Some games make you think. Some make you laugh, or cry, or shout, or stay silent in reverent awe. Some, though, just make you want to hug everything on screen. Here’s Unholy Heights, the game that will reduce the burliest of wrestlers to dewy-eyed glee at the sight of one of its cute widdle ducklings.
The scenario is rather simple – run apartments for demons. Now that doesn’t sound as though it’s a recipe for lighthearted frolicking, but bear with me. The hotel you begin with is a thrown-together two-story building containing only four rooms and barely furnished. Your first residents, therefore, will almost certainly be demon society’s losers – ducks, centaurs, cloud monsters – only just capable of doing battle with the building’s assailants and working terrible jobs. The building can be upgraded with time, but it’s these first residents who will become fast favourites, if only because they’re your only income source for quite a while.
You, playing as the devil (yes, really – well, his hand) have to see to their basic needs in terms of furnishings. Obviously funds are limited, but fulfilling a tenant’s desire to have a real shower instead of a washstand does bring some sort of joy if you’ve spent three in-game days saving for it. As the rooms get more plush and livable, though, up must go the rent. So it is that sometimes, tenants will have to move out and make way for new ones.
The first time this happened, I genuinely wasn’t prepared for the emotional reaction I had. But as the little cloud monster, all worldly possessions under his arm, squawked a speech bubble of sadness and disappeared over the left hand edge of the screen. This little guy, who’d seen his girlfriend leave over conditions there only three days earlier, who’d only just fought off an assault by intolerant villagers, was now setting out to make his own way in the world.
Oh, yeah, there are battles in this game. Not, as you might imagine from a cutesy rent sim, with any great level of strategy, but they are there. To tell the truth, the residents fight automatically, and most of the time the player’s input is limited to waking them up to battle or sending them fleeing if they’re running low on health. Still, there is a certainly element of strategy in when they’re woken up – trap enemies between two melee attackers or spring a range attacker on them early? You decide, but you’ll feel terrible if they die.
For such a small game, there’s actually quite a nice aesthetic to it. It’s never going to be beautiful per se, but it’s certainly charming. It has the kind of dreamy pastel colours and slightly disjointed animation you’d find in a 1990s children’s cartoon. For a person who grew up with that sort of thing, it tickles a few nostalgia spots. Obviously, it’s not perfect – the character design doesn’t quite chime with the backgrounds and it’s only one setting so more could have been done with the resources, but nonetheless it ticks enough boxes to work.
If this all sounds like a short, fun game, a bit of schedule-filling fluff to distract you from life’s crushing cruelty, then you’d be right. Just don’t turn on your speakers. Seriously, if that soundtrack could be summed up in one scene, it would be a crying man having the old heavy Game Boys thrown at his head until he stops moving. I know it’s a hard job making music for a game – I’ve tried – but perhaps the old adage “It is better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” could be applied here. It’s a shame, frankly – the one worm that ruins the salad.
Still, irritating soundtrack aside, if you can turn it off and put on some of your own tunes, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Unholy Heights does struggle from being a small-budget game in some areas, but the core gameplay is solid and there’s little reason you shouldn’t get a couple of hours of mindless fun out of it. Happy Hoteliery.