Indie Focus: Unholy Heights

The devil's in the details.

It would understandable for you to mistake Unholy Heights for a “casual” game at first glance. Its presentation is similar to countless mobile games found on iOS and Android and the interface is pretty much entirely mouse driven, so it would easily work on a touch screen device. The difference, however, is that it’s quite difficult and far deeper than its appearance might imply.

A hybrid between landlord management and tower defence of sorts, on first glance seems to be quite simple but very quickly unveils its murky depths. You play as the devil who has apparently grown sick of running hell and converted a tenement building on Earth to house monsters. Most of your time will be spent managing the building, attracting and pleasing your monstrous tenants and sometimes encouraging them to fall in love and/or have sex and babies.

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This sounds weird, so lets back up. You’ll start off with a tenement building that is one floor with four apartments to which you much entice monsters. Monsters will appear on the left of the screen with a house icon above their head, they will have a look at the empty apartments on the board to the left of your building. If they like an apartment, the house icon will change to a light bulb and clicking them will move them in. Simple. If you click a tenant’s room you can change various features of the room, including increasing or decreasing rent, adding furniture, wallpapering the walls and even kicking the tenant out.

Every once in a while a tenant will ask for an item, whether it’s a piece of furniture, some nice wallpaper, or something else that costs you money. If you provide this furniture the monster will grow to like the room better, which allows you to raise its rent. Different monsters like different things. Boneletons (an undead monster that is essentially a skeleton), for example, are very active and like to have exercise equipment in their home, whereas a studeepy (one of the cheepies line of monsters that are yellow birds, like baby chickens) are very academic and like things that will help them study, like desks and computers.

There are more than 20 monsters that can move into your apartments, each of them being a part of a type of monsters – boneletons and zombies are both of the undead variety, for example. Each type has different preferences, and each monster of that type varies from the others. On top of all that each individual monster is different too, so you’ll need to pay attention to what your monsters ask for.

In addition to this, each monster has a bar indicating how content they are. This is influenced by different factors for each type of monster – boneletons, for example, grow happier as you win more battles, while demons are happy when other monsters (yes, your monsters) die. So that’s another things to keep your eye on, as the more content monsters are the higher their stats will go and the more rent they’re willing to pay.

You get paid at midnight every night, though sometimes monsters can miss paying rent. You can wait until they pay what they owe, you can kick them out, or sometimes they’ll even flee at night to escape coughing up the cash. Each monster has a job, or they do if they’re not unemployed, that affects their wants and how much they are willing to pay in rent, whilst an unemployed monster is unlikely to be able to pay rent at all. You could kick the monster out, but if it’s powerful enough you might decide to let it stick around to help out with the other side of the game – the combat.

Every once in a while your tenement will be attacked by a variety of creatures, sometimes they’re humans from a nearby village, other times they’re treasure hunters here to steal your gold, or soldiers sent by a nearby king to kill the devil. These attacks happen at random intervals when outside of a quest and are usually pretty easy to defeat. Once you click the board that’s beside your building and accept a quest, the first wave of enemies you are to defeat will arrive in a random (though usually short) amount of time.

The invaders will try to get up to the devil’s home on the roof of the building, going through all the floors of your building to get there. Once you’ve defeated that first wave, the next will again arrive after some time, and so on. Most quests seem to have three waves of enemies, each wave more difficult than the last. Completing quests is the key to gaining large amounts of money on top of the rent and to upgrading your tenement with additional floors, of which you only start with one.

Fighting off the enemies consists of knocking (i.e. clicking) on the doors of your monsters when you want them to come out and attack. Monsters come in three types of attack: melee, mid-ranged, and long-ranged. This enables you to set up your defence so that you have all three classes hitting the unsavoury humans at once, with the melee up close, the mid range behind him and the long range further away still.

You can also release your monsters in such a way as you catch the invaders between two groups of enemies, effectively capturing them in a pincer manoeuvre. If one of your monsters is close to death you can click them and they will flee to their apartment unless the enemies are in the way, in which case they’ll try to get to either the devil’s home or the edge of the screen, returning once the danger has been defeated. You can keep some monsters in reserve to unleash if they’re needed, or you can queue them up behind each other so when one leaves, the next one will take its place and attack.

Each species of monster has statistical traits on top of all their preferences. Some do high damage but have little health, some are more tank-like and can take a lot of damage, others are weak against physical damage or are just glass cannons, dealing high damage but having poor all-round defence. Each monster has their own stats on top of that, so even the monsters of the same type have some variety in how much damage they deal or defence they have. And then on top of that some monsters deal more damage during sunlight whilst others are better in the rain.

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Unfortunately, your monsters have to go to work. They will wander off the left of the screen and not return for a while at the same time every day. If too many of your monsters are away and enemies arrive you could be in a bit of trouble. The way to remedy this is by seeing when they leave and having other monsters that will still be around at that time, but that’s just far too much planning for my poor brain to handle.

As you can see, Unholy Heights is a management fan’s wet dream. The extent of things to micromanage and keep track of is staggering at times, and I haven’t even went into breeding them (yes, monsters of the same species can fall in love, move in together, and have babies) or the furniture items that bring about certain weather conditions or attract certain monster types. And it even has a healthy sense of humour about it, which is always welcome.

There is just an obscene level of complexity here and it’s all available for £2.99 from Steam. If you like managing things, knocking on doors to call monsters to attack heroes or just ridiculous amounts of variables, this is definitely a game for you and comes highly recommended.

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