“El Hijo” in Spanish means “the son” in English. The typical stealth games most of us have grown-up with typically don’t have a 6-year old boy as the player’s main character. Most stealth games portray the player as a marine vet or a ninja assassin. How about playing as a shoeless 6-year old boy for a change of pace? And this is exactly who you’ll play in this Western-themed non-violent stealth game by Honig Studios and QuantumFrog. Welcome to our Steam PC review of El Hijo – A Wild West Tale!
Putting The Tale In Wild West Tale
The game’s background story is told to us in the game’s opening sequence without using any dialog or text. In fact, a lot of the story is conveyed, creatively, during a fairly straight forward tutorial scenario. The game is set in what appears to be an American Western. Throughout the game, we are served popular “Wild West” thematic props such as gangs of outlaws, saloons, desert landscapes, and friars and monks.
Our story begins when a farmer and her son are attacked by bandits who burn their farm to the ground. This is all conveyed in as much as possible a family-friendly way by leaving somethings to interpretation versus using outright violence. The mother farmer makes a difficult parental choice and decides to leave El Hijo with a group of monks at a secluded monastery to protect him. However, El Hijo decides that his mother needs him and he decides to escape, let the hide-n-seek begin!
You Sneaky Boy You
The game screens are done with some beautiful hand-drawn landscapes. Not a lot of bright colors as the game makes use of more of the brown palette which gives the game that dusty, desert western feel to it. The game has an almost Saturday morning cartoon feel to it without seeming childish. “Guards” often make sounds when they suspect they see something, along with a question mark over their head and then an exclamation mark when you’ve been spotted,
The stealth mechanics are familiar in some regards, e.g. stay in the shadows, time your approaches, etc. What El Hijo does differently is not using any combat mechanics. Instead, you’ll create distractions using specific tools, e.g. throw stones. You also have run and crouch abilities plus you can hide inside various objects. Given all these “tools” El Hijo sometimes feels more like a puzzle game versus a pure stealth game. Your goal is to get from one end of the level to the other to progress the story along.
Control Your Destiny
You move El Hijo around using WASD keys which always feels awkward for me, especially when you need to stay in a diagonal shaped shadow. I was disappointed not to have a mouse click-to-move option. But fortunately, the game does have controller support. Thankfully, using an Xbox Wireless controller worked exceptionally well for me.
The game also has a “bird’s eye view” command. This does a partial zoom out of your current surroundings showing you line-of-sight of current “guards” as well as indicating which items you can “hide in”. It’s a helpful feature but it doesn’t allow you to zoom out completely.
Being An Inspiration
Many of the levels deeper in the game are quite large. They offer multiple paths, and solutions, through a level. Once in a while for some levels, it wasn’t clear where the next “exit” was. Early on it took me a while to figure out the next panel was entered by me climbing down a wall.
There is a reward mechanic that involves finding and inspiring a certain number of children per level. This is as close to “collectibles” as this game gets. Don’t be surprised if the completionist in you takes over and you want to completely survey the large levels to find all children. Your find percentage will show up for each level on the main menu. The game does allow you to go back into a level but then you’ll be redoing from that level onward again.
A Very Forgiving Game
With its abundant checkpoints in each level “getting caught” isn’t a traumatic experience. You just restart from the last checkpoint. In some cases, you can slip detection by finding the nearest shadow and the guard will return to their normal pattern. This will probably make the game seem too simple for the die-hard stealth gamer. El Hijo does have a gallery feature that supposedly rewards those that get through a level(s) undetected, unfortunately, I was never one of those people that plays that well.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on the PC with a Steam code provided by the developers.
COMPARE TO: less violent versions of Thief and Aragami