgrim vs the world on its surface. but Thirsty admirers swaps the story of a self-absorbed band guy for a story about a queer South Asian woman confronting cross-generational trauma and family expectations.
“Thirsty admirers is an action-adventure role-playing game about immigrant culture, relationship resolution, family pressures and the opportunity to express yourself,” said creative director Chandana Ekanayake, co-founder of developer Outerloop Games, in a recent preview of the game. “Returning to her hometown of Timber Hills after a bad breakup, she embarks on a reconciliation tour to right her wrongs and learn about herself.”
Our look at Thirsty admirers started with Jala Rails skateboarding through a surreal dreamscape. It mixes a bright pop art feel with trendsetting platforms a la Sayonara Wild Hearts. The infectious music composed by Ramsey Kharroubi (friend dungeon) syncs with Jala’s movements. As she slides from element to element, a narrator intervenes – an inner dialogue in the form of her scolding sister. Jala’s fear is palpable. She performs a series of tricks before being interrupted by the towering figures of her parents, both larger than life in Jala’s mental landscape. She’s not ready to come home.
Your fears are totally understandable. There’s nothing quite like having a first-generation immigrant child knock on their parents’ door, knowing that there are generational and cultural differences to deal with. in the Thirsty admirers Jala divides her time exploring her hometown, cooking with her parents, skating and of course fighting these six exes. The goal is for her to rekindle old friendships before her sister’s wedding – while preparing for a visit from Paati, the family matriarch.
The story is linear at first, but eventually opens up allowing Jala to explore more flexibly. As Jala makes narrative choices, she earns points toward building a character class called “Thirstsona,” which has three categories: Heartbreaker, Star, or Bohemian. (The preview didn’t address how the classes affect gameplay.) Players will be given the opportunity to invest in the activities they enjoy most, Ekanayake said. There are more ways to skate, from shredding daydream landscapes to carving up actual locations in the game world. Players can also invest more into cooking, a part of the game that was personal to the developers. The game was developed by a team of 15 spread across four continents, and “the culture of the characters, locations and foods are all inspired by the team’s own immigrant experiences and backgrounds.”
“It was therapeutic to explore this because I’ve been cooking and learning recipes with my mom,” Ekanayake said. “I was just talking to her about why we moved here and how they had to start their lives over again.”
Jala’s battles against her ex-boyfriends are resolved through charming, over-the-top turn-based dance battles. These fights look bold and full of personality. Players choose between taunts, attacks, abilities, and items when confronting their opponents – each of which ties into the game’s story. You can flirt with your opponent to weaken them, or you can infuriate them. Rhythm elements are laced throughout as the player must press the a button with the correct timing to complete the next move. Dialogue throughout the fight gives more backstory to Jala’s arguments with her exes, and some of the choices result in Jala becoming more Heartbreaker, Star, or Bohemian.
The preview gave Polygon a little glimpse of one of those early fights: At a diner, Jala meets Sergio, a man she’s known since they were in third grade together. She weakens him with a “Thirst Taunt” – a flirty attack that sees Jala striking a cute pose and batting her eyelashes – and attacks with a “Jalu Jab”. After dealing enough damage, the fight switches locations to Sergio’s “Inner World”, a bit surreal psychonauts 2
The in-game narrator gives Jala advice on how to win the fight: “If you want to get anywhere, you have to shatter that invulnerability by summoning a terrifying psychological specter,” she says. “Like most South Asian men, it only takes a single word from his mother to shatter Sergio’s ego.” As Jala can’t bring his Mother, she summons the next best person – her own. This turns out to be just the trick. Jala’s mother appears, towering over the couple and Sergio collapses. Luckily, the fight actually ends in a reconciliation and Jala sets off.
Details like this add a lot of warmth and personality to the game. I look forward to seeing how the rest of the narrative unfolds, especially given the personal nature of the storytelling Thirsty admirersand the sense of humor and style that shows in just 30 minutes.
Thirsty admirers does not have a release date yet, but you can wishlist the game steam.