El Hijo: A Wild West Tale is a spaghetti western-inspired stealth game. With a strong visual style, heartfelt narrative, and strong puzzle mechanics it carves out a niche in the stealth genre. Available on PC, Switch, X-Box One, and PS4 (the platform I reviewed the game on) it is easily accessible for most gamers.
El Hijo begins with El Hijo, who is only six years old, and his mother watching bandits burn their farm down. El Hijo is left at a monetary while his mother sets out for revenge, establishing the game’s split narrative which primarily follows El Hijo’s quest to reunite with his mother but occasionally cuts away to his mother’s adventure.
The game starts with a fairly lighthearted tone but becomes increasingly dark. Without using any dialogue El Hijo uses environmental story-telling and the occasional cinematic to flesh out a stark tale of child slavery, corruption, and conspiracies. Despite these dark elements it manages to keep a lighthearted, tone throughout.
While El Hijo is ostensibly a stealth game it plays much more like a puzzle game. While there are plenty of enemies to hide from, their set paths and rigid mechanics make them feel more like obstacles to navigate around than threats. The game begins with a small number of simple mechanics: standing in shadows to hide, crouching behind cover, and using a bird to see enemy positions and sight cones. However, nearly every level adds a new mechanic, steadily building in difficulty and complexity.
In addition to the growing list of mechanics, El Hijo shakes things up with a few non-standard levels. The levels featuring El Hijo’s mother use the same controls and many of the same mechanics but have a more action-oriented bent, with character unique mechanics like leaping over barriers and scaling cliffs. There are also a pair of mine-cart racing levels.
The biggest strength of El Hijo is its pervasive charm. Many of the mechanics follow kid log, fitting its six-year-old protagonist. His tools feature slingshots, wind-up toys, and an adult sombrero he can hide under. Rather than collectible items players “inspire” orphans they find to blow off their tasks and have some fun. The fact that all of these mechanics also combine to create a genuinely fun stealth puzzler is no small feet. This mechanical charm is backed up by its gorgeous papercut inspired art-style and its wordless narrative.
El Hijo can feel a bit mechanically rigid in place. While there are many places where multiple solutions are possible, it’s usually apparent that there is an intended solution, and it can make other solutions difficult. This can diminish the feeling of discovery which makes puzzle solving so satisfying.
The last few levels are also a bit of a let-down in terms of gameplay. Through most of the game, there is a gradual building of difficulty that drops off for the last few levels, leaving them feeling a bit unsatisfying. This problem is exacerbated by the final level being a minecart race, the weakest style of gameplay featured in El Hijo.
It’s hard not to like El Hijo: A Wild West Tale. Between the charming art style, the surprisingly resonant storytelling, and fun mechanics, there’s a lot to love. At $19.99 and available on PS4, Switch, PC, and X-Box One El Hijo is a great choice for anyone who wants a relaxing puzzle game.
Rating: 8/10 Oversized Sombrero’s