Unholy Heights PC Review
Unholy Heights is a 2D game that perfectly blends the freedom of an indie game with the notorious creativity of Japanese developers. The basic concept is simply wonderful and is backed up with fun, refreshing gameplay. The Devil (a short middle-aged balding man with glasses and a moustache) spends his life-savings on the apartment block of his dreams but is constantly being bothered by ‘heroes’ whose missions are to destroy the ultimate evil. However, The Devil is no idiot and decides to rent his newly purchased property to monsters that will serve and protect him, transforming the mighty Devil into a desperate landlord. Using his army of tenants, The Devil aims to take over the world in retaliation for his harassment, which is where the game begins and also receives it’s tagline “The heroes want a war? We’ll give ‘em a war!”. The gameplay is likely unfamiliar to anything you’ve played before, mixing simple tower defence strategies with what many people are calling an ‘Apartment Management Simulator’, which is fairly accurate. It seems after a little research that ‘Apartment Management Simulator’ is indeed some kind of niche gaming sub-genre; thought it was completely new to me and even though it didn’t sound very appealing, I really enjoyed playing even after the uniqueness wore off.
Whilst the game gives you a few monsters to start with as it introduces the rules, attracting stronger monsters is essential for later battles, but many times you must settle for anything that can afford rent. By purchasing better furniture, a room will become more attractive to stronger monster types and some monsters even need specific living conditions such as an altar or heated floors. If a prospective tenant’s needs are met and the cost of rent is something they agree with, they will ask to move in. You can see a monster’s type, stats, job and gender beforehand to assess whether it suits your needs before accepting, which is often necessary as some monster types don’t like living with others. For example, Demi-Humans and Demons do not mix, which makes way for a second play-through to see what the other monster types are like. This is especially appealing as the longer a certain monster type lives in the building, the reputation of the Devil with that monster type will increase and eventually new, stronger monsters of that type will become available. After playing the game favouring Demi-Humans, I can definitely see myself going back even just to see what the later Demons are like.
Each apartment displays which monsters inhabit it, the cost of rent, any current debt, the tenant’s satisfaction level and all of the furniture and items the room contains. It also lets you into the heads of the monsters that live there via thought bubbles that show what they think of the room and what items they’d like, so that you can purchase furniture accordingly and increase the rent and hopefully their satisfaction level as this can directly affect their stats. Whilst you can only move one monster into an apartment if they fall in love with a current or prospective tenant (either randomly or with the help of expensive items), their partner will move in with them and they can even go on to have a child, the benefit being that you can simply have more monsters in a single apartment. Once the child grows up, their stats will be greater than their parents and so you can either let the parents die in battle or evict them to make way for the new family, going down through generations and increasing in strength. Unfortunately, there is no cross-type breeding to create different unique monster types, but I suppose that may be considered rather strange if the monsters are of different species.
Managing income can be tricky especially later on when there can be up to sixteen rooms to upkeep and tenants to take care of. Some monsters are unemployed or aren’t paid very well, such as the bondage masters, pimps, clowns and painters (yes, your lovely tenants can be pimps and bondage masters!). This can often lead to them not being able to afford rent and plummeting into debt, forcing you to either help them out by lowering rent or evicting them. If a tenant’s debt does become too much either, they or or their entire family will runaway under the cover of night, which is an annoying way to lose your strongest family of monsters. Monsters can also be promoted randomly (although some furniture does seem to have an effect on productivity), which will increase their pay and gives you a good reason to help your tenants out when they need it. Throughout my play-through, it did seem that each tenant had a unique personality and I ended up having to evict a few slackers for always lazing around and never even trying to find jobs.
Oddly, the fighting side of things actually feels secondary as the game seems to be mostly about managing the building and tenants, but the battles are still necessary as they are the only way to progress. Sieges will randomly take place when you are not in a quest, but these are always incredibly easy and will be stopped with just a few monsters. They are almost pointless and bare little reward, but it is their insignificance which often led to me being lazy, not keeping an eye on the battle and losing a monster or two. Quests, which are rated on difficulty with a star system, can be accepted via a quest board. There are quests that must be completed in order to progress and add an extra floor of apartments, some to unlock new monsters, some to unlock new furniture and some just for the gold. Once a quest is accepted, you can see how many waves there will be with less waves meaning stronger but much fewer enemies. Personally, I preferred to take on bigger enemies as the waves caused me trouble by wearing down my units a bit at a time leaving me with little health for the final and often most difficult attackers. If all of your monsters are killed or you simply retreat and let the heroes through, the game won’t end; the heroes will simply steal a huge portion of your funds and turn back, allowing you to quickly continue but much poorer and most likely on the lookout for new tenants.
Positioning monsters in rooms strategically to best protect you is very tower defence-like, but battles are more like a real-time strategy game as you knock on your tenant’s doors to send them out in specific orders to most effectively position the melee fighters at the front with ranged attackers at the back, force them to retreat when low on health and cleverly use the positions of enemies and apartments to ‘pincer’ them between two assaulting monsters. Depending on the monster’s species and type your tenants will have obvious pros and cons such as specific brands of attacking. There are melee, ranged and ranged magic-users each with their own unique defences as well, which actually creates a lot of strategy. Elemental type monsters are also affected by the weather and can be stronger or weaker depending on the time of day. By sending out the correct troops in specific patterns even difficult quests can be made to look like a breeze, but it takes time to learn your army’s strengths and many times the one monster you need to fight is either dead or at work. Monsters at work can obviously not be called upon to fight but this can sometimes be beneficial as they will come from behind the attackers on their way home creating a pincer effect with little effort.
There aren’t actually that many quests to complete; there are only a few per difficulty star, but it is their significant jumps in difficulty that makes Unholy Heights as challenging as it is. I often took long breaks between each quest to give my troops the time to grow in strength through the use of exercise items or breeding. Fortunately, there are three speeds that you can flit between to hurry things up but even sped up there are parts where as a player you are doing very little. Strangely these gaps in gameplay didn’t bore me as I just enjoyed the great soundtrack and checking up on all of my tenants. Hovering over a room you can see what each inhabitant of the apartment in doing, whether they are working, having wet dreams, reading erotic fan-fiction or simple watching T.V. This both amused and disturbed me as I realised that all of my monsters were complete perverts, but it did do the job of keeping me entertained in between the hectic room managing and fighting.
Once you have defeated the strongest of heroes and set out to take over the world, ‘Free Battle Mode’ is unlocked, but after starting again with Free Battle Mode active I didn’t notice any difference in gameplay; perhaps it only takes effect nearing the end of a second run? Nevertheless, Unholy Heights pulled me in from the beginning with some of the most charming graphics for a 2D game I’ve ever seen, which shines with the awesome monster design and sometimes varying looks of the female and male versions. It also has great music that suits its playful style incredibly well. The game offers a bunch of unique monsters to play with such as chicks, zombies, skeletons, fish-people, wolf-men, water-bowl creatures and many more that will have you learning about new creatures and thinking up new battle plans right up until the very end. It’s a completely original experience that lasted a good few hours, offers a little replay-value and charmed me from start to finish. It’s not a big game and it doesn’t aim to be. It’s simple, honest fun that comes at the great price of $3.99 (about £2.60). It’s exactly the type of game I would recommend to indie fans that are looking for something a bit different.