Playing the upcoming apartment management sim-cum-tower defense game Unholy Heights made me a bit sad.
I should hasten to add that the game itself didn't make me sad; rather the assumptions that immediately sprang to mind when I heard what it was did -- assumptions that, as it happens, turned out to be completely inaccurate. What made me sad was that I unconsciously made these unjustified assumptions in the first place.
Let me give you a bit of background here to explain myself: prior to the establishment of the good ship USgamer, I worked for a little over a year reviewing Facebook and mobile games from an industry-facing standpoint, helping developers understand each others' work and exploring what game mechanics and business models worked, and what didn't. (Unfortunately, the business models that worked didn't necessarily tend to equate to good or consumer-friendly games, which is how we end up with awful pap like Candy Crush Saga dominating the iOS charts. But I digress.)
One of the popular genres of Facebook and mobile games around the time I finished working that job was a "monster raising" sim in which you collect various monsters -- usually on an undead theme -- and place them into a mansion, then periodically you collect income from them. Some games added an extra twist on the formula by allowing you to send them out to attack things, but for the most part, it was business as usual for a social game: log in, tap on everything, log out, come back three hours later, repeat until your brain explodes with the sheer inanity of it all.
These games may have been universally absolute crap, but people -- well, less well-informed people with less discerning tastes than you and I, anyway -- inexplicably kept playing them, downloading them and even flinging money at them and thus, as is the wont of the social and mobile games industry, this meant that every damn developer wanted a piece of that same pie, leading to market saturation.
As such, when I heard that Unholy Heights was a game in which you manage an apartment block populated by monsters, I was immediately a little skeptical. I was concerned it was going to be yet another shallow "click on things every few minutes" game with little in the way of depth, and a lot in the way of psychological tricks to get you to part with your money.
I don't mind admitting that I was completely, utterly and totally wrong in my initial assumptions, and would remind you all that you most certainly should never judge those paper things with words in by what's on the front of them. Because Unholy Heights turns out to be rather fabulous, with not a single "Get More Gold" button in sight.
In Unholy Heights, you take on the role of Satan, who lives in a tent atop a dilapidated old apartment building he appears to have come into ownership of. It's your job to attract tenants to the building, keep them happy, collect rent from them and, periodically, protect them from the unwanted advances of adventurers and other threats who are unreasonably prejudiced about lovable, cuddly monsters.
The game mechanics are fairly straightforward. You begin with a single floor in your building, with four rooms in it. Various monsters will wander up to the noticeboard outside the front of the building, and will sometimes indicate that they'd like to move in. Clicking on them causes them to do so, meaning they'll take up residence in one of the available rooms.
Once a monster is safely ensconced in their new apartment, you'll have to keep them happy. This means ensuring they can pay their rent -- you can adjust each tenant's rent individually according to their means -- and paying attention to the things they say they want. If an ice elemental complains the room is too hot, buy them a fan. If a weird duck monster is complaining they're bored, buy them something fun. Happier monsters make for more effective combatants, which is where the other part of the game comes in.
The noticeboard outside the front of your building doubles as a "Quest Board" for adventurers. Triggering a quest means that you'll have to deal with several waves of adventurers who will promptly try to break into the building and get to Satan's tent. In order to stop them, you'll need to knock on the doors of your tenants and get them to defend the building. There's not much room in the building, though, meaning both adventurers and monsters can only fight in single-file -- this means you'll have to remember to let your melee monsters out first, then let ranged attackers (both medium- and long-range) out afterwards, otherwise you'll get a bottleneck.
After a fight, assuming you were successful, monsters go back to their rooms and recuperate. They're not guaranteed to stay put, though -- some monsters get bored and want to go out to play, meaning they won't relax and heal; others might take a lover, which doubles their attack power in combat, but also exhausts them and drains their life a little any time they decide to indulge in a little sweet lovin' behind closed doors. Consequently, you might not have a full complement of monsters at full strength when the next wave of enemies comes a-knockin', meaning you might have to order some of them to retreat partway through the fight or even, if you're feeling particularly sadistic, let any particularly troublesome non-rent-paying tenants die to free up their room.
Over time, completing quests rewards you with money and sometimes unlocks the ability to expand the building further, which also costs money. If this were an obnoxious free-to-play mobile game, you'd have to grind for hours to acquire enough money to afford such an expansion and then wait several hours while it was built; fortunately, as noted above, it's not, meaning you can get straight back into the action and start attracting new residents to your shiny new floor. Later, you'll power up monsters by allowing them to breed -- encouraging them along the way with "erotic cakes" -- and by improving your reputation with them.
Unholy Heights has charming presentation, with what looks like a lovely hand-painted backdrop that reflects both the time of day and the weather -- different conditions provide bonuses or penalties to certain monsters -- with simple but distinctive cartoony characters overlaid on top. The music, too, is bouncy and cheerful, and lends an air of lightheartedness to the whole thing -- even the battle theme is seemingly designed to raise a smile.
Unholy Heights is the work of independent Japanese developer Petit Depotto, and is published by Playism -- a great source for Japanese indie games, if you haven't come across it before. The game was released in its native territory earlier in the year, and the publisher reports that it quickly became the best-selling game in its catalog, surpassing even the notoriously challenging platformer La-Mulana.
Playism is aiming to release the game in the West on August 16, and judging by the early look at it I've had so far, it's something you may just want to give a shot when it becomes available.