Indie Wonderland: Unholy Heights

As far as I can tell, Unholy Heights — by Japanese four-man-sans-website-team Petit Depotto, and localized by Playism Games — seems to be a game about running an apartment complex for a wide variety of mythological monsters.

What? What more do you want me to say? What more justification could you possibly need from me at this point? Why aren’t you already playing it yourself?

Unholy Heights was gifted to me by reader and Steam-friend Warhobo, under the stipulation that this gift was entirely free of review expectation overtones. I know, what a fiend, right? That’s not how I work and he damn well knew it. I tried my very best to resist the siren call of imagined peer pressure, I really did… and I managed, too, for an unprecedented two months. Two months is not forever, however.

Still, I got a free game and freedom from having to consider what to review out of the deal, so eh. I’ll take my ‘losses’ on this one.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, Low. Mechanical, Medium-ish.)

Opening

Oh my glob, you guys, look at Unholy Heights’ title screen. Look at it. Tell me that’s not a pin board filled with cardboard cutouts of the cutest little monsters you ever did see. Man, it’s been ten seconds, and I’m already all about this game.

Little chick monster? Confused-looking zombie? Mermaid riding a tortoise? *Pirate cat*? I want to be friends with all of you!

And it seems we’ll be getting to the actual game part pretty soon, too. Because Unholy Heights’ options are… well, this, basically.

You can change your resolution, *and* your sound? What luxury!

And between that customizable cornucopia, a one-sketch credits screen, and this highly confusing yet surprisingly legit leaderboard…

Looks legit.

…there’s really nothing to do but dive in head-first.

I mean that, incidentally. Unholy Heights has no pre-game faffery vis-á-vis ‘difficulty settings’ or ‘preferences’ or all that jazz. It’s just, you click new game, brief loading screen, and before you know it, you’re looking at a robed man with spectacles and a moustache walk up to a run-down apartment complex.

Initial impressions

No, but seriously.

Is… is this Georgia?

I have a hard time deciding where to begin on this one. Should I mention the watercolour-esque background, the looks of which seem to imply that this condo is not exactly city center material? Do I point out the grinning, blushing Sun Face, and its obvious fu manchu? Will I draw attention to the tent, that has — for some inscrutable reason — been pitched on the one-story roof of the aforementioned dump condo? Or might I…

Yes, I’ll do that. I’ll start by referencing the fact that the portly, balding, be-spectacled man in the purple robe currently striding towards the apartment complex is supposed to be the literal Devil.

Satan, who is The Devil/The Devil.

The Devil’s spent his savings on a place in the projects.” The cosmology posited by this game is already weird and confusing. “Dupe some monsters into moving in. Aim for world conquest!” Wait, are you saying that I, the Devil, can’t just tell monsters to move in? Wow, my powers have been vastly overhyped in Christian lore.

Tenants also pay rent, so that’s two birds with one stone!” Alright, that… that actually fits with what I’ve learned so far, to be honest. If the Devil has savings, and he’s spent those savings on this condo, it stands to reason he’d want to recoup his investment. Why else have savings in the first place?

Anyway, Unholy Heights helpfully summarizes the Devil’s master plan, thusly:

Step one: buy a condo. Step two: have monsters live in the condo. Step three: the monsters protect you from vague, unspecified dangers? Step four: world conquest, *obviously*.

Alright, well. Let’s get to doing that, I suppose!

The Devil settles into his house slash office in the condo, which… you know what? I was going to make you guess at it, but that’d probably take way too long. It’s the tent. The Devil’s house-within-his-housing-complex is the inexplicable tent. I guess it beats living in a pizza box. Though not by much.

The Devil settles in his tent house, and I start hunting around for things to do re: getting the master plan operational. I don’t have two seconds, however, before a man-sized, big-headed chicklet wearing a wifebeater enters stage left.

My instincts yell at me to find out what in the devil, no joke intended, this abomination of nature is and wants. My instincts suggest that I could probably find this out by mousing over the creature. My instincts are, luckily, way more on the money than Unholy Heights’ incredibly sparse tutorial.

