Welcome to El Hijo – A Wild West Tale, an adorably endearing and challenging non-combat stealth puzzle game. This is yet another game published by Handy Games that I’m reviewing. The other which is probably my personal GOTY for 2020 was Chicken Police: Paint It Red. Check that review out and let me know what you thought of the game.
In El Hijo, you guide the 6 years old character of the same name through hearing locations. Like a remote monastery, desert far as the eye can see and a frontier town stuffed full of crime and villainy. Your goal is to reunite with your mother after she brings you to a monastery to protect you. While she goes after the bandits that burnt your home to the ground.
As of right now, It’s available on Mac OSX, PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Stadia for $22.99 at least here in Canada. It’s a spaghetti western game from Honig Studios and QuantumFrog. Additionally, El Hijo – A Wild West Tale is a true to form stealth puzzle game. I can’t but draw comparisons to Felix the Reaper or the Assassin’s Creed Chronicle games as well.
It’s Time to Learn
History time! You thought I’d let you leave without some new knowledge? Nonsense! According to Wikipedia The Spaghetti Western, also known as Italian Western or (primarily in Japan) Macaroni Western is a subgenre of Western films that emerged in the mid-1960s in the wake of Sergio Leone’s film-making style and international box-office success. The term was used by American critics and those in other countries because most of these Westerns were produced and directed by Italians. Some of the most notable spaghetti westerns are The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A Fist Full of Dollars, and Once upon a time in the West. Seriously good movies. Some of my favorite classics and if you love games like Red Dead Redemption you’d probably like this genre.
Back on to El Hijo! There is a gallery of concept art that is unlocked by inspiring children and remaining undetected which is easier said than done. I swear just those priests in the monastery made me want to cry and that’s just the opening of the game! As you can tell or if you know me my patience in gaming goes down to almost nothing. As you go through you inspire children in the levels for small gifts and points that go to unlocking even more things in the gallery. There are 69 kids to inspire that are hidden around the levels. One of the first things you should do when you load into a level is to pause and see the number of children there.
Something We’ve Seen Before with A Spin
Gameplay-wise there is really nothing revolutionary here. Use gadgets to distract, hide, push objects, and sneak around. It’s a non-violent game, think of the Mary Jane sections from spiderman PS4. But not as well you know how those sections can be. A cool gameplay feature is the bird’s eye view. It’s a little bird companion that will let you look around you and see the vision cones and detection circles of people you’re avoiding. A helpful bird that lets you see what others can not. I wonder what game that reminds me of?
It pays to explore the levels not just to find the kids but you may find caches to replenish gadgets, save points, or another way to go. There feels like endless possibilities on how to complete the levels. Of course like with most puzzle games some levels are easier than others and they get more complex as they go on. However, it feels like you’ll never get stuck as there is always at least it feels like there is another way to explore and possibly cheese. Additionally, I don’t know if this is actually a thing or if I’m losing my mind probably but there seem to be crows that guide El Hijo as he goes through.
Sometimes you even get to play as El Hijo’s mom. She’s a tough resourceful woman who has a whole new move set. She can jump over things, has further range on gadgets, and is just a fresh change up and break in the gameplay. Her sections and El Hijo go on at the same time story-wise or at least that’s what it seems. However no matter who you play as there is plenty of puzzles to go around.
It’s All in the Details
It’s a good thing that the game and levels are so beautiful. You will spend a fair bit of time in some of them or replaying them to inspire all the kids. If you keep your eyes open you see some cool things along the way. However, I can’t tell you how much time I spent in the cloister level. I got frustrated and it made me want to rush but you should never rush. Cutscenes have a hand-painted look with smooth animations while the gameplay is in 3D. The cutscenes reminded me of Carto or Where the Water Taste Like Wine. Sometimes I had to just stop and hide to look at the levels to admire the level design and natural flow and direction the game has you follow.
I do miss the fact this has no voice acting but I also agree not every game needs voice acting. There are grunts, giggles, and other sounds so it’s not a noiseless void. In fact, it really draws attention to the excellent sound design El Hijo has. The ambient music would be right at home in those spaghetti western movies mentioned. The padding of your little feet as you sneak around amused me to no end for some reason. It’s a small detail that didn’t need to be there but the devs took the time to do it.
The Good and Bad
Now as you can obviously tell I had a good time playing this and yes I would say pick this up. If it’s your type of game of course. However, there are a few issues I had that I have to point out. Firstly. the game ran well most of the time even with my crazy tabbing in and out and trying different visual things to find any issues. Unfortunately or maybe not depends on how you see it I did softlock 2 times in loading screens. It looked like it loaded but just kept the black screen up for more than a minute. I had to task manager to shut it down.
Secondly, this is my only other complaint but to me, it’s bigger than the soft lock. If you exit a level it resets all your progress. Yes, it warns you but what’s the point of save points you have to walk over if it resets. It sucks sometimes I need to walk away from a tough level for a bit and all my progress is reset. This irked me more than I want to admit. Most of you know I work on multiple reviews and retrospectives at a time. Often if I get stuck with one game I play another. Just knowing that all my progress for a level even if I’m only stuck at the last bit gets frustrating. If you get caught it will reset to the last save you walked over. Why couldn’t it do that for the whole level?
It Frustrated Me, But I Love It
Overall, El Hijo – A Wild West Tale is a wonderful stealth puzzle game without combat. Yes, it may frustrate you but the gameplay, setting, and story will make up for it. It’s available on Mac OSX, PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Stadia. If you love isometric stealth indie games I think this will be right up your alley. Have you played this game? If you have tell me what you think about it below!
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