I decided to Switch things up this week by checking something out on the Nintendo Switch, because I welcome the Switch’s ability to let me play stuff while curled up in a blanket. For Black Friday, I got a few indie stuff for Switch that I’ve been meaning to check out.
Today, we’re looking at the Switch version of Unholy Heights, a game made by Petit Depotto. In this game, you are literally and figuratively the devil, acting as landlord for a tenement building in a blend of simulation and tower defense. Gather minions by renting out apartments to wandering monsters and have your tenants fight your battles while you seize rent from them on a quest for world domination.
You start out with a humble one story apartment building, with only the basic tier of monsters looking for a place to stay. As you build up reputation with each monster race or do certain quests, you expand your roster of monsters that can stay over. Monsters differ with stats, their types of attack and their preferences for what they want in their apartments. Some monster races also hate each other, so you’ll probably end up sticking with certain ones to prevent people from being unsatisfied. My game was pretty much a no-demon zone, because they make my demi-human residents feel bad and also they’re only happy when a bunch of residents die, which wasn’t something I was trying to gun for.
Speaking of that, satisfaction is probably the most important currency in the game, even moreso than the actual currency. When residents have a higher satisfaction level, their stats increase, so you have to be that theoretical good landlord and scramble to satisfy them for the battle phases of the game. You can adjust their rent to levels that they can actually pay and fill their apartment with things that they ask for to build up their love for you. Each race also has an extra requirement for keeping them happy, like the aforementioned “Demons are bastards” thing and the Undead loving you with every successive victory.
Aside from managing apartment things, the rest of the simulation aspect is pretty basic. Monsters have jobs and they can get promotions that opens the way for you to take more wealth from them, and sometimes you get some monsters down on their luck, so you’ll have to lower their rent to zero if you want them to stick around and get back on their feet. Evicting? Nah, I’m not about that. Monsters find mates and fall in love, but only within their same species, which I think is a missed opportunity for hybrid monsters.. They can have offspring and I looked up and saw that there’s some kinda breeding metagame, but I’m not about this Fire Emblem eugenics, I’m here for a good time. Unless you want to get into that stuff, the simulation aspect of Unholy Heights is simple and addicting. It’s nice to just fast-forward time and see your residents move around, reading the flavor text on how they’re using their time and fulfilling their requests to put eldritch prayer altars in their rooms.
…At least until it’s rudely interrupted by some stray adventurers. Every so often some adventurers come to throw down to rob from your coffers, bringing the game into the battle phase! As adventurers move through your building, you can knock on doors to deploy the monsters you’re wringing money from to fight your battles! This is why which apartment you give monsters matter, because you’d ideally want to arrange them in tactical positions. Maybe when you start out, you can put the tankier undead monsters at the front door and house ranged attack monsters behind them to shoot at the invaders. If you want to be a bit risky, you can try letting the adventurers in for a bit, only to deploy some physical attackers at both sides for a pincer attack.
To advance through the game, you have to put up quests to summon adventurers to your abode. Many of these quests feature waves of enemies that’ll put your basic strategy skills to the test, often leaving much of your residents exhausted by the end, if not dead. The quest system lends a nice pace to the game where you engage in rough battles then switch to longer periods of mostly simulation, letting your residents recover and inviting new monsters in to replace the ones you lost and fostering their satisfaction, with the occasional interruption by some jobber adventurer.
A thing I’m mixed on about advancement though is that early game monsters will be left in the dust. I suppose this is to make the demon line of monsters relevant, with you grinding early monsters into dust to satisfy them, but it goes against the simulation aspect, for me. I want to see my family of skeletons succeed in life, not be fodder as the tower defense aspect of the game advances. I guess this is why you’re the devil.
As the game progresses and the difficulty of fights escalate, I ended up running into my second-biggest problem with Unholy Heights: its controls. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the controls. You move the control stick to pick things and you can limit moving between apartments or people with a held button, which makes managing fights more easier. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the control scheme – the problem is that this is absolutely a game made for mouse. As battles escalate, you want to be able to move quickly between your tenants and apartments for quick escapes and reinforcements. The Switch’s control scheme is not suited for quick paced strategy, however. You’re either moving the selection too slow or you accidentally move past your intended choices, which can condemn your poor tenants to death. Fights, I imagine, would be way easier to manage with the quick, more controlled movements of a mouse.
What makes it harder is that, despite there being time controls, you can’t stop time to allow you to be more careful with your selections, which is my actual biggest problem. There’s little time for you to consider your choices as the game grows more frantic and the lack of a proper pause time function (instead of just a pause screen) keeps you from looking at the fresh hell that’s coming your way and trying to think of how to deal with them. And listen. A stop time function absolutely would have saved a whole lot of my residents lives, them perishing as I slowly move my selection to them.
The art style is nice and cute, though the monster designs personally bother me. Like, a lot of them perfectly encapsulates the annoying trend of non-human designs being ridiculously gendered. You got this monster with long eyelashes and a bow to clearly tell you they’re a girl! The male version of this monster is an abomination while the female one is a basic anime girl! It’s not bad, but I hate it.
(What was actually bad was the flavor text for monsters that are middle managers about sexually harassing co-workers. That’s not funny.)
Unholy Heights is a interesting blend of genres with flaws – the biggest of which being console controls (or any console, for that matter). If you want to play Unholy Heights and be the figurative and literal devil, I suggest checking out the original PC release, which is likely the ideal experience unless you’re like me and love playing stuff under a blanket.