I learn that this creature is a Cheepy, of the faction ‘The Cheepies’, named Popman. And that Popman is unemployed.

Popman the Cheepie walks up to the pin board in front of my condo, which counter-intuitively is called the ‘Quest Board’. Also, I’m told it’s empty, but it’s clearly not. Game, who… who are you trying to fool, here, exactly?

Popman looks at the board, a house-icon thought bubble over his — His? Her? Its? His, I guess, from his information display — his head. He’s looking for a place to live! Suddenly, the house icon is replaced with a blinking, chittering light bulb. Popman wants to move into apartment 101! Left click on him to give him permission to do so!

Sure, I guess.

Welcome to the neighbourhood, Popman.

Popman scutters over to room 101. ‘Hey’, Unholy Heights chimes, ‘why not try changing rooms with the Change Room button in the UI bar below?’. So I do: I move Popman to room 104, the one furthest down the condo out of malice and spite. Popman, for his part, accepts this cruel hand of fate with relatively little fuss.

As Popman exits his apartment to… leave for the unemployment office, I guess, a creature that looks for all the world like a walking bathtub shows up. It’s a elemental, a Watermin called… Waterer, because why wouldn’t it be, and it’s looking for a room. Long story short: it moves into room 103, right next door from Popman. Hey, maybe the two of them will be unexpected best friends!

Next up is…

…is that… a guy with six fishes for a head?

Unless I’m mistaken, this looks like a guy with six fishes for a head.

I am genuinely baffled by this turn of events. How does… why, does… it’s a guy that’s six fish heads and human legs! Come on!

Unholy Heights helpfully suggests I press middle mouse button to check the bestiary on these things. I do so, and in the process, learn less than nothing.

No, that’s not fair. I learn a lot of things in the bestiary. Like that the fish-creature belongs to the Abyssal creature group; that they tend to be poor; that all their apparent stats suck, except attack speed; and that the men are six-fish-heads-human-legs creatures, while the women are apparently human from the waist up, but… I can only assume they have literal fish for legs.

This screen raises so much more questions than it answers. Or, in other words: I’ve learned less than nothing.

I briefly scroll through the rest of the bestiary, learning a few things about the creatures currently in my apartment complex and the creatures I might expect to see later. For instances, Cheepies are poor, they gain strength in sunlight, and they like it when people in the apartment are happy. Elementals hate Abyssals, and vise versa. Similarly, Demi-Humans and Demons don’t get along well: the former prefer it if the complex’s inhabitants stay alive and healthy, while the latter grow to respect me more with each and every death.

Little morbid there, *Demons*.

Wait, hold on. What’s all this talk about death, anyway? Why would I be expecting my inhabitants to drop dead with any regularity? I mean, sure, I’m Satan who is the Devil, you can probably expect bad things to happen if you’re late on rent payments. But apart from that, I wasn’t planning on being such an awful landlord that my inhabitants would actually die in my care!

Here, I’ll prove it to you. By clicking on any apartment door, I can inspect a tenant’s happiness with regard to their living environment. I can see, for instance, that Waterer experiences his room as too hot. Which makes sense, I suppose, for a creature literally only made out of water.

Using the money at my disposal, I can upgrade Waterer’s room in a few ways. Each room has seven pre-set categories of furniture available to it: wallpaper, bedding, kitchen, bathroom, climate control, audio, TV, desk, and games. Yeah, they’re weird categories, but just let it slide for now. Within each category, I can provide each room with one item. Basic rooms start with a shitty wallpaper, a single sleeping mat, a moldy fridge, and a leaky sink. And nothing else.

Wow. I *am* the Devil.

The problem of Watermin overheating — shared between Waterer and new tenant Waterina, the pink bow-wearing lady Watermin — is easily solved by adding the cheapest fan I can possibly find to the apartment. The fan solves the heat problem and increases Watermin satisfaction… and also has the fortunate side effect of increasing the maximum rent I can demand from tenants.

