Review: Unholy Heights

This is definitely an example of a game where the art direction and that design will just brush some people the wrong way, being very "twee" in that strange sort of Japanese way, but if that doesn't bother you, what you'll find is a fairly well-designed and moderately-deep tower defense. game.
Review: Unholy Heights
Date published: Aug 27, 2014
2 / 3 stars

Unholy Heights is a tower defense game developed by Petit Depotto and published by AGM PLAYISM.  A tower defense game with a twist, one might say, though the question these days is what tower defense games don't have some sort of twist to them?  In Unholy Heights' case, the twist is that it's blending a very twee sort of humourous Theme Hospital-type management sim with a tower defense game.

Keeping the tenants happy and adding improvements
to amass wealth and advance monsters is the core mechanic

Just in that sentence you can probably see where the twist in this case is, but actually, it's pretty well done.  While the comparison I made to Theme Hospital is the obvious one, it actually puts me more in mind of the cult classic Constructor game: with it's "wacky" tenants and the different things you give to them to appease them and improve their happiness.  The gameplay revolves around the idea of bringing in monster tenants for your "Unholy Heights", defending that monster apartment from adventures, and decorating the rooms to keep the tenants happy.  That happiness you grant them basically through furnishings (but also through being careful with them in combat) then translates to the ability to charge the tenant a higher rent - the happier they are, the better a job they can get, and the higher a rent they will tolerate.

While what jobs they get are out of your control, assigned semi-randomly, you can influence the quality of a job and advance the level of the monsters you get as tenants through certain furnishings, and it's mostly intuitive as to which.  Adding training furnishings like the iron dumbbells for example, allows the monster in that room to get more physically fit, increasing effectiveness in melee combat as well as helping them get a better job if they are a physical minion.  There's all kinds of little touches here and there and those jobs are a chief example, incidentally, with all kinds of little random ones from "game tester" to "exorcist".

The ability to control the random aspects
of the gameplay is what this game does most right

Randomness in gameplay can become rapidly very frustrating, especially in a long-form game like this kind of management sim, but Unholy Heights really offers a simple and elegant design to be able to control the random nature of the gameplay.  Along with the training types of furnishings mentioned above, Unholy Heights also offers "symbol" furnishings that are basically vanity items to attract different types of minions: for example, adding a decaying meat item to a room attracts undead minions.

So while the game can be very random, with the monsters that come by your "apartment" you can choose to move in being luck of the draw, you are given that option to help make the building more attractive to different tenants, and you can improve the oens you do get as tenants, by adding those furnishings which allow them to improve their abilities.

Level creep becomes the problem
that undermines a lot of the gameplay

I think of this as the 'XCOM' problem, because most people who are familiar with the new XCOM game are undoubtedly familiar with how losing your higher-ranked people can be almost fatal once you get some ways along into the gameplay of Unholy Heights.  While this is mitigated to some degree by successive tiers of objectively better minions becoming available as you gain "reputation" for advancing through the series of "quests" you receive, it never quite really makes up for how devastating it can be if you lose a key minion you've invested a lot of time and money into improving.  Lose two or three of your key minions and you may as well reload, because you'll fail the quest almost assuredly.

I think a larger issue here is the fact that losing a quest or one of the random assaults that come between quests if you don't pick a new one isn't just a matter of 'okay, I'll train up some new guys' - you're not just set back the minions you lost, you're additionally set back the gold they took -- usually all of it.  So you not only have to start training new minions, you have to do so without any amount of money to get the furniture they might need to train up.  Yeah, you may as well just reload.

The progression is kept at a decent
and more importantly player-controlled pace

This is basically the counter-balance to that problem regaining troops: you advance quests when you choose.  You pick the quest that spawns those big bads, and so really, there's nothing stopping you from just puttering along until you're back up again.  The problem with that approach is, well, it's quite frankly extremely boring.  It's not very engaging past adding some furnishings here and there and watching time fly by.  There isn't much else to do when you're not on a quest other than deal with the odd random encounter.

That essentially means either you're essentially save scumming or you're dealing with a game with a lot of white space in between the fun parts.  It's a bit odd, really, and there's a certain feeling that maybe there's something the games moving that they could have added in to give you something to do in those lulls.

Quite frankly, the art style is going 
to be something that turns some people off

Let's address the great big stompy elephant in the room here: Unholy Heights is very "twee", very cutesy, in that sort of very anime style.  There are certain art styles that some people just find obnoxious to the eye, and that's one of them to a lot of people.  Actually, though, for me, I didn't mind the art so much as I minded the music and sound effects.  Again, they're supposed to be all cutesy, but I found them highly obnoxious and enjoyed the game much more when I turned them off.

This is definitely an example of a game where the art direction and that design will just brush some people the wrong way, being very