Unholy Heights Review – The Devil is in the Details

At one point or another in our lifetimes, many of us eventually might have to deal with the landlord from hell.  Or in some cases, we might actually end up being the landlord from hell– literally.  Unholy Heights sees players taking the role of the Devil as he runs an apartment complex which plays host to a variety of ethereal residents.  Skeletons, werewolves, zombies, succubi and more try to make a humble life and living in the apartments as well as defend it from roving guilds and heroes who are out to take the Devil down.  It’s a cute and spooky take on the classic tower defense game, but does it take the genre to new heights or should you be looking for somewhere else to put down a deposit?

Unholy Heights is a tower defense game all the way from japanese indie studio Petit Depotto.  Instead of managing armies or units, players instead work to fill out the available units within their apartment building.  Traveling monsters will then pass by the complex and take a look at available rooms and make a decision on whether or not to move in based on how furnished the room is to their tastes and if the price is right for what they’re getting.

Don't let the cuteness fool you-- this is the Devil's domain,

Don’t let the cuteness fool you– this is the Devil’s domain.

Once moved in, the player needs to make sure to keep tenants happy so they can level and strengthen up.  At any time, you can check on a room to see if the monsters living there think they’re getting a good deal and if they have any demands for new furniture or appliances.  As the landlord, its up to you buy these material goods and adjust the price of the rent to make sure everyone is happy.  Monsters will get new jobs, fall in love, and even have children, all having an effect on whether or not they can actually pay rent.  If they can’t, players might just find residents skipping out on the check overnight.

These rooms cost more than just money, however.  As the Devil, players have a small base stationed at the top of the apartment.  Enemies will make random attempts to invade or can be activated through one of the many short missions available at the bulletin board.  Fighting back the waves of knights and witches is simply a matter of knocking on the doors of your own monsters and having them come out to fight back the opposing waves.

The visuals and sounds of the gameplay are pretty cute, but are of the typical budget quality found across most doujin style games.  The little sprites of monsters are cute and clean, but the single stationary background looks a lot rougher.  It’s as if two separate people worked on the two elements, but it admittedly gets the job done.  You’re basically looking at the same screen for hours on end, so fortunately the visuals never strain the eyes and the audio never gets grating.

Each monster has different wants and needs and as a demonic landlord, naturally you're going to have to find a way to satisfy them.

Each monster has different wants and needs and as a demonic landlord, naturally you’re going to have to find a way to satisfy them all.

There are some pretty interesting concepts all over Unholy Heights.  There’s an almost Animal Crossing-esque element to the game in that your monsters seem to have individual personalities and desires.  Certain monsters will want specific goods in their home or may hate being neighbor to different species.  The apartment management side of the game will probably be enough to pull most seasoned gamers in.

However, the game treats monsters as far too expendable to ever allow for any payoff in combat.  Keeping the easily replaceable monsters alive is a matter of meticulously managing them in combat one by one, but doing so will almost always end with them being overpowered.  The best technique almost seems to be just throwing waves of monsters into the line of fire and immediately replacing those who die with new tenants who are equally as disposable.

That’s unfortunately the bizarre shortcoming of most of Unholy Heights.  There’s a desire to create a sense of attachment to the gameplay, but everything goes by so fast, that slowing down to give it that attention means that there will be a lot of failure for the player.  Playing recklessly yields more extrinsic rewards than playing cautiously, which robs the game of any sense of consequence.  Even in battle, the fact that monsters can’t pass through each other means that many fights end in failure just because one projectile monster bottlenecks the other monsters just a step or two away from the maximum attacking distance.  A meticulously planned attack wave can come to a screeching halt by getting whittled down by this weird restriction.

The secret to success is expanding and growing your residential empire.

The secret to success is expanding and growing your residential empire.

You can expand the size and floors of your apartment to allow for more monsters to move in, and while this certainly does help to amp up the combat, its rendered almost useless by the fact that the monsters will bottleneck on the stairs to the next floor.  Many times I had to restart a mission after watching a guild slice through all my monsters one by one, one floor at a time just because no other monsters could get past each other to get close enough to attack.  When the game works, it definitely is satisfying, but all it takes is one weird AI or spacing mistake for everything to just wreck completely.  Plus, the monsters have their own schedules that have them going out for periods at a time, meaning that sometimes an attack wave might start and half of your monsters might not even be there to fight.

If you’re looking for a new small tower defense game or something different with an apartment sim, Unholy Heights might be enough to scratch that itch for a few hours, especially for just $3.99, but there are other casual titles out there probably more worth your time, unfortunately.  Unholy Heights demands insane attention to minutia and hopes to become a new mindless clicking obsession for gamers, but doesn’t exactly front the right reward for all the effort to make it worthwhile.

Final Breakdown:

[+Cute art style][+Unique tenants offers character][+Very fast paced][+Apartment management is fun][-Awkward combat][-Monsters are too expendable][-Not enough reward for how much work is demanded]

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