Because as we’ve established, this Devil’s not *made* of money.

The higher I put the rent, the more ambivalent the tenants’ opinion of their rooms becomes. I have no idea why high or low satisfaction would be good or bad, I guess? But instinctively, I feel it’s probably a better idea to keep people at least somewhat satisfied. In each room, I set the rent to the highest it can be before people stop being absolutely, incredibly satisfied. Because sure, these are monsters living in squalor. But that doesn’t mean they should have to be miserable while doing so.

With my apartment now full — a pink bow-wearing lady Cheep moved into 102 — Unholy Heights suggests I take a look at the Quest Board again. The gist of this is this: I can put up quests on this board, which are then read by… the human adventurers and heroes of nearby towns. Putting up quests will lead to humans venturing out to my condo, at which point I can jostle the inhabitants of the complex to fight in my defense.

Basically, this.

I select the first quest, a one-star difficulty mission which lures a single villager to my condo. As he arrives, warning signs blare, and even the moon grimaces at the violence to come.

I, the Devil, can’t control the monsters in my condo directly. Rather, all I can do is click on their doors to rouse them to my defense… and click on them while fighting to suggest they beat a hasty retreat. That… that’s about the extent of my involvement, I guess? I can decide which monsters join the battle when, and which monsters should probably try to flee back home before they get murdered.

As the dreaded Toac, Unskilled Villager, approaches, I do what every novice Devil would do: I quickly and immediately rouse every monster in my complex to my defense! GUARD YOUR DARK MASTER. Waterer bravely leaps forward, as does Waterina, and she-Cheep Popean bravely holds the front lines against this amazing force of a single yokel.

Popman isn’t there, mind. He’s conveniently ‘out for work’. Yes, in the middle of the night. Yes, he’s still unemployed.

Yes, he’s as smart as he’s cowardly.

Beating back the villager successfully nets me a few bucks, and one dead villager. The battle isn’t over yet, though: each quest is organized in between one and four ‘waves’, and all waves have to be beaten in succession before I can claim ultimate victory.

Wave 1 of my current quest, The Devil’s Trial, was one unskilled villager. Wave 2 is a patrol of magical witches. This sounds like it would be more difficult, but it really isn’t.

Witches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks.

Alright, I think I have the basics of Unholy Heights down by now. Attract monsters, improve apartments, lure over adventurers and kill them for money and other benefits. The way I see it, my current long-term ‘goal’ is to raise the money and beat the story quest necessary to allow me to expand my apartment complex to two levels. That, and attracting more powerful and interesting monsters, somehow. I guess by making my current inhabitants happier? The game has also hinted that later quests can be used to unlock more monsters and items, which I guess incentivizes me to actually do them more. The money is nice, but not a major draw: I can just turn the game speed up to triple-time and watch that sweet rent money roll in.

But yeah, anyway, I’m pretty sure I have the basics of Unholy Heights down pat. The rest of it is simply going to be me optimizing the motions and efficiency and hold on, did Popman just move in with Popean?

It, er, certainly looks to be that way.

Looks like I have a lot left to learn.

Onto page 2. >>

4 comments

  1. Interesting; sounds like a combination of The Sims and Recettear. Seems a bit too information-light and slow to be worth getting, but it’s always cool to see an off-the-wall game like this.

  2. I’ve been reading like, twenty of these Indie Wonderlands on BSoA this week, so just want to say ‘keep it up’!

    (And I can just imagine a kid version of you playing a game in his formative years, and it starts: “The president’s indie games backlog is getting too big. Are you a bad enough dude to save him from playing the kinda crummy stuff?”)

    1. Appreciate the kind words! I don’t know how much longer BSoA is going to remain online, but probably not all thát long… so, you know, get it while the going’s good. Or I could keep it online for a little longer, as an archive of sorts… I’ll have to check the traffic stats.

      If things keep the way they’ve been for the past three years, I’m going to need someone to save me from the avalanche of my own backlog.